After being thoroughly outplayed in a 2-0 loss to the United States in the CONCACAF Nations League final and losing out on another chance at silverware, is there cause for concern amongst the CanMNT ranks, or is there still time to be patient?
While many fans initially scoffed at the idea of a a CONCACAF Nations League to try and add a little extra grit to the typical international friendly, Canadian fans have latched onto it and seen it as an excellent opportunity for the team to continue establishing themselves in CONCACAF.
Not only did the Nations League provide an added chance at silverware, but it was also the path to qualifying for the Gold Cup. This tournament will allow John Herdman to experiment with his Canada men’s national team squad for the first time since World Cup qualifying.
Unfortunately, the CanMNT couldn’t win the Nations League this year, as the United States men’s national team outclassed the Canadians from minute one. This beatdown has unearthed the difficult truth that many fans will need to face. Let’s dive into them.
The Canadians aren’t there yet. Plain and simple, the they aren’t quite the “giants” of CONCACAF (yet). Sure, the squad has made massive steps forward, but to confidently say it is the best in the continent is untrue when you look at squad depth and full player pool.
The USMNT and Mexico rosters are littered with Premier League, Bundesliga, and Champions League players who contribute week in and week out. And while Canada has a few players at that level (and even outright stars), there is a steep drop-off after the first few players on the team sheet with star pedigree. The sport is so young in Canada, and we can only expect it to change so much in a limited timespan. After all, it has taken the U.S. about 30 years to see the benefits of MLS in terms of team quality.
Another issue is something beyond the teams’ control, which is the organization’s messy state. Canada Soccer has had well-publicized financial issues, and the leadership has done everything in its power to shift the blame. Top level football is played on a knife’s edge, with the smallest distraction hindering players from reaching their potential. And whether it was the pressure of the moment or the off-field issues, it was hard not to notice how distracted the team seemed in the Nations League Finals.
Looking forward to the Gold Cup, Herdman has an opportunity to redirect momentum and start building the program back up after a tough few months. He can play around with the squad and unearth some gems. A few positions need to be looked at for now and in the future. Starting with goalkeeper, Milan Borjan has been crucial for Canada, but he is 35 and has shown a penchant to struggle with the ball at his feet. The goalkeeping position has some intriguing prospects in Tom McGill, Jonathan Sirois, and Dayne St Clair. Why not allow them to show why they should be the new No. 1?
Center back is a tough one, as Canada has some exciting talent in the likes of Alistair Johnston and Kamal Miller. But, as is a recurring theme throughout the squad, the current depth is lacking.
Steven Vitoria certainly only has a few more years (at most), and Scott Kennedy hasn’t consistently shown that he is at the right level. In terms of current candidates to take the third and fourth spots, you look at the likes of Joel Waterman, Derek Cornelius, Lukas McNaughton, and Dominick Zator. While all of these guys are fighting for spots, they certainly don’t reach the pedigree of the USMNT center backs, with their depth chart reading more like a list of European top-five league players than MLS starters.
So what is the solution? I think the first step is lowering the expectations. This is a team in its infancy. Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David are 22 and 23, respectively. The foundation is being set, and while I am just as hungry for silverware as the next Canada supporter, it is unrealistic for us to go from World Cup hopefuls to dominating CONCACAF in a single cycle.
The second step is ensuring that we get behind the players and make it clear that Canada Soccer needs to get its ducks in a row. This goes for the youth, women’s, and men’s side. One cannot succeed without another. The whole organization needs to be strong and moving in the right direction.
And most importantly, the last step (that fans can influence) is supporting the sport at all levels throughout the country. The game needs the support of fans to grow in Canada, and right now, there are so many opportunities to give talented young Canadians a chance to show why they should pull on the Maple Leaf in the future. You never know which player might be the next Alphonso, Steven, or Atiba.