By Matthew Gourlie
Wednesday will mark Michael Findlay’s fifth, and final, match as Canada’s caretaker manager. Once again, he goes on the road with nothing close to a first-choice team.
The introduction of Octavio Zambrano as the new Canadian head coach adds a dimension to the proceedings at Easter Road (3:45 p.m. ET, TSNGo) from a Canadian perspective, but there still won’t be a lot to take away from the match.
Debutant left back La’Vere Corbin-Ong may be the most interesting player to keep an eye on, should he feature. It’s his first involvement with the national team program and it comes in a position that could use some depth.
Corbin-Ong, who plays in the German third tier with FSV Frankfurt, will also have to deal with some of the strengths of the Scottish team.
It could also be another chance to see Maxim Tissot at left back. Tissot looked decidedly more comfortable playing in the midfield in Canada’s last four matches than he did playing left back against the inferior competition of Mauritania and Bermuda, but this is another chance to test him as a back.
Beyond that most of the rest of the squad are known quantities.
With a small squad of 18 most of the players should feature, the only question is whether the younger players will play from the start or come off the bench.
Should Marco Bustos start in the midfield, it would be a good chance for the 20-year-old to play with Scott Arfield and Junior Hoilett which may allow him to elevate his game and show his quality. He was bright and lively against Bermuda, completing 19 of 21 passes in his 45 minutes.
It is telling that the Vancouver Whitecaps have used 21 players in three MLS league matches this season and three more players have also gotten first-team action in the CONCACAF Champions League and yet Bustos still hasn’t seen the pitch for his club.
That may make him an unlikely starter, but he has featured in all four of Findlay’s other matches, so he should get some time.
Wandrille Lefèvre and Adam Straith have not had much action as central defenders and should one or both of them play there it would serve as a solid test on a night when Canada may be under a fair bit of pressure. Lefèvre completed every pass he attempted against Bermuda and looked quite composed playing his way out of the back, but a significantly sterner test could be revealing.
Luca Gasporotto from Falkirk FC of the Scottish Championship is also in line for a potential first senior cap.
Findlay has been less conservative in deploying his players compared to Benito Floro, but has adhered to Floro’s preferred formation.
Big changes in terms of tactics and approach are expected once Zambrano begins to implement his program, but more of the same 4-1-4-1 formation under Findlay is likely at Easter Road.
This could be the poorest attended Scotland match since the Germans parked the bus and retreated to the Hindenburg Line in the First World War. That should tell you a lot about the mood within the Tartan Army at the moment.
Scotland host Slovenia in a must-win home match at Hampden Park on Sunday. With that in mind they are resting the five Celtic players (keeper Craig Gordon, left back Kieran Tierney and midfielders Stuart Armstrong, Scott Brown and James Forrest) who started Sunday against Marcus Haber and Dundee.
Newcastle’s Grant Hanley, James McArthur from Crystal Palace and Matt Phillips from West Brom have all been ruled out due to injury.
On the heels of a pair of 3-0 road losses in the World Cup qualifying, manager Gordon Strachan should be looking for anyone who can make a positive impact on the first team.
The Scottish starting 11 is far from cut-and-dried. They have plenty of options at left back, but with young Tierney out, will likely opt for Hull City’s Andrew Robertson.
Right back is the problem area for Scotland (sound familiar?) and with Phillip Bardsley from Stoke not in the picture, they are left without a true right back. Look for central defender Russell Martin (Norwich) to slide over as opposed to midfielder Ikechi Anya (Derby County) to slide back as he did against England.
With Brown out, Barry Bannan from Sheffield Wednesday or West Brom’s James Morrison are likely to pair with captain Darren Fletcher in the dual holding role.
With Hanley out and Martin out wide that leaves Christophe Berra (Ipswich Town) and Charlie Mulgrew (Blackburn) in the centre of defence. Liam Cooper from Leeds could also make his Scotland debut after being added as an injury replacement.
The midfield trio in Strachan’s 4-2-3-1 is the strength of the team. There is a big hope for Celtic’s Armstrong who has been tipped as the best player in the Scottish Premier League this season and could earn his first cap from the start against Slovenia.
Hull’s Robert Snodgrass typically features on the right side. The friendly would be a good opportunity for Ryan Fraser from Bournemouth and Tom Cairney to make their debuts beside him.
Fraser has has become a regular in the English Premier League this season for Bournemouth. The 23-year-old left sided player has scored against Liverpool and Arsenal and will look to trouble Nik Ledgerwood with his pace. The Scots have used Forrest and Newcastle’s Matt Ritchie — who has 13 goals of his own this season — on the left flank during the qualifying campaign.
Cairney has scored nine goals and has 10 assists this season playing as a No. 10 for Fulham. Oliver Burke, a 19-year-old who plays for German title-chasers RB Leipzig, could also feature in the centre of the midfield.
That midfield trio will trouble the Canadian back four and should test their shape and the ability of the central defenders and the holding midfielder to track runs and stay connected.
Celtic’s Leigh Griffiths is a solid bet to lead the line in a position of trouble for Scotland despite having failed to start a match for his club in 2017. He is far from alone. Of the five strikers in the Scotland squad, only Jordan Rhodes from Wednesday started this past weekend.
For Canada, Scotland’s pressing will put pressure on the midfield and force them to up their tempo and their wide midfielders should give the Canadian fullbacks plenty to think about.
Junior Hoilett will have to be a principal source of danger attacking a Scotland side searching for a right back.
Scotland’s problems in the centre of defence and at the forward position have helped land them in fifth place out of six teams in Group F of UEFA World Cup qualifying. Those issues should also help keep the score respectable, even against an out-manned, understaffed Canadian squad.