2017 Gold Cup preview: Canada
By Matthew Gourlie
If there’s a bright side to inheriting a team that hasn’t scored a goal in two straight continental championships it is that the bar is set low.
Octavio Zambrano brings a young squad armed with an attacking mind-set to the Gold Cup. The new head coach has only had one match in charge, but wants to use the tournament as a measuring stick to see where he needs to improve and adjust the team heading into the next cycle.
“As the games go on I think we could do much, much more than people are expecting us to do at the Gold Cup. At least that is our desire,” Zambrano said.
“We also have a bigger goal. (The Qatar World Cup in 2022) is really the litmus test. We have to come good at that time. This Gold Cup is going to be very good for us to access some of our young players. It will be excellent to get a glimpse at their true contribution when game time comes.”
With that in mind there are plenty of players who will feature in the run to Qatar, but also a handful of players who surely won’t — most notably 37-year-old midfielder Patrice Bernier who has said he will retire at the end of the MLS campaign.
“The more it goes and the more you play well, the more people want you to play longer,” said Bernier, who is expected to captain the side.
“I’ve always said if I can help out, my door is always open. When I spoke to Octavio he didn’t care that if at the end of the year I retire. He said if I can bring something to the table, right now, then great.”
Zambrano feels Bernier brings a lot to the table, both with his presence on the pitch and also behind the scenes.
“He is a player that can compliment what we are trying to get across to the young players. His contribution is very good at this moment, because it is a transitional moment. We have a lot of young players and we need to have the experience that he can give us,” Zambrano said.
Group A may be the toughest in the Gold Cup, but it’s makeup will likely suit Zambrano.
Canada opens with a winnable game against French Guiana, but also gets two strong tests against Costa Rica and Honduras to follow. Both are difficult tests, but Canada will hardly be over-matched. Can Zambrano’s desire to assert themselves on the game and dictate the play hold up against a pair of teams who qualified for the last World Cup?
After being arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, striker Cyle Larin was left out of the squad, but is expected to be recalled should Canada advance to the quarter-finals. Larin’s absence should sting less as Montréal’s Anthony Jackson-Hamel comes into the tournament in good form and Peñarol’s Lucas Cavallini returns after barely featuring under Benito Floro.
Alphonso Davies will be the youngest player at the tournament and yet could still be a key to sparking the Canadian attack.
It is also a chance for the experienced Steven Vitoria (five caps) and Scott Arfield (seven caps) to get a consistent run in the team and show what they can contribute after coming to the Canadian program later in their careers.
Two years ago Canada gave up a single goal — an injury-time winner to the eventual finalists no less — in three matches and earned a credible 0-0 draw against the World Cup quarterfinalists Costa Rica. However, when you fail to score for the second tournament running no one is going to want to look at silver linings.
Canada will hope to get that monkey off of their back in their July 7 opener against French Guiana in Harrison, NJ. While that looks like an ideal opener, the same was said about El Salvador two years ago and Martinique four years ago.
No one expects a successful run heading into the tournament, but scoring a few goals and advancing out of a tough group would be a strong step forward as Zambrano looks to lay a solid foundation.
Octavio Zambrano said he plans to move forward with a back four, despite having some interesting wingback options in Aird, de Jong and Edwards. Zambrano deployed a 4-3-3 against Curaçao with the midfield trio interchanging roles effectively. Bernier is being asked to play centrally as he does for the Impact, but when he is not in the lineup, the formation easily shifts into more of a 4-2-3-1. Watch for the holding mids — likely Piette and Arfield — to both step into the attack while the other sits in front of the back four. The wide attacking players — Hoilett and Davies — showed plenty of movement, combining infield and making runs into the channels as Canada sought fluidity in attack in the second half against Curaçao.
18 Milan BORJAN
Korona Kielce/POL • 33/0 • 29
Canada’s No. 1 had a confident outing in Zambrano’s debut against Curaçao. Strong in the air and competent overall, he elevated his game to new heights in Vancouver against Mexico. Can he reach similar heights — or will he need to — during the Cup?
1 Maxime CRÉPEAU
Montréal Impact • 1/0 • 23
With Simon Thomas shelved with a meniscus injury, Impact’s Voyageurs Cup keeper gets a second successive squad appearance under Zambrano. Unlikely to see the pitch unless something drastic happens to either Borjan or Leutwiler.
22 Jayson LEUTWILER
Shrewsbury Town/ENG • 2/0 • 28
Athletic shot-stopper has struggled with consistency with his League One side in England. He has done little wrong in two halves of international soccer. He seems unlikely to feature in the tournament, but provides valuable cover Borjan and plays regular minutes at his club.
11 Sam ADEKUGBE
Brighton & Hove Albion/ENG • 3/0 • 22
Has all of the tools to be a quality left back as a professional and an international, but needs to find somewhere to play regularly. Made five starts during loan with the Championship champions BHA — four in cup competition — after failing to break through in Vancouver after making seven starts in 2015.
2 Fraser AIRD
Falkirk/SCO • 6/1 • 22
Prefers playing in the midfield, but will get the the chance to show he can be Canada’s right back of the future with no real competition at the Gold Cup with Juan Cordova and Nik Ledgerwood absent. A strong dribbler, Aird gets by defensively with pace and effort, but looks much more comfortable going forward than defending. Looking for a new club after the Cup.
17 Marcel de JONG
Vancouver Whitecaps • 51/3 • 30
Veteran isn’t seeing much of the field in MLS, but remains the starting left back for Canada. Will need to be more consistent than he was against Curaçao or will face more competition going forward. Capable of good long-range strikes, de Jong scored the last Gold Cup goal from the run of play for Canada in 2009.
5 Dejan JAKOVIC
New York Cosmos/USA • 35/0 • 31
After minimal playing time at Shimizu S-Pulse in the past year, Jakovic has returned to North America and has shown his form hasn’t dipped as he seeks a role going forward internationally. Was a bright spot at the 2015 Gold Cup and looks useful in the short term at least.
3 Manjrekar JAMES
Vasas/HUN • 11/2 • 23
A strong tournament could go a long way to establishing himself high in the pecking order in a crowded centre of defence. James has youth and athleticism on his side. Has shown he is adept at getting the team and himself into and out of trouble at various time.
15 Adam STRAITH
FC Edmonton • 43/0 • 26
The Floro favourite is getting more time as a central defender for the national team, while being used primarily in the midfield for his new club. His versatility and comfort on the ball may be key to retaining a squad place. He also has youth on his side compared to Vitoria, Jakovic and the injured David Edgar. Straith has worn the armband twice in the past year.
4 Steven VITÓRIA
Lechia Gdansk/POL • 5/1 • 30
After a barren spell down the depth with Benfica and a poor loan spell in MLS, Vitoria had a strong first season in Poland. The towering defender may be too old be a factor in 2022, but he has never relied on pace. Hard to guess his role since he wasn’t involved in Scotland or Montréal.
8 Scott ARFIELD
Burnley/ENG • 7/0 • 28
Versatile midfielder is looking for a defined role in Zambrano’s system. Without Atiba Hutchinson and Julian de Guzman and Bernier set to retire, Arfield could be an automatic starter in the centre of the midfield. Not a prolific goal-scorer, but capable of scoring from range and dangerous as a set-piece taker. Seems to fit in a box-to-box role centrally.
20 Patrice BERNIER
Montréal Impact • 54/2 • 37
Is this his swan song? Bernier’s play hasn’t dropped for the Impact and Zambrano feels he still has plenty to contribute. The veteran announced this was his last season, but Zambrano wants him in the middle of his midfield, pulling the strings at the Gold Cup. Against Curaçao he looked more comfortable and got more involved as he dropped deeper to see more of the ball.
12 Alphonso DAVIES
Vancouver Whitecaps • 1/0 • 16
Davies got his feet wet in MLS before thrown into the deep end. Zambrano doesn’t seem to have any doubt that he is ready to contribute now. He helped change the game against Curaçao and won a penalty while becoming Canada’s youngest senior international. The left-sided player has electric pace, great feet and is an elusive dribbler. He also hit the target four times in his debut. While his offensive skills fuel the dreams of Canadian supporters, his work rate and combativeness are big reasons why he will succeed.
21 Raheem EDWARDS
Toronto FC • 1/0 • 21
One of the revelations of the MLS season, Edwards has been consistently dangerous for Toronto FC after being converted to a left wingback role. Has looked more comfortable on the left than on the right for club and country and will likely be deployed farther up the pitch than his wingback role at TFC.
10 Junior HOILETT
Cardiff City/WAL • 12/0 • 27
Super second half performance against Curaçao marred by penalty miss. Now that he has plenty of attack-minded players to play with, can he deliver the end product? The left-footed attacker has undoubtable quality, but has yet to score for his country. In the prime of his career, his time is now.
14 Mark-Anthony KAYE
Louisville City/USA • 1/0 • 22
The biggest surprise in the squad, Kaye is big, athletic and versatile being able to play left back and in the midfield either wide or in a holding role. He came off the bench late against Curaçao and looked composed while providing composure and energy in the midfield.
13 Jonathan OSORIO
Toronto FC • 16/1 • 25
Despite loud complaints when he wasn’t in Floro’s squads (valid as they were, considering who was being called), Osorio’s international form has never matched his club form. After a great 2016 in Toronto, the attacking midfielder is struggling this season for TFC. A chance to audition to fill Bernier’s boots.
23 Michael PETRASSO
Queens Park Rangers/ENG • 2/0 • 21
Showed some rust with the U23s after only playing an hour in two appearances with QPR this season. Still scored a stunning goal that showed his talent. He may struggle to see the pitch at the Gold Cup. He could play on the right (possibly as an emergency right back after seeing time there in training), but has typically featured on the left where he is able to cut in and shoot with his right foot. Petrasso offers loads of pace coming off of the bench.
6 Samuel PIETTE
Izarra/ESP • 31/0 • 22
Has somewhat quietly been one of Canada’s best players in the last two friendlies. A tenacious ball-winner who does the dirty work in the midfield, he has toned down the reckless challenges and is tidier with the ball at his feet than he is given credit for. Seeks to earn a regular starting place as a midfield destroyed in front of the back four under Zambrano after piling up the caps under Floro.
7 Russell TEIBERT
Vancouver Whitecaps • 18/1 • 24
Former Voyageurs Cup MVP turned heads coming off the bench against Curaçao and linking the midfield and attack very well. Began his career as a wide left-sided player, but has looked more useful centrally as his career has progressed. Has made seven appearances in MLS for the Whitecaps and four more in the Champions League this season.
19 Lucas CAVALLINI
Peñarol/URU • 3/0 • 24
After five years of scoring goals and making controversial comments in the press in Uruguay, Cavallini’s international career could truly begin in earnest at the Gold Cup. Only has 83 minutes under his belt as a senior international. Played as a target forward during his time with the Olympic team, may fit better in a slightly withdrawn role. With Larin out for three matches, no one has a bigger opportunity or more to prove than Cavallini.
16 Anthony JACKSON-HAMEL
Montréal Impact • 4/2 • 23
Jackson-Hamel may get first crack at trying to fill Larin’s boots. The Québec City product is having a breakout season in MLS with five goals (averaging 1.23 goals/90 mins) and scoring twice (1.07 goals/90 mins) in four Canadian caps to date. He showed more versatility, better movement and more combination play against Curaçao than he typically does with the Impact.
9 Tosaint RICKETTS
Toronto FC • 55/15 • 29
Played regularly in a wide right role under Floro, will likely find something a little more familiar under Zambrano. Has a strong scoring record for his country and has eight goals (0.67 goals/90 mins) since joining Toronto FC. Could lead the line, but seems more likely to play opposite Hoilett in a second striker role.