Herdman reflects on injuries, form and playing time before Canada play in the World Cup

As the clock ticked, coach John Herdman on Friday offered a glimpse into the players’ puzzle he is trying to solve before the Canadian men return to the World Cup for the first time in 36 years.

Canada, ranked at No. 43 in the world, will meet No. 48 Qatar in Vienna on September 23 and No. 13 Uruguay in Bratislava (Slovakia) on September 27 in the last FIFA international window before the World Cup in Qatar.

Herdman said it’s been a “real roller coaster ride” watching his talent pool over the past four months, with some taking a step forward and others falling behind. His main concerns include the health and form of his players and their playing time at club level.

“There seems to be a lot going on,” Herdman said in a virtual availability from Bratislava on Friday.

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“Things are happening here that have been super positive and some things that are, yeah, keeping me up at night,” he added.

“But at the same time, this window cannot be everything. There’s a lot of football that needs to be played or not played by some players over the next month, which will come to mind when I’m picking that final squad.”

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The Canada men will play a final warm-up game against No. 24 No. 17 Japan at Al Maktoum Stadium in Dubai before the World Cup begins on November 20.

Canada open Group F play against No. 2 Belgium on November 23, before taking on No. 15 Croatia on November 27 and No. 23 Morocco on December 1.

READ MORE: Canadian men return to business after celebrating World Cup qualifiers

Herdman has not downplayed the challenge that awaits him in Qatar.

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“In these games it’s an underdog story for us. It’s just real excitement and an opportunity to go out and be brave, be brave, test ourselves and take a step forward for Canada to build respect and credibility as a footballing nation. It’s a sobering process when you delve into scouting with these teams.

“But again, the reality for Canada is that we don’t have high expectations of this team from the world. We have our own expectations, so we have good internal motivators. And we are not clouded by the external motivations or the external noise that I believe surrounds our opponents.”

His team goes into the World Cup “with a certain confidence that we can close the gap”.

“Like any tournament football, anyone can beat anyone, any day,” he added. “So that’s the spirit we’re going to play with.”

Topping the list of injury concerns is captain Atiba Hutchinson, who will miss the games against Qatar and Uruguay.

A bruised bone sustained in pre-season has sidelined the 39-year-old midfielder for Besiktas, Canada’s perennial men’s league leader at 97, on his injury comeback with hopes he’ll be ready by the end of October.

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As Canada’s longest-serving active player, Hutchinson has long awaited the World Cup stage. Hutchinson appeared in his first World Cup qualifier in June 2004.

“It’s a difficult situation for him. Because I think he means so much to the team for all of us,” Herdman said.

“If (there is) someone you want to see at a World Cup, it’s Atiba Hutchinson.”

Hutchinson has worked to maintain his fitness without being able to put weight on the leg. “We’re taking a long time to move forward,” Herdman said.

Toronto defender Doneil Henry (hamstring) and Scottish club St Johnstone midfielder David Wotherspoon (knee) are also unavailable for the September games.

CF Montreal defender Joel Waterman and Blackpool FC striker Theo Corbeanu are called up to the senior team for the first time. RCD Espanyol de Barcelona’s teenage winger Luca Koleosho, who was first called up to Canada’s senior squad in June but has not yet played, is the youngest player in the squad at 18.

Forward Liam Millar returns to the line-up after missing last camp in Canada in June with a broken arm.

Toronto midfielders Mark Anthony-Kaye and Jonathan Osorio have been called up despite recent injury concerns. Kaye is now back in action after an ongoing lower-body problem, while Osorio, who has been dealing with what he called “neurological dysfunction” after elbowing himself in the head, is close to returning.

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Henry left TFC practice early Thursday after feeling his hamstring.

With Toronto and Vancouver on the verge of being eliminated from the Major League Soccer playoffs, Herdman also has players who will likely be idle after the regular-season finals on Oct. 9.

Herdman said his staff designed an off-field training program for those missing the playoffs “as a worst-case scenario.”

While Tajon Buchanan is out injured at Belgium’s Club Brugge, the speedy winger will only be in the Canada camp for the game against Uruguay.

“His minutes will be very limited as both club and country try to put him in cotton wool.” Herdman said, calling it “a really tricky situation.”

Buchanan’s team-mate at Brugge striker Cyle Larin hasn’t seen much playing time lately.

Among the positives are Koleosho, who is getting playing time in Spain’s top flight, and 20-year-old Corbeanu, who is doing well on loan from Wolves at England’s Blackpool. Waterman also impressed in Montreal.

Red Star Belgrade goalkeeper Milan Borjan is the most experienced international in September’s 27-man squad with 65 caps. Also on the list are Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David and Stephen Eustaquio.

READ MORE: Edmonton’s Alphonso Davies donates World Cup proceeds to charity

The other goalies are Maxime Crepeau and Dayne St. Clair, two of eleven MLS players in the squad.

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MLS talent includes defenders Waterman, Kamal Miller and Alistair Johnston, as well as CF Montreal midfielders Samuel Piette and Ismael Kone, Toronto full-back Richie Laryea and midfielders Kaye and Osorio, and Whitecaps forward Lucas Cavallini.

September’s camp for Canada is Canada’s first since June, when players boycotted a planned friendly against Panama in Vancouver over a pay dispute. The team then played a CONCACAF Nations League game in Honduras and lost 2-1.

READ MORE: Compensation negotiations with Canada men’s soccer team could drag on beyond the World Cup

As talks continue on the contract front, Herdman said his squad can now “focus fully on the football side”.

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The Canadian men are 5-3-0 so far this year.

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Canada lost 3-1 to Uruguay in February 1986 at the Orange Bowl in Miami in warm-up for the 1986 World Cup. The Canadians last met a South American opponent in October 2014 and lost 1-0 to Colombia.

The Canada men have never played against Qatar, reigning AFC Asian Cup champions, and have not faced an Asian opponent since November 2016 when they were beaten 2-0 by South Korea.

Japan won both of their previous encounters with Canada, 2-1 in Doha in 2013 and 3-0 in Niigata during the 2001 Confederations Cup.

Herdman said the congested schedule rearranged by the pandemic meant European teams were unavailable for the game against Canada ahead of the World Cup. Canada is also still fighting for respect when it comes to finding opponents, he suggested.

But he called the date with Uruguay, whose roster value he put at over $400 million, a “massive coup.”

“Our boys, we can’t wait,” he said of the clash against a Uruguayan team with talents from Liverpool, Manchester United and Atletico Madrid.

“It’s pretty exciting.”

Also on Friday, Canadian-born Daniel Jebbison was called up to England’s Under-20 squad for games against Chile, Morocco and Australia. The 18-year-old Sheffield United forward is the youngest of three brothers (along with Micah and Jonathan) who attended ANB Futbol Academy in King City, Ontario. before the family left Milton, Ontario for England to pursue the boys’ football dream.

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Herdman said there were “ongoing discussions” with Jebbison, who previously played for England’s Under-18 and Under-19 teams.

Canada squad for upcoming Friendlies

Goalkeeper: Milan Borjan, Red Star Belgrade (Serbia); Maxime Crepeau, Los Angeles FC (MLS); Dayne St Clair, Minnesota United (MLS).

Defender: Samuel Adekugbe, Hatayspor FC (Turkey); Derek Cornelius, Panetolikos FC (Greece); Alphonso Davies, Bayern Munich (Germany); Alistair Johnston, Montreal CF (MLS); Scott Kennedy, SSV Jahn Regensburg (Germany); Richie Laryea, Toronto FC (MLS); Kamal Miller, CF Montreal (MLS); Steven Vitoria, DG Chaves (Portugal); Joel Waterman, Montreal CF (MLS).

Midfield player: Stephen Eustaquio, FC Porto (Portugal); Mark-Anthony Kaye, Toronto FC (MLS); Ismael Kone, CF Montreal; Jonathan Osorio, Toronto FC (MLS); Samuel Piette, Montreal FC (MLS).

Forward: Charles-Andreas Brym, FC Eindhoven (Netherlands); Tajon Buchanan, Club Brugge KV (Belgium); Lucas Cavallini, Vancouver Whitecaps (MLS); Theo Corbeanu, Blackpool FC (England); Jonathan David, OSC Lille (France); David (Junior) Hoilett, Reading FC (England); Luca Koleosho, RCD Espanyol (Spain); Cyle Larin, Club Brugge (Belgium); Liam Millar, FC Basel (Switzerland); Ike Ugbo, ES Troyes AC (France).

© 2022 The Canadian Press Herdman reflects on injuries, form and playing time before Canada play in the World Cup

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