Canada's John Herdman able to pick from healthy player pool for key U.S. match

TORONTO — Canada coach John Herdman has almost all his weapons available for a key CONCACAF Nations League match against the U.S. on Oct. 15 in Toronto.

"It's been great to be able to choose almost from a fully fit squad," Herdman told a media conference call Tuesday.

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The exception is veteran Atiba Hutchinson. Herdman says the 36-year-old, who plays in Turkey for Besiktas and has won 84 caps internationally, remains committed to Canada but is nursing an injury.

"He needs this FIFA window for recovery," Herdman said. "We'd love to have Atiba in. He'd love to be there. But at the age he's at now, he knows his body well enough and he knows he probably came back a little too early for (his) club."

Captain Scott Arfield returns from injury for the U.S. match as does young midfielder Stephen (pronounced Stefan) Eustaquio.

The uncapped Eustaquio, who injured his knee just minutes into his debut with Mexico's Cruz Azul in January, is a former Portugal under-21 player who committed to Canada in February. Herdman said he is bringing in the newcomer to give him a taste of the Canadian team culture and to assess him first-hand.

"Stephen could be a big part of what we do in November. Particularly if he's got more game time under his belt, he could be really pushing for a starting spot," Herdman said.

"It's great to have him in and be part of what we've created here," he added.

Eustaquio was born in Leamington, Ont., but moved to Portugal when he was 11. He attended a Canadian under-17 camp in 2012 when he was 15.

Amer Didic is the other uncapped player on the roster. It's a second call-up for the FC Edmonton centre back.

"He's someone we've been tracking prior to this CPL season," said Herdman.

The Canadian men, ranked 75th in the world, are looking to secure valuable FIFA rankings points with a win over the 21st-ranked Americans at BMO Field. Canada, currently ranked seventh among CONCACAF countries, is looking to climb into the top six so as to take the most direct route in 2022 World Cup qualifying via the so-called Hex round.

Wins by Canada and losses by El Salvador and Panama have allowed Canada to gain ground recently. Canada is just five points behind No. 6 El Salvador in CONCACAF, after trailing the Central Americans by 30 points in the previous rankings.

Canada currently tops its pool in Nations League Group A play after beating Cuba 6-0 and 1-0. The U.S. opens its campaign Oct. 11 against the visiting Cubans in Washington, D.C., before heading to Toronto.

Canada and the U.S. meet again Nov. 15 in Orlando.

The winner of the three-team group advances to the tournament's final four.

The Americans are currently ranked second in CONCACAF, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean, behind No. 12 Mexico. While the Americans appear to be finding their feet under new coach Gregg Berhalter, history is not on the side of the Canadians.

Canada, whose all-time record against the U.S. is 8-11-14, has not beaten the Americans since March 1985. The Canadians are 0-9-8 since then and have been outscored 17-1 in the last 11 matches.

On the plus side, two of the last three meetings have been 0-0 draws with the U.S winning the other match 1-0.

No. 1 goalkeeper Milan Borjan is the veteran on the Canadian roster with 47 appearances, including 20 clean sheets. Blackburn Rovers 'keeper Jayson Leutwiler comes in for Cavalry FC's Marco Carducci, who faces Forge FC in the first leg of the CPL final on Oct. 26.

Striker Lucas Cavallini returns to the roster after missing the Cuba games due to his wife's pregnancy. Other attacking options include Jonathan David, Alphonso Davies and Junior Hoilett.

Davies (18) and David (19) are two of the six players aged 22 or younger in the squad. The other youngsters are Liam Millar (20), Derek Cornelius (21), Eustaquio (22) and Kamal Miller (22).

The 23-man roster features four players from the Vancouver Whitecaps (Maxime Crepeau, Derek Cornelius, Doneil Henry and Russell Teibert), two from Toronto FC (Richie Laryea and Jonathan Osorio) and one from the Montreal Impact (Samuel Piette).

Henry has been included even though he is ineligible to play Oct. 15 after being sent off in the 1-0 win over Cuba.

"Doneil will continue in his leadership role," said Herdman. "As always, his presence is a big part of what we build in this squad."

Tesho Akindele, Liam Fraser, Cyle Larin, Adam Straith and David Wotherspoon — like Carducci — were part of the Cuba roster but do not make the Oct. 15 squad.

"It shows there's a lot of competition and depth, particularly that front five," said Herdman in noting the absence of the in-form Larin and Akindele.

The Hex group is the primary path in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying with 3 1/2 spots up for grabs. The top six teams in the region according to the June 2020 rankings will make the Hex.

Teams ranked No. 7 through No. 35 in the region will have to qualify the hard way, slogging though the rest of the CONCACAF field with the last team standing facing the fourth-place finisher in the Hex to determine the CONCACAF representative in a FIFA intercontinental playoff to get to the World Cup.

Canada

Goalkeepers: Milan Borjan, Red Star Belgrade (Serbia); Maxime Crepeau, Vancouver Whitecaps (MLS); Jayson Leutwiler, Blackburn Rovers (England).

Defenders: Samuel Adekugbe, Valerenga Fotball (Norway); Juan Cordova, CD Huachipato (Chile); Derek Cornelius, Vancouver Whitecaps (MLS); Amer Didic, FC Edmonton (CPL); Stephen Eustaquio, Cruz Azul (Mexico); Doneil Henry, Vancouver Whitecaps (MLS); Richie Laryea, Toronto FC (MLS); Kamal Miller, Orlando City SC (MLS); Steven Vitoria, Moreirense FC (Portugal).

Midfielders: Scott Arfield, Glasgow Rangers (Scotland); Will Johnson, Orlando City SC (MLS); Mark-Anthony Kaye, Los Angeles FC (MLS); Jonathan Osorio, Toronto FC (MLS); Samuel Piette, Montreal Impact (MLS); Russell Teibert, Vancouver Whitecaps (MLS).

Forwards: Lucas Cavallini, Puebla FC (Mexico); Jonathan David, KAA Gent (Belgium); Alphonso Davies, Bayern Munich (Germany); Junior Hoilett, Cardiff City (Wales); Liam Millar, Kilmarnock (Scotland).

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 1, 2019.

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