Canada kicks off its 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup against Martinique Sunday, July 11 before continuing the group stage against Haiti (July 15) and USA (July 18). The Gold Cup is held every two years and is Cocnacaf’s regional international championship, similar to UEFA’s Euros. The United States is hosting the Gold Cup.
Canada is fresh off advancing to the final round of World Cup qualifying for the first time since 1997 and is hoping to carry its good form into this year’s Gold Cup
Canada taking strong squad
(Note: Since this article was originally published, Alphonso Davies has been withdrawn from Canada’s Gold Cup roster due to injury.)
Despite a couple notable absences, Canada head coach John Herdman is taking a relatively strong squad to the 2021 Gold Cup.
Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich) and Cyle Larin (Besiktas) are going. Key figures Stephen Eustáquio (FC Paços de Ferreira), Richie Laryea (Toronto FC) and David Junior Hoilett (unattached) will also get playing time, along with young talents Theo Corbeanu (Wolverhampton Wanderers) and Tajon Buchanan (New England Revolution).
“I think when you bring the roster together the players are always excited to represent (Canada) at the Gold Cup,” said Herdman in a media call last week. “They see that as a great opportunity to gain experience for international players”
But the big names may see their playing time reduced, especially during the opening round. Herdman won’t want to strain any top players ahead of the final round of World Cup Qatar 2022 qualifying in September.
Herdman will try to find the right balance between ensuring advancement in the tournament and keeping his top players fit, given World Cup qualifying is his stated priority.
Jonathan David missing from Gold Cup roster
Canada will be without one of its best attackers. Jonathan David has been left out of the Gold Cup roster in order to rest and recover from what was a long domestic and international season.
Herdman said the Lille OSC forward was dealing with a groin issue during World Cup qualifying in June, and that he left the 21-year-old forward out of the Gold Cup squad to allow him to recover for both his upcoming club season and for the beginning of Canada’s World Cup qualifying.
“He called us last week and (his groin injury) is still not where he wants it to be,” said Herdman. “Given he’s got a massive year ahead looking to retain the championship, going into Champions League and obviously qualifying Canada for the World Cup, I think all of us have sort of made that decision for him just to take a step back and push through the recovery.
“It was a tough decision for him. He loves being in the environment. He loves being with the guys and representing this country. Hard decision, but we’ll see him back for the World Cup qualifiers.”
USA squad not its strongest
Canada will not face the United States’ strongest possible squad when they play each other in the group stage’s final game July 18.
Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Weston McKennie (Juventus) and Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig) highlight USA’s absentees.
Coach Gregg Berhalter has opted to use his USA-based players, preferring to give his European-based players a rest before their upcoming domestic seasons and World Cup qualifying.
But the match with the United States will still very much be Canada’s toughest test up to that point.
High expectations for Canada
Herdman will demand progress from the group stage from his squad. And will likely expect at least reach the semifinals, depending on quarterfinal opposition, given the quality in this Canadian squad.
But expectations were also high in Gold Cup 2019, when the Canadians famously imploded in the quarterfinals, giving up a 2-0 lead to un-fancied Haiti who eventually won 3-2.
Canada beat Haiti easily in last month’s World Cup qualifiers, going someway to right 2019’s perceived wrong. And Herdman will want to further prove he and his squad have learned its lessons by advancing to the latter stages of this year’s Gold Cup.
Borjan’s absence an opportunity for back-up goalkeepers
Milan Borjan will not play at this year’s Gold Cup. The 33-year-old Crvena zvezda goalkeeper has made 53 appearances for country and is Canada’s regular starter.
But the 33-year-old is being given some time to rest and to prepare for his club’s attempt to qualifying for this season’s UEFA Champions League.
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Borjan’s absence means Herdman will get to see how deep his goalkeeping pool is, with Dayne St. Clair (Minnesota United FC), Maxime Crépeau (Vancouver Whitecaps FC) and Jayson Leutwiler (Oldham Athletic AFC) being named to the squad.
“We’ll miss Milan,” said Herdman. “He’ll be a big miss in the dressing room and around the environment.”
“But with Maxime Crépeau coming back in, you know Max has been in our leadership group at a lot of our camps. He brings a calm and a real clarity to the work ethic and what’s required in the training environment. So, I’m excited to have Max back.”