Coach John Herdman has chosen his troops for a crucial World Cup qualifying stretch in June that could see Canada advance to the final round of CONCACAF qualifying.
With injuries, form and availability influencing his selection, Herdman has made seven changes to the squad that dispatched Bermuda 5-1 and the Cayman Islands 11-0 in late March.
One notable absence is 38-year-old captain Atiba Hutchinson, who is nursing a mild injury after his season with Turkey’s Besiktas.
Goalkeeper James Pantemis, defenders Doneil Henry, Scott Kennedy and Steven Vitoria and midfielders Liam Fraser and Jonathan Osorio and forward Tajon Buchanan are added to the 24-man roster.
Dropping out are Hutchinson, Maxime Crepeau, Ricardo Ferreira, Cristian Gutierrez, Kamal Miller, Joel Waterman and Jayden Nelson.
Crepeau’s partner is expecting a baby while Miller is injured.
Uncapped players include Pantemis, Kennedy, Buchanan and goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair.
Herdman plans to bring 10 more players into camp in Florida next week, to support the initial 24-man roster and to have a larger squad in the loop with the Gold Cup scheduled to begin in July.
His 24-man roster is an inexperienced squad internationally with midfielder Samuel Piette (51 caps) and goalkeeper Borjan (50) the only players with 35 or more caps. There are 16 players with 15 or fewer caps, including seven with two or fewer caps.
But the quality is undeniable with the likes of Borjan, Alphonso Davies, Jonathan Davies and Cyle Larin.
Borjan (Red Star Belgrade, Serbia), Davies (Bayern Munich, Germany), David (Lille, France) and Larin (Besiktas) are coming off league-winning seasons. David Wotherspoon helped St. Johnstone to a historic cup double in Scotland.
First up for the 70th-ranked Canadian men are their final group B games June 5 and 8 against No. 205 Aruba and No. 136 Suriname, respectively. Only the group winner advances, with the Canada-Suriname likely deciding that.
Both teams won their first two matches, although Canada has a plus-six edge in goal difference.
“We have an opportunity to build on our solid start, after we put ourselves in a good position with goals difference in the first two matches so that we can control our destiny in the games to come,” Herdman said in a statement.
“Whatever comes at us, we will take it on and do whatever we need to do to advance to the next round,” he added.
The winner of Canada’s group advances to face the Group E winner — likely No. 83 Haiti, No. 147 Nicaragua or No. 170 Belize — in the second-round playoffs.
Those playoffs are scheduled for June 12 and 15, making for a logistical challenge for Canadian team officials, who face having to make travel plans for three different countries in a pandemic.
The winners of the three second-round playoffs join five other higher-ranked teams in the final round of eight in the region, which will see the teams play each home and on the road. Mexico (No. 11), the U.S. (No. 20), Jamaica (No. 45), Costa Rica (No. 50) and Honduras (No. 67) received byes directly to the so-called Octagonal.
The top three teams will qualify for Qatar 2022, representing North and Central America and the Caribbean. The fourth-place finisher will take part in an intercontinental playoff to see who joins them.
The June 5 qualifier is officially a home match for Aruba but will be played at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., instead. The June 8 match against Suriname is a Canadian home match but will be played at SeatGeek Stadium, formerly known as Toyota Stadium, in Bridgeview, Ill.
Travel restrictions due to the pandemic have forced Canada and other countries to find neutral sites to stage these games. The Canadian men’s first qualifier against No. 168 Bermuda took place March 26 in Orlando rather than a home venue north of the border.
The Canadians played the 194th-ranked Cayman Islands in Bradenton on March 29, romping to a record 11-0 win in what was scheduled as a home match for the Cayman Islands.
Suriname hosts Bermuda on June 4 in Paramaribo before facing Canada.
Thirty CONCACAF teams are competing in the pandemic-delayed first round of World Cup qualifying. The six group winners move on to a second round of head-to-head knockout matches.
Goalkeepers: Milan Borjan, Red Star Belgrade (Serbia); James Pantemis, CF Montreal (MLS); Dayne St. Clair, Minnesota United (MLS).
Centre Backs: Doneil Henry, Suwon Samsung Bluewings (South Korea); Scott Kennedy, SSV Jahn Regensburg (Germany); Frank Sturing, FC Den Bosch (the Netherlands); Steven Vitoria, Moreirense FC (Portugal).
Fullbacks: Samuel Adekugbe, Valerenga Fotball (Norway); Alphonso Davies, Bayern Munich (Germany); Alistair Johnston, Nashville SC;(MLS) Richie Laryea, Toronto FC (MLS).
Midfielders: Stephen Eustaquio, FC Pacos de Ferreira (Portugal); Liam Fraser, Columbus Crew SC (MLS, on loan from Toronto); Mark-Anthony Kaye, Los Angeles FC (MLS); Jonathan Osorio, Toronto FC (MLS); Samuel Piette, CF Montreal; David Wotherspoon, St. Johnstone (Scotland).
Forwards: Tajon Buchanan, New England Revolution (MLS); Lucas Cavallini, Vancouver Whitecaps (MLS); Theo Corbeanu, Wolverhampton Wanderers (England); Jonathan David, Lille (France); David (Junior Hoilett), Cardiff City (Wales); Cyle Larin, Besiktas (Turkey); Liam Millar, Charlton Athletic (England, on loan from Liverpool).