Toronto FC forward Ayo Akinola, front, scores his second goal of the game during first half MLS soccer action against the Montreal Impact, in Kissimmee, Fla., Thursday, July 16, 2020. Toronto FC striker Ayo Akinola will get a chance to see how the other half lives next month at a Canadian national team camp. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-John Raoux

Toronto FC’s Ayo Akinola accepts chance to see what life is like in Canadian colours

Toronto FC’s Ayo Akinola accepts chance to see what life is like in Canadian colours

Toronto FC striker Ayo Akinola will get a chance to see how the other half lives next month at a Canadian national team camp in Florida.

The 20-year-old Akinola, who was born in Detroit but moved to Canada when he was one, is eligible to play for Canada, the U.S. and Nigeria. He made his debut for the U.S. senior side earlier this month, scoring in a 6-0 win over El Salvador, but was not cap-tied since the match was a friendly.

Akinola, whose Canadian-born younger brother Tom has featured in the Canadian youth setup, has come up through the U.S. ranks and played at the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup in India.

Canada Soccer has stayed in touch with Akinola, who turned heads with five goals in two games at the MLS is Back Tournament in July. He finished with nine goals in 15 MLS games this season.

“He’s got big decisions to make. We’re very respectful of that,” said Canada coach John Herdman. “The one thing he has wanted is that opportunity to experience Canada. There are some big pros and cons for the decision both ways, whether it’s the U.S. or Canada.

“We’ve had a lot of conversations over the last seven, eight months and he’s kept his word to come in with us,” he added. “We’ll just be ourselves and show him what Canada has to offer.”

Akinola still has time to ponder his international future. But the clock is ticking with World Cup qualifying and the CONCACAF Gold Cup looming in 2021.

The 28-player Canadian camp is slated to run Jan. 9 to 24 in a bubble at the IMG Center in Bradenton, Fla, where the WNBA returned to action. It will include two training scrimmages against as-yet-unannounced opposition as well as a Canada intra-squad scrimmage.

Marcelo Flores is another talent with international options invited to the camp. The 17-year-old Canadian-born forward, who is in the Arsenal setup, has already featured in the Mexican youth program thanks to his father’s bloodlines. Canada Soccer would like to claim him.

Two other camp invitees have already opted for Canada.

Theo Corbeanu, an 18-year-old from Hamilton, has switched allegiance from Romania to Canada. He made the bench Monday for Wolves’ 2-1 loss at Burnley in English Premier League action.

Frank Sturing, a 23-year-old defender from the Netherlands who is eligible for Canada through his parent’s bloodlines, has also declared for Canada. A centre back currently playing for FC Den Bosch in the Dutch second division, he was part of the larger Canadian squad for the postponed CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Championship.

“There’s been some good work done behind the scenes during this period,” said Herdman, referencing the players choosing Canada.

Herdman has a lot to do in a short time, with CONCACAF World Cup and Olympic qualifying set to start in March and the Gold Cup in July. And he knows things could change quickly given the pandemic.

The January camp falls outside of the FIFA international calendar, so Herdman has elected to focus on players out of season in North America and Europe. Twenty-two of the 28 players are from Major League Soccer, including seven from Toronto FC, six from the Montreal Impact and four from the Vancouver Whitecaps.

The Canadian men, currently ranked 72nd in the world, have not played since Jan. 15 when they lost 1-0 to Iceland in Irvine, Calif. That friendly followed a camp in California and a pair of 4-1 wins over Barbados on Jan. 7 and 10.

The pandemic subsequently grounded the Canadian program. A men’s camp planned for November in Europe was called off on the advice of medical experts.

Herdman knows COVID-19 could still affect the January camp. Two invitees — Flores and Corbeanu — are with English clubs with travel to and from Britain complicated by the discovery of a new strain of the virus there.

Marcos Bustos of Pacific FC is the lone Canadian Premier League player summoned although Impact defender Joel Waterman previously played for Cavalry FC.

Akinola, Corbeanu, Flores, Sturing and Waterman are among 11 newcomers to the senior squad. The others are Cristian Gutierrez of the Whitecaps, Dayne St. Clair of Minnesota United, Alistair Johnston of Nashville SC, Tajon Buchanan of New England Revolution, Ralph Priso of Toronto FC and Belal Halbouni of Germany’s SV Werder Bremen.

Gutierrez, who was born in Quebec but moved to Chile when he was three, represented Chile at youth level but is in the process of changing his international allegiance.

Buchanan, Johnston and St. Clair all turned heads in MLS this season while Priso looked older than his years in brief appearances for Toronto.

There are 18 players born in 1997 or later, making them eligible for the rescheduled CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Championship.

Veterans called up include Mark-Anthony Kaye of Los Angeles FC, Lucas Cavallini and Maxime Crepeau from the Whitecaps, Richie Laryea and Jonathan Osorio from Toronto FC, Samuel Piette from the Impact, Tesho Akindele from Orlando City SC, and Samuel Adekugbe from Norway’s Valerenga Fotball.

Canada is scheduled to finally open its 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign March 25 at home to Bermuda, the first of a possible 20 matches if the Canadian men are to book their ticket to Qatar.

After opening Group B play against No. 169 Bermuda, the Canadians play March 28 at the 193rd-ranked Cayman Islands and June 5 at No. 200 Aruba before wrapping up first-round play June 8 at home to No. 141 Suriname.

Canada

Goalkeepers: Maxime Crepeau, Vancouver Whitecaps (MLS); James Pantemis, Montreal Impact (MLS); Dayne St. Clair, Minnesota United FC (MLS).

Defenders: Derek Cornelius, Vancouver Whitecaps (MLS); Belal Halbouni, SV Werder Bremen II (Germany); Kamal Miller, Montreal Impact (MLS); Frank Sturing, FC Den Bosch (the Netherlands); Joel Waterman, Montreal Impact (MLS); Samuel Adekugbe, Valerenga Fotball (Norway); Zorhan Bassong, Montreal Impact (MLS); Zachary Brault-Guillard, Montreal Impact (MLS); Tajon Buchanan, New England Revolution (MLS); Cristian Gutierrez, Vancouver Whitecaps (MLS); Alistair Johnston, Nashville SC (MLS); Richie Laryea, Toronto FC (MLS).

Midfielders: Tesho Akindele, Orlando City SC (MLS); Marco Bustos, Pacific FC (CPL); Liam Fraser, Toronto FC (MLS); Mark-Anthony Kaye, Los Angeles FC (MLS); Noble Okello, Toronto FC (MLS): Jonathan Osorio, Toronto FC (MLS); Samuel Piette, Montreal Impact (MLS); Ralph Priso, Toronto FC (MLS).

Forwards: Ayo Akinola, Toronto FC (MLS); Lucas Cavallini, Vancouver Whitecaps (MLS); Marcelo Flores, Arsenal (England); Jayden Nelson, Toronto FC (MLS); Theo Corbeanu, Wolverhampton Wanderers (England).

—-

Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 23, 2020

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

soccer

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Town of Ponoka and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) have ratified a new agreement, averting a strike. (File photo from Facebook)
Alberta gov’t ‘using pandemic as shield to lay off workers,’ says AUPE

The Government of Alberta’s “attacks on workers” is continuing with a new… Continue reading

Rocky Mountain House RCMP, EMS, Search and Rescue, STARS air ambulance and Alstrom Helicopters worked together to rescue a fallen ice climber Friday. (Photo contributed by Rocky Mountain House RCMP)
Rocky Mountain House RCMP help rescue fallen ice climber

Rocky Mountain RCMP helped assist a fallen ice climber Friday afternoon. At… Continue reading

Students Association of Red Deer College president Brittany Lausen says she’s pleased the college is offering students a choice to attend class in-person or remotely. (Red Deer Advocate file photo)
Red Deer College winter term enrolment dips

Enrolment down about six per cent but mix of online and in-person instruction is going over well

Brett Salomons, of Salomons Commercial, and Mark Jones, CEO of the Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre, in the CACAC's new temporary home. (Contributed photo)
Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre’s One Day Challenge returns

Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre has announced its One Day Challenge is… Continue reading

Dwayne Buckle, 40 of Red Deer finished a 1,638-kilometre walk, in honour of his family. The 12-week, 82 day-journey wrapped up in Port Hardy, B.C. on Monday. Facebook photo
Red Deer man completes 1,638 km hike for cancer research

Dwayne Buckle, a Red Deer firefighter returned home Friday after his 12-week journey

A restaurant manager in Orlando used a sign to secretly ask an 11-year-old boy if he needs help from his family after they were spotted withholding food from him. (Photo courtesy Orlando Police Department)
WATCH: Restaurant manager uses secret note to ‘rescue’ child, says Orlando Police

The manager of an Orlando restaurant is receiving praise from police after… Continue reading

Tourists take photographs outside the British Columbia Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday August 26, 2011. A coalition of British Columbia tourism industry groups is urging the provincial government to not pursue plans to ban domestic travel to fight the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. travel ban will cripple struggling tourism sector, says industry coalition

VICTORIA — A coalition of British Columbia tourism industry groups is urging… Continue reading

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Provinces work on revised plans as Pfizer-BioNTech shipments to slow down

Quebec and Ontario, the two provinces hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic,… Continue reading

The RCMP logo is seen outside Royal Canadian Mounted Police "E" Division Headquarters, in Surrey, B.C., on Friday April 13, 2018. A young snowshoer who set out alone on a rugged mountain trail on Vancouver's north shore Thursday has died. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Snowshoer dies after overnight search on Vancouver-area mountain: RCMP

SQUAMISH, B.C. — A snowshoer who set out alone on a rugged… Continue reading

nunavut
‘It was joyous:’ Sun returns to some Nunavut communities for first time in weeks

IQALUIT — A sliver of orange rose over Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, earlier… Continue reading

People take photos through the extensive security surrounding the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, ahead of the inauguration of president-elect Joe Biden and vice-president-elect Kamala Harris. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Susan Walsh
Less pomp, very different circumstances as D.C. prepares to inaugurate Biden, Harris

WASHINGTON — Some pomp. Very different circumstances. Inauguration day is supposed to… Continue reading

Winnipeg Jets' Nathan Beaulieu (88) and Nikolaj Ehlers (27) defend against Jansen Harkins (12) during scrimmage at their NHL training camp practice in Winnipeg, Wednesday, January 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods
Winnipeg Jets cancel practice due to possible COVID-19 exposure

WINNIPEG — The Winnipeg Jets have cancelled their practice today due to… Continue reading

In this file photo, a lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018. (By THE CANADIAN PRESS)
No winning ticket for Friday night’s $50 million Lotto Max jackpot

TORONTO — No winning ticket was sold for the $50 million jackpot… Continue reading

Most Read