Good Friday morning Caps fans — hope you all are full steam ahead with your Friday, heading towards a well-earned weekend.
We have some honest to God soccer to discuss ahead of this weekend. Yeah, it isn’t Vancouver but it involves several Whitecaps and that is good enough for the time being.
We are talking, of course, about the CONCACAF men’s World Cup Qualifiers, which kicked off yesterday. It is a chance for both Canada and the United States to address longstanding absences from the Olympics — the U.S. hasn’t qualified since the Sydney games in 2000; Canada’s drought goes back to 1984.
Both have credible hopes of changing that, even though many top youngsters are not on the roster. In his breakdown of Canada’s final roster, our man Luis notes that this is in part due to the hesitancy on the part of many European clubs to release players for such an event.
But it is also due to the fact that the senior men’s national team has no shortage of big matches coming up as well. The roster selection is all part of a broader strategy to forge ahead in World Cup Qualifying as well, arguably a much bigger prize for Canada (and the U.S., truth be told). And COVID-19 cost the side a few players from Toronto FC, it appears.
Still, there is no shortage of Caps’ players to make the cut. Derek Cornelius is likely to be a starting centerback, Michael Baldisimo leads a trio of Caps’ midfielders, which also includes Ryan Raposo and Patrick Metcalfe. And Theo Bair will look to jump-start his renaissance with a strong performance in Mexico.
Usually, international duty is met with groans from fans from a pure club soccer perspective — the risk is high for injury or burnout and this season is set to be a hellhole for the Caps in this sense, given how many players they are likely to be missing at any given time.
But the U-23 competition is a pretty good forum for this group of guys, most of whom are trying to play their way into a bigger role for the Caps and will likely be motivated to put in a good showing. The Caps’ top youngsters will come back to the club match fit and (hopefully) in form. It is a rare case of a win-win from the perspective of both club and country.
Truth be told, Canada has a slightly easier path to Tokyo, given that their group doesn’t involve Mexico, perennially the youth power of CONCACAF. But winning their group could set them on a collision course for a match with the U.S., who scuffed a 1-0 result against Costa Rica, in a match where they did not look especially comfortable.
Assuming the U.S. beats the Dominican Republic (one never should assume with the USMNT), the game against Mexico would determine who wins that group. This could set the stage for the U.S.-Canada showdown, which would be great for on-the-pitch drama and bad for me, as an American.
That being said, as someone with an obvious rooting interest in the Canadian Men’s National Team, it is exciting to see some of the talent on the U-23 roster, which I’ve done some reading about in recent days. It will be especially intriguing getting a look at Sporting Lisbon starlet Lucas Dias and Tajon Buchannon appears to be attracting some European interest ahead of the qualifiers. If this is a new high watermark for the senior national team, then it appears the pipeline to replenish the roster is in fine form as well, even absent some of the top young players.
The status of the Tokyo Olympics is still unclear but we know for a fact that Canada and El Salvador kick-off at 6:00 p.m. EST/3:00 p.m. PST. Be there or be square.
Shameless Self Promotion
We are doing our annual season preview discussion in a different format this year: a video podcast series, which we are going to be releasing slowly over the course of the next couple of weeks. The only downside? You have to stare at my face.
We thought this would be a more engaging way of doing things and we all had a lot of fun recording our first few episodes — give it a watch and see what you think!
Best of the Rest
Another preview of what the Canadians are facing in the Olympic qualifiers
On Cristian Gutierrez and how he has positioned himself as the heir apparent at left back for both club and country
How the Caps’ youth pipeline will need to remain strong in a bid to help ease the club’s training camp absences
Sacramento Republic is trying to get back into the MLS expansion mix
An alarming torrent of hatred has been directed at Asian communities in North America in the last year, something which has now turned deadly in the U.S after a mass shooting in Georgia earlier this week.
We stand with our friends in the Asian-American/Pacific Islander communities and offer love and support during these difficult times — we need to do better.