CF Montreal’s exit from the Major League Soccer playoffs on Sunday was more than a local concern. At least four probable members of the Canadian men’s national team, including certain starter Alistair Johnston and rising midfielder Ismael Koné, are now idled with nearly a month to go before their first match in November’s World Cup in Qatar.
Montreal’s 3-1 loss to NYCFC means that Canadian reserve goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau is the only national team member still active in MLS, after his LAFC defeated the LA Galaxy in a 3-2 thriller last week.
With World Cup organizers trying to avoid the worst of Qatar’s heat, this year’s winter edition will see most higher-level players arriving in midseason form. Belgium and Croatia, two of Canada’s group-stage opponents, will feature the likes of Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne and Real Madrid’s Luka Modric at peak match fitness.
Canada’s roster is divided fairly evenly by the Atlantic Ocean, and head coach John Herdman will need to get his MLS players up to European speed.
Even before Montreal’s defeat, Herdman had been worried enough about his squad’s relative rust — particularly those members who failed to make the MLS playoffs, including Mark-Anthony Kaye, Richie Laryea, and others at Toronto FC— to organize a friendly versus Bahrain on Nov. 11.
Canada had already scheduled a friendly versus Japan in Dubai for Nov. 17, only three days before the World Cup begins.
It’s a gamble to play international fixtures so close to the tournament itself, raising the risk of injury after final rosters have been set. (They must be submitted to FIFA on Nov. 14.) The Americans, for instance, have chosen not to play any more exhibitions.
Herdman, who is fanatical in his preparation, appears wise rather than reckless following Montreal’s elimination. Concerns about late-stage injury are now pretty clearly outweighed by the need to reclaim the team spirit and momentum that propelled the Canadian men to their first World Cup since 1986.
The news has been more positive on the European side of Canada’s ledgers.
Alphonso Davies, who suffered a cranial bruise and apparent concussion after being kicked in the face in a game earlier this month, has returned to action at Bayern Munich and not lost a step. (He was blazing in his first game back, hitting a top speed of 36 km/h.)