Who to watch on team Canada at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar

In this 3 part series of articles, we take a look at the history of soccer in Canada, who to watch at the 2022 World Cup, and what to expect from Team Canada, in Qatar, and also in future World Cups.

Team Canada
Photo courtesy of Canada Soccer

Alphonso Davies (LB/FWD – Bayern Munich) – Canada’s crown jewel, and he is only 21 years old! The star left-back of Bayern Munich (one of Europe’s most successful teams) is a household name in Germany.

Davies was born in Ghana, but grew up playing youth soccer in Edmonton… starting at the age of FIVE! By the age of 15 he was already playing for the Vancouver Whitecaps FC youth squad as a semi-pro, and fully started his pro career at the age of 16, with the Whitecaps FC senior squad. By the age of 21, he had made over 80 appearances for Bayern Munich’s top squad. Selected rookie of the year in the Bundesliga, he was registered as the fastest player in all of soccer this season, clocked in at 36.51 kilometres per hour! He can really run. To put this in perspective he is almost half a km/h faster than Kylian Mbappe! He is actually not too far off from an Olympic 100-meter sprinter’s pace (i.e. most medalists in the modern era are running around 40 km/h at their top speed, on a track, with sprinting shoes… not wearing cleats on grass!). If Canada is to be at all successful at this World Cup, it all depends on Davies, not only his play but his health. He has missed some time, both at Bayern, and a few games for Canada, during the qualification rounds, due to injuries. If he is in shape, and available to play (which barring any unforeseen circumstances, seems to be the case), I expect big things from Davies for Canada this World Cup. With his club he plays left-back, which might sound like a defensive position, but in reality, within specifically the German system of soccer, the left-back is actually the most offensive of all the backs. The history of left-backs in German soccer is rich, and Davies predecessor, Philip Lahm, was one of the most iconic players throughout Germany, and European soccer. Because Canada is no Bayern Munich, Davies might be better employed elsewhere on the pitch, and under Team Canada’s National Roster, it seems this might be the case, as he is actually listed as a Forward.

Jonathan David (FWD – Lille) – The guy most mistaken for Davies! It’s tough when your two best young players have almost the same name! Davies…. I mean David, is a stud! When Davies was out, David picked up the slack. Ok, this is really getting confusing. Jonathan David plays professional soccer in France, for Lille, one of the top teams in France’s Ligue 1 division. David, just like his teammate, grew up playing soccer in Canada, and by the age of 11 was semi-pro, with the Ottawa Gloucester Hornets age of 18 he was playing in Belgium professionally in the city of Ghent. Since getting picked up by Lille, a top-10 team in the French division, David has become their leading goal scorer. And once again it’s not even close. David has 15 goals this season and the rest of the team has 30 combined. This guy scores goals. Watch for his name to be mentioned a lot this world cup, in fact, I predict he will score the first ever goal for Canada at a World Cup. We got completely shut out in 1986, so the name of our first-ever World Cup goal scorer is yet to be written in the history books. Hopefully, we can at least score this time around, and David looks like one of our best shots.

Tajon Buchanan (FWD – Club Brugge) – Tajon grew up in Brampton playing with their Youth SC team. Unlike his two teammates, Buchanan elected to play college soccer in the USA at Syracuse, a school well renowned for it’s sports programs, and orange identity. At the age of 19, Buchanan was selected 9th overall in the 2019 MLS draft by New England Revolution, and by 2021 had become an MLS all-star, won the CONCACAF Gold Cup Young Player of the Year Award, and was solidified as one of the brightest young stars in the MLS. In August 2021, Europe had taken notice, and Buchanan signed a 3.5 year deal with Belgian First Division A champions: Club Brugge. This is huge for Tajon, he has made the move to a top soccer division in Europe! Not only that, he is joining a team that is currently the champion of Belgium’s top league, and represented them in the Champions League. Buchanan is only 23 years old. Give him 4 years of competition in Belgium’s highest division, and the opportunity to play against the best of the best, in both the Champions League, and this year’s World Cup, and he could be one of our most important, and experienced pieces in the next two, or even three, World Cups.

Cyle Larin (FWD – Beşiktaş) – Our most experienced forward, Cyle has appeared in 50 matches internationally for Canada. Born in Brampton, Ontario, Cyle (like his fellow Bramptonian Buchanan) played college soccer in the USA, for UConn. He was so good in college, that teams were fighting for his services. At the 2015 MLS SuperDraft, Larin was selected by Orlando City SC as the first overall pick (as expected), becoming the first Canadian ever chosen first overall in the MLS SuperDraft in the process. There were also teams from England’s Premier Division that were looking at him. Larin was sold to Beşiktaş in Turkey in January 2018, and had an immediate impact with the Turkish powerhouse, scoring in his first game, as a late substitute. In 2020 Larin scored 19 goals for his team, good enough for 2nd overall in the entire Turkish 1st league. He also has Champions League experience and even has a goal in his one appearance.

Atiba Hutchinson (Captain – MF – Beşiktaş) – Another player born in Brampton! What are you guys feeding these kids out there? Atiba is the most experienced player on the team, with 95 international appearances for Team Canada, and is our “Captain Canada”. Atiba is a ripe 39 years old, however on a team with all this young talent, his experience might really be needed. In the midfield, we need someone solid to keep our side calm and methodical, during the high-pressure situations, on the World stage. Hutch has played for some of the top teams in Europe. Copenhagen is one of the top teams in Denmark, and routinely represents Denmark in the Champions League. Atiba was Danish Super Liga Player of the Year in his last season with Copenhagen and was voted to their all-time fan-favourite squad as a midfielder. After Denmark, Atiba moved to PSV Eindhoven, in the Dutch Eredivisie, the top division in the Netherlands, and also a team that makes the Champions League every few years. Since 2013 he has been a mainstay at Beşiktaş in Turkey, joined by Cyle Larin in 2018, making a Canadian-Turkish one-two punch!

Stephen Eustáquio (DMF – Porto) – Stephen was born in Leamington, Ontario – just outside of Windsor, to Portuguese parents. He moved to Portugal at age 7 and began his amateur soccer career there. By the age of 17, he was playing professional soccer, in Portugal, in the second division with men. Today, after climbing the ranks of Portuguese soccer, he plays for the top team in all of Portugal. He was recently loaned, and then signed, just last month (May 2022), by the Portuguese football giant – Porto. He will be playing alongside some of the best international players in soccer this year with Porto. At the age of 25, he will most likely be an integral part of the Canadian squad for the next two World Cups, if he can stay healthy, and pick up some tricks from his top-class teammates out in Porto.

Junior Hoilett (FWD – Reading) – Guess where Junior was born? That’s right! Brampton. At this point I’m starting to feel like Brampton could field its own World Cup team… Hoilett is 32 years old now but was a bit of a soccer prodigy in his youth. Moving to England at the age of 13 to pursue soccer, he played on the youth squad for the Blackburn Rovers, a team currently in the 2nd division in English soccer. He made his professional debut at 17 and has appeared in over 300 matches in the English “Championship” division, the second highest league in the UK. On a Canadian team that is stacked with forwards now, Junior will add much-needed depth to our striking unit. He scores goals and creates chances, and has come on late as a substitute to give Canada a much-needed boost, in a few games in the qualification rounds. Check out this goal he scored in 2018 – that won BBC “Goal of the Month” poll.

Milan Borjan (GK – Red Star Belgrade) – Borjan was born in Croatia, and emigrated to Canada at the age of 13. He grew up playing soccer in Hamilton, Ontario – and at the age of 19 moved to South America to pursue a professional football career, first in Uruguay, and then Argentina. It seemed his true dream was to return to Eastern Europe to play professional football, and he ended up doing just that, and more. After working his way through various teams in Serbia, Bulgaria, Bosnia, and Romania, Milan has spent the last 5 years as Red Star Belgrade’s starting Goalkeeper. Red Star is one of the best teams in Serbia and has appeared in the Champions League numerous times. Borjan actually has two clean sheets in the Champions League, one vs Napoli, and one vs Liverpool. Liverpool at the time employed two of the best strikers in the world in Britain’s Daniel Sturridge, and Egypt’s Mohammed Saleh. Most of our readers are familiar with hockey, so I don’t need to tell you the importance of a hot goalkeeper, especially one trained in eastern Europe! We are going to need a Dominic Hasek-type performance from Milan – if we want to see any success – or the round of 16, this World Cup.

Iké Ugbo (FWD – Genk on loan to Troyes) was born in England but grew up in Canada, playing youth soccer in what is now widely regarded by everyone reading this article, as one of the top World-Class breeding grounds for soccer players… Brampton, Ontario. Signed to English powerhouse Chelsea at the age of 19, Ugbo unfortunately never got a chance to appear for the Premier League club and spent 2017-2020 on loan to various top-tier teams in Europe. He has 41 goals in 136 games across those various top leagues in Europe. Currently, he plays on loan for Troyes, in France’s Ligue 1, and had 5 goals in 12 appearances this year. He is only 23 years old, and if he stays healthy, will be a mainstay on Team Canada for the next decade.

Richie Laryea (RB/MF – Nottingham Forest) – The only player on team Canada that will play in the UK’s Premier League next year. Considered one of, if not the top league in the world, he deserves mention on this list. After a 3 year stint with Toronto FC, Laryea was picked up by Nottingham Forest this season, on a three-year deal, in the Championship League division in England. After an incredible season, Nottingham Forest was promoted to the Premier League and Richie along with them! At 27 years old, I can see Laryea playing a few more World Cups for Canada, and bring some much-needed Premier Division representation to Team Canada in the future. I could see Laryea surprising people this year in Qatar.

The Vets – Headlined by our “anchor” Steven Vitória (35yrs old, Born in Toronto) we definitely needed some more experience in our back line and Vitoria brings exactly that. Signed to FC Porto at the age of 18, he grew up playing professional soccer in Portugal, including stints in their top division. He even represented Portugal on their U-20 National team at the 2007 U-20 World Cup, which is a huge accomplishment in itself. he currently plays for Moreirense in the Portuguese second division. Sam Adekugbe (27 yrs old, Born in London, England) moved to Canada at the age of 10, playing youth soccer in both Calgary and than Vancouver. After a quick stint in the MLS, he was off to Europe, where he has appeared in over 100 matches for teams in the top divisions of Norway and Turkey. He currently plays for Hatayspor in the Turkish top league.

The MLS Squad – This Canadian team is pretty deep, and is filled out with some of the best players the MLS has to offer, especially on defence, which will be extremely important this World Cup, against teams like Belgium with a World Class roster. Doneil Henry (29 yrs, Born in Brampton), Alistair Johnston (23 yrs, Born in Vancouver), and Kamal Miller (25yrs, Born in Scarborough) are all MLS defenders, with Henry being the most experienced of the bunch. In the midfield, we have Samuel Piette (27 yrs, Born in Le Gardeur, Quebec), Mark-Anthony Kaye (27 yrs, Born in Toronto), and Raheem Edwards (26yrs, Born in Toronto). Lucas Cavallini (29 yrs, Born in Toronto), is the lone Striker from the MLS to make the squad. The Vancouver Whitecaps FC forward can really score and has played all over Mexico and South America, before landing in Vancouver. Depending on Canada’s performance in Qatar, and how well these particular players do (against the best footballers in the world), will probably decide a lot of their futures in football, from here on out. I could definitely see the exposure, of a few of these MLS stars to the world, generating interest in Europe. Look for these names to eventually sign and move to the high-tier leagues in Europe, if Canada is successful, and they play well.

The Youngsters – Charles-Andreas Brym (23 yrs, Born in Colombes, France) is an up-and-coming striker currently signed to FC Eindhoven in the Dutch top league. He grew up in Montreal, playing for the Impact’s youth squad at the age of 13. By 21 he was playing in the top division in France, then Belgium, and now plays in the Netherlands. He already has 26 appearances with Eindhoven and had 8 goals for them this season. This year he will play with Sparta Rotterdam, another Eredivisie team. Luca Koleosho, is probably the most intriguing player on the entire roster, and probably won’t be on the final team for Qatar. At 17 years old, he is by far the youngest player selected to Team Canada, and he is yet to appear in a match for our senior squad. He started playing youth squad soccer at the age of 7. By the age of 12, he was in Spain playing for one of the top youth squads in the country. By 16, he had signed a contract RCD Espanyol Barcelona one of the top teams in Spain, and the world, making one appearance for the club in its final game of the season. Now, the odds that Luca is invited with the senior team to Qatar is slim, many believe this call-up, for the recent cancelled friendlies, was to give him some experience – so that he can lead Canada’s U-20 team, to compete in the U-20 World Cup. However, it is not unheard of for a player to make his World Cup debut as a teenager- see Pele and Mbappe. Either way, he is a player to watch for Canada at the U-20 World Cup, and possibly the World Cup if he shows out in practice and Team Canada’s ramp-up to Qatar.