In his return to Vancouver, Bayern Munich teenager Alphonso Davies will look to help complete Canada’s perfect CONCACAF Nations League qualifying run against French Guiana on March 24 at BC Place Stadium.
At stake is a place in the top tier of the CONCACAF Nations League and a berth in the 2019 Gold Cup. A win will ensure Canada gets where it wants to go but coach John Herdman says he wants to continue building momentum by keeping the attack firing on all cylinders ahead of a defence that has not yielded a goal since October 2017.
Canada is ranked 79th in the world while French Guiana is unranked since it is not a member of FIFA.
The 23-man Canadian roster includes nine players from Major League Soccer, with a recall for Orlando midfielder Will Johnson. Other veterans in the squad include captain Scott Arfield, former skipper Atiba Hutchinson, goalkeeper Milan Borjan and defender David Edgar.
Current Vancouver Whitecaps players called up are goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau, centre backs Derek Cornelius and Doneil Henry and midfielder Russell Teibert.
Davies, 18, is one of seven call-ups aged 21 or younger, including fellow teenagers Jonathan Davies (KAA Gent), Liam Millar (Kilmarnock) and Ballou Tabla (Albacete Balompie).
Arfield, Borjan, Johnson and Mark-Anthony Kaye come in for Manjrekar James, David Wotherspoon, Liam Fraser and Jay Chapman, who were part of the Canadian roster for its last game against St. Kitts & Nevis in November.
Kaye, who scored in Los Angeles FC’s 4-1 win over Portland on Sunday, was recovering from ankle surgery at the time.
Vancouver will mark the first Canadian outing for the 32-year-old Johnson since a June 2017 friendly win over Curacao. He has four goals and seven assists in 43 outings for Canada.
“You look at his form with Orlando in pre-season and recently, he’s a player that has pushed himself back into the national team fold,” Canada coach John Herdman said on a media conference call.
Davies, an attacking midfielder with nine caps for Canada, joined Bayern from the Vancouver Whitecaps in a then-MLS-record $22-million US transfer deal that will see him play for the German side through 2023. The deal was consummated in July but Davies closed out the MLS season before joining Bayern in January.
“(Vancouver) is the place that really launched his career,” Herdman said. “I know he’s really looking forward to getting back there, to being in what he probably sees as his football hometown and showing people what he’s developed, how he’s learned, how he’s evolved and adapted.
“I think for him it will be nothing but excitement. It’s like a thoroughbred chomping at the bit to get on the racetrack and run.
Davies has seen 25 minutes of Bundesliga action in four appearances off the bench for the German league leaders.
Bayern hosts Liverpool in the return leg of their round-of-16 Champions League tie Wednesday. Davies was on the bench for the opening 0-0 draw at Anfield.
There are six teams with 3-0-0 records in CONCACAF Nations League qualifying play.
Canada stands third in the 34-team standings with a goals difference of plus-14. Curacao (plus-21) tops the table ahead of Haiti (plus-16). Cuba (plus-14, but has played two home games to Canada’s one) is fourth, followed by Jamaica (plus-11) and Martinique (plus-6),
French Guiana (2-1-0) stands 12th. The four-game qualifying round sets the stage for a three-tier competition, complete with promotion and relegation, that kicks off in the fall of 2019 in the confederation covering North and Central America and the Caribbean.
The Canadian men are 4-0-0 under Herdman, outscoring their opposition 15-0 since he took over in January 2018.
The top six teams out of qualifying will join Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras, the U.S., and Trinidad and Tobago in the top-tier CONCACAF Nations League A. Those six countries skipped qualifying by virtue of reaching the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.
Those six will join the top 10 teams from Nations League qualifying at the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup, which increases to 16 teams from 12. That will motivate French Guiana, which has made the regional championship just once.
Canada defeated French Guiana 4-2 in their only previous meeting, at the 2017 Gold Cup. A 16-year-old Davies scored his first two international goals in the win.
The CONCACAF Nations League B will feature 16 teams while League C has 13.
The Canadians opened the Nations League qualifying round with an 8-0 win over the U.S. Virgin Islands, in a game played in Bradenton, Fla., before blanking visiting Dominica 5-0 and winning 1-0 at St Kitts & Nevis.
French Guiana won 5-0 at Anguilla, lost 1-0 at home to St. Vincent and the Grenadines and beat visiting Guyana 1-0.
Canada currently leads all teams in qualifying play with 1,254 passes. French Guiana has the most yellow cards with eight.
Goalkeeper: Milan Borjan, Red Star Belgrade (Serbia); Maxime Crepeau, Vancouver Whitecaps; Simon Thomas, Kongsvinger IL (Norway).
Defenders: Derek Cornelius, Vancouver Whitecaps; David Edgar, Hartlepool United (England); Doneil Henry, Vancouver Whitecaps; Samuel Adekugbe, Valerenga Fotball (Norway); Zachary Brault-Guillard, Montreal Impact; Marcus Godinho, Heart of Midlothian (Scotland).
Midfielders: Scott Arfield, Glasgow Rangers (Scotland); Atiba Hutchinson, Besiktas (Turkey); Will Johnson, Orlando City; Mark-Anthony Kaye, Los Angeles FC; Jonathan Osorio, Toronto FC; Samuel Piette, Montreal Impact; Russell Teibert, Vancouver Whitecaps.
Wingers: Alphonso Davies, Bayern Munich (Germany); Junior Hoilett, Cardiff City (Wales); Liam Millar, Kilmarnock (Scotland); Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla, Albacete Balompie (Spain).
Forwards: Lucas Cavallini, Puebla FC (Mexico); Jonathan David, KAA Gent (Belgium); Cyle Larin, Besiktas (Turkey);
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press