The Gold Cup is less than a month away, and Canada will have to pare down a 35-man provisional roster into a final squad of 23.With the recent announcement that the winner of this year's CONCACAF Gold Cup will meet the winner of the 2015 edition to determine who will represent the region at the 2017 Confederations Cup, Canada's plan to integrate as many youngsters into the national team program as possible may have to take a temporary back seat.
As this year's regional championship takes place in the middle of the final round of World Cup qualification, Canada has the unique opportunity to put its best foot forward against several weakened squads. Five of the six nations still in the running to represent CONCACAF at Brazil 2014 -- Mexico, USA, Panama, Honduras and Costa Rica -- are all expected to submit relatively inexperienced rosters when the final Gold Cup lists are turned in, while the sixth -- Jamaica -- failed to qualify for the tournament.
This presents a bit of a dilemma for Canada's technical staff. Do they keep casting a wide net for younger players in a long-term attempt to rebuild after another failed World Cup qualifying campaign? Or do they call on some familiar faces for one last kick at the can?
It'll probably be somewhere in the middle, with the team calling on experienced vets for stability while also bringing in a number of promising youngsters in key positions.
Projected starters (4-2-3-1):
Goalkeeper: Milan Borjan (Sivasspor)
Borjan is the clear No.1 for Canada going forward. His age (25), combined with the high level league that he is getting consistent playing time in, gives the Serbian-born 'keeper a huge edge over everyone else in this position.
Defenders: David Edgar (Burnley), Dejan Jakovic (D.C. United), André Hainault (unattached), Marcel de Jong (FC Augsburg)
An experienced foursome all in their primes, Edgar, Jakovic, Hainault and de Jong represent Canada's best line of defence -- one that is not without its question marks.
Edgar's lack of speed at right back may be cause for some concern, but the Burnley man reads the game well enough to make up for it. Jakovic has had a shaky season on a terrible D.C. United team, but his defensive partners are far batter here. Hainault's club situation remains unresolved, although a good Gold Cup showing could boost his professional prospects.
Midfielders: Will Johnson (Portland Timbers), Julian de Guzman (unattached), Russell Teibert (Vancouver Whitecaps), Atiba Hutchinson (unattached), Dwayne De Rosario (D.C. United)
It's really two lines of midfielders, with Johnson and de Guzman playing deeper while Teibert, Hutchinson and De Rosario act primarily as attackers supporting the lone striker.
Teibert represents the only real change to Canada's traditional midfield corps, with his youth and good club form hopefully providing a spark to the veterans surrounding him.
Forward: Lucas Cavallini (Juventud de Las Piedras)
The most in-form striker from Canada also happens to be just 20 years old. Cavallini notched 10 goals in Uruguay this past season while on loan to Juventud from Club Nacional, and he did it with a unique mixture of brawn and technical ability.
The youngster will likely lead the upcoming generation of the Canadian national team for the next decade or more, but he is already performing well enough to justify a starting job in the most important games this country will take part in for the next two years.
Goalkeepers: Lars Hirschfeld (Vålerenga), Simon Thomas (FC Edmonton)
Defenders: Doneil Henry (Toronto FC), Ashtone Morgan (Toronto FC), Nik Ledgerwood (Hammarby)
Midfielders: Jonathan Osorio (Toronto FC), Pedro Pacheco (C.D. Santa Clara), Issey Nakajima-Farran (Alki Larnaca)
Forwards: Randy Edwini-Bonsu (unattached), Marcus Haber (Stevenage), Simeon Jackson (unattached), Tosaint Ricketts (Sandnes Ulf)
Key roster issues:
Hirschfeld's transition to a supporting role: He's already made the move from starter to substitute at the club level, and now Lars Hirschfeld looks set to do the same at the international level. At 34, he's still young enough to contribute for another half-decade, but he will likely do so as an option off the bench from now on.
Where's Nana? The early part of the season saw Nana Attakora reclaim a starting spot in the central defence of an MLS side, when he displaced Jason Hernandez in San Jose's lineup. Attakora was earning plaudits for his play alongside Honduran international Victor Bernardez, and he would have been a lock for the squad if not for an unfortunate head injury suffered last month when he collided with TFC youngster Henry (who, in a cruel twist of fate, looks to usurp Attakora's spot on the bench for Canada).
Porter's playing well for D.C., why is he not included? Canada is unlikely to strip D.C. United of three players for the Gold Cup run, and Kyle Porter has been one of the few bright spots for the struggling MLS cellar dwellar. Porter will likely be left behind in the U.S. capital in place of De Rosario, who has been deemed less important to D.C.'s plans so far this season.
A glut of forwards: At first glance, there seems to be far too many forwards for a side that projects to play a 4-2-3-1. But Edwini-Bonsu, Jackson and Ricketts can all play as wide attackers supporting a more central forward, while Haber at 6-foot-3 can provide a big body to back up Cavallini.
Bernier, Hume excluded: Despite his talismanic play for the Montreal Impact over the past season-and-a-half, Patrice Bernier was a very noticable omission from Canada's 35-man preliminary squad. Like fellow roster outsider Iain Hume, Bernier is a seasoned vet still performing at a good level who probably should have been in the running, but his exclusion from the preliminary roster leaves no opportunity to be included in the final squad.