More than a few dreams officially came true in Canada’s World Cup roster announcement Sunday, but it also delivered a dose of disappointment.
Defender Doneil Henry is going to Qatar but in a non-playing role after a calf injury suffered prior to Friday’s 2-2 tie with Bahrain ruled him out of the tournament that kicks off next Sunday. Henry’s importance to the squad was shown by the fact he was to captain Canada in the game.
Coach John Herdman said the 29-year-old from Brampton, Ont., who has won 44 caps for Canada, felt “a little bit of tightness” during the Bahrain warm-up.
“He tried to push it a little bit further and it sort of led to maybe a tear in there,” Herdman told reporters from Doha. “We’re just working through the MRIs and getting all the final details. But he just wasn’t able to create any explosivity out of the calf.”
The initial diagnosis was recovery would take up to 14 days.
“Doneil put the team first … we could have tried to return him to play and had him later on in the tournament. But he knew it was the right decision to make, to allow another player that had earned that right and that was fully fit to come and take that opportunity,” Herman said. “It was a big moment.
“It really shows the courage and what this brotherhood’s about when a man can sort of surrender his shirt and take that step forward to support the team in a different role.”
There were no other surprises for Herdman, who used 33 players in the final of CONCACAF qualifying with 28 seeing action. Some decisions had already been made for him.
Defender Scott Kennedy (SSV Jahn Regensburg, Germany) and goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau (Los Angeles FC. MLS) were ruled out through injury earlier this month, with Kennedy sidelined by a shoulder issue and Crepeau requiring surgery to repair a leg broken in the MLS Cup final.
But 39-year-old captain Atiba Hutchinson (bone bruise) and fellow midfielder David Wotherspoon (knee) both made it back in time. Hutchinson, Canada’s all-time men’s caps leader with 97, returned to action Wednesday in a Turkish Cup game with Besiktas.
Hutchinson could see action as a centre back if needed, Herdman said.
Toronto FC midfielder Jonathan Osorio also made it into the squad despite seeing just 18 minutes of Major League Soccer action since Aug. 18 due to post-concussion syndrome. But he played the full match in Bahrain.
Herdman has dubbed his team “new Canada” as it returns to the men’s soccer showcase after a 36-year absence.
The English-born coach was 10 when Canada opened play against France at 1986 World Cup in Mexico. Hutchinson, who was born in February 1983, is the only player who was around for the ’86 tournament.
While Herdman only named seven defenders, he has wingback options in Alphonso Davies, Tajon Buchanan and Junior Hoilett if needed alongside his preferred back three.
The 41st-ranked Canadians have plenty of firepower up front in Davies, Buchanan, Hoilett, Jonathan David, Cyle Larin, Lucas Cavallini, Liam Millar and Ike Ugbo.
Davies was quick to celebrate the moment via social media Sunday.
“A kid born in a refugee camp wasn’t supposed to make it!” said the 22-year-old Bayern Munich star, who was born in Ghana after his parents fled the civil war in Liberia. “But here we are GOING TO THE WORLD CUP. Don’t let no one tell you that your dreams are unrealistic. KEEP DREAMING, KEEP ACHIEVING!”
“Never let someone tell you that you can’t do something … Honoured to be representing Canada at the 2022 FIFA World Cup,” Buchanan said on Instagram.
Davies had to leave Bayern’s game last weekend against at Hertha Berlin with a hamstring strain but says he expects to be ready to go in Qatar.
The Canada roster includes 11 MLS players, including six from CF Montreal, three from Toronto and one from the Vancouver Whitecaps. It also features defender Derek Cornelius, on loan from the Whitecaps to Greece’s Panetolikos FC.
Liam Fraser, a midfielder deemed surplus to TFC’s requirements, made the team as did Montreal defender Joel Waterman, whose journey has taken him from the Canadian Premier League to the sport’s ultimate stage.
Players on the World Cup roster who were part of the Bahrain camp are already in the Qatari capital of Doha. Those who were with their European clubs were to arrive Sunday or Monday.
There is still work to do.
The Canadians play a final tune-up Thursday against No. 24 Japan in Dubai. The team will head to Dubai on Wednesday and return to Doha after the game.
Canada opens Nov. 23 against No. 2 Belgium before facing No. 12 Croatia on Nov. 27 and No. 22 Morocco on Dec. 1 in Group F play. All three opponents have already announced their roster.
The top two teams in each of the eight opening-round pools advance to the knockout round of 16.
Herdman used 39 players — including Cristian Campagna who did not see action — across the three rounds of World Cup qualifying, which started in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2021 with a 5-1 win over Bermuda in Orlando. Canada was ranked 73rd at the time.
The Canadians secured their ticket to Qatar with a 4-0 win over Jamaica in March at Toronto’s BMO Field with one game to spare. They finished with a 14-2-4 record across three rounds of qualifying in the region, outscoring the opposition 54-8.
Herdman’s team topped the final Octagonal round-robin with an 8-2-4 record.
FIFA announced in June it was changing the roster number to “at least 23 and a maximum of 26,” citing “the knock-on effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, but also to the unique timing — November and December — of Qatar 2022.
The World Cup is traditionally held in the summer. But it was switched this time because of the heat in Qatar, meaning many leagues are playing around the tournament.
If a player on the roster picks up an injury or contracts COVID, he can be replaced up to the day before the team’s first match.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 13. 2022.