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Herdman adds more youth in teenager Tabla for Canada game against Dominica

TORONTO — The Canadian men's soccer team continues to get younger under coach John Herdman. Herdman called up five teenagers for the 8-0 win over the U.S. Virgin Islands in Canada's CONCACAF Nations League debut last month.

TORONTO — The Canadian men's soccer team continues to get younger under coach John Herdman.

Herdman called up five teenagers for the 8-0 win over the U.S. Virgin Islands in Canada's CONCACAF Nations League debut last month. Proving the kids really are all right, Herdman has summoned six teens for the Oct. 16 game against Dominica at Toronto's BMO Field with former Montreal Impact midfielder Ballou Tabla, now with FC Barcelona's B team, joining the fold.

For Herdman, it's a chance to blood his young talent ahead of 2022 World Cup qualifying and the 2026 World Cup that Canada is co-hosting.

"I've said this all along, we've got to keep one eye on the future and there's something about international experience that's critical at pinnacle events," Herdman told a media conference call Tuesday.

Jonathan Osorio likes what he sees of the new generation.

"These kid are fearless, they're hungry, they're confident," said the 26-year-old Toronto FC midfielder. "We haven't really had young stars like this in a long time."

Herdman pointed to his women's squad that won bronze at the 2016 Olympics which included then 19-year-old centre back Kadeisha Buchanan (who had 34 caps at the time) and 17-year-old midfielder Jessie Fleming (15 caps).

Two years on, Buchanan has 78 caps and Fleming 53. Both are mainstays of the women's team.

The teenagers in Herdman's 23-man squad for Dominica are Alphonso Davies (age 17), Alessandro Busti and Jonathan David (both 18) and Tabla, Zachary Brault-Guillard and Liam Millar (all 19).

Herdman says youth aside, the players have to warrant selection because "we can't disrespect the shirt either."

Veteran midfielder Atiba Hutchinson, for years Canada's best-known soccer export, returns for the first time since a 2-0 win over Jamaica in September 2017. Injuries have limited his time with the national team of late.

While Herdman spoke highly of the 35-year-old from Besiktas, he all but confirmed that Glasgow Rangers midfielder Scott Arfield will continue to wear the captain's armband that used to be Hutchinson's.

"I don't see too many changes," said Herdman. "I think Atiba is very clear about how he can support Scott and the rest of the team to elevate the leadership and the performance."

Hutchinson, David Edgar and Tosaint Ricketts (both 31) are the only over-30 members of the squad.

Herdman, who switched from the women's to the men's program in January, said he expects 80 per cent of his squad to be consistent over the current four-game CONCACAF Nations League qualifying run with the rest "revolving around certain positions" that are being assessed.

As for Tabla, Herdman said the player wanted to establish himself at Barcelona before declaring his international allegiance. Tabla presented Canada at the 2015 CONCACAF U-17 Championship but had held off making a decision on the senior level.

"When it came round to conversations with him and the people that were influencing him this time, it became pretty clear that he just needed that time and space to really get a sense of what he wanted, what was going to be best for Ballou," said Herdman.

Tabla's transfer to the Spanish powerhouse was completed in January.

Herdman suggested the Canada team culture, as well as its youth movement and upcoming World Cups helped attract Tabla.

"We've got a chance and I think he sees that and I think he sees how he can contribute to it," said Herdman.

Herdman said his team is structured so every player has a voice, with veterans, youngsters and those in-between each meeting separately as groups to talk about their goals and experiences.

"We recognize there is a young group of players that brings something completely different and as valuable as the veterans," said Herdman. "It's really how we've structured the culture to ensure that these players are very accountable for our performances and also feel like they're having an impact on our culture."

Robyn Gayle, who won 81 caps for the Canadian women's team, and Katie Brooks, a former Canadian lacrosse international who also played soccer at the University of North Carolina, help in their role as mental performance coaches.

The roster draws on nine MLS players: four from Toronto FC (Jay Chapman, Ashtone Morgan, Osorio and Ricketts), three from the Vancouver Whitecaps (Davies, Doneil Henry and Russell Teibert) and two from the Montreal Impact (James Pantemis and Samuel Piette).

Edgar plays for Ottawa Fury FC of the USL.

Herdman says his team has a "wealth of attacking options" and the ability to change playing styles because of the different types of players available. As for the defence, Herdman says there is a lot of competition at centre back.

With No. 1 'keeper Milan Borjan not called up for this game, Herdman's choice in goal are Simon Thomas and the uncapped Pantemis and Busti. Herdman mused that the Dominica game was a chance to tie Busti, born in Toronto but raised in Italy, to Canada.

The timing of the Oct. 16 contest is awkward with Toronto FC playing at D.C. United and Vancouver hosting Sporting Kansas City the next night.

Canada is currently ranked 79th in the world, compared to No. 177 for Dominica.

Canada is 2-0-0 against Dominica, winning 2-0 and 4-0 in a 2015 World Cup qualifying series.



Goalkeepers: Simon Thomas, Kongsvinger IL (Norway); James Pantemis, Montreal Impact (MLS); Alessandro Busti, Juventus U-23 (Italy).

Defenders: Zachary Brault-Guillard, Olympique Lyonnais (France); Manjrekar James, FC Fredericia (Denmark); Derek Cornelius, FK Javor Ivanjica (Serbia); David Edgar, Ottawa Fury FC (USL); Doneil Henry, Vancouver Whitecaps (MLS); Ashtone Morgan, Toronto FC (MLS).

Midfielders: Samuel Piette, Montreal Impact (MLS); Russell Teibert, Vancouver Whitecaps (MLS); Scott Arfield, Glasgow Rangers (Scotland); Junior Hoilett, Cardiff City FC (Wales); Alphonso Davies, Vancouver Whitecaps (MLS); Atiba Hutchinson, Besiktas JK (Turkey); Liam Millar, Liverpool FC U-23 (England); Jay Chapman, Toronto FC (MLS); Jonathan Osorio, Toronto FC (MLS); Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla, FC Barcelona B (Spain).

Forwards: Cyle Larin, Besiktas JK (Turkey); Tosaint Ricketts, Toronto FC (MLS); Lucas Cavallini, Puebla FC (Mexico); Jonathan David, KAA Gent (Belgium). 


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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press