TORONTO – With MLS on pause, attention turns to the international game.
Both Canada and the USA are in action during the FIFA window, where Toronto FC will be represented by five players.
Jonathan Osorio, Tosaint Ricketts, and Liam Fraser are with John Herdman's Canadian squad as they prepare for the start of qualification for the Concacaf Nations League on Sunday when they face the U.S. Virgin Islands. Alex Bono and Marky Delgado are with Dave Sarachan's U.S. side for a pair of friendlies against Brazil and Mexico.
“It's good to have guys go with the national team,” said Greg Vanney. “As professionals, it's an honour. It's something you play for: to get that recognition. It's important to earn and get those opportunities, go and take them; make the most of them.”
With the four-year cycle of the international calendar having reached its pinnacle with the World Cup this past summer, for both Canada and the U.S. it is a time of renewal. There is a long road ahead to 2022 when Qatar will play host to the big event. In the meantime, there is much to be done. And on the horizon is 2026, when North America will again welcome the world's game.
For Canada, Sunday's match sees the beginning of the Herdman-era.
“We have a really exciting group coming up, a young group,” said Jay Chapman, himself originally slated to join, but forced to pull out with a quad issue. “There's a sense that we can do something with this group.”
Osorio and Ricketts are part of a veteran nucleus that Herdman has called in for the match. Fraser is one of a number of younger talents, including Bayern Munich-bound Alphonso Davies, Liverpool FC's Liam Millar, and Jonathan David, who has been tearing it up in Belgium with KAA Gent, to name but a few, that signal possibility ahead.
“[Herdman] has been able to implement his philosophy in the [few] camps that we've had; the guys are buying in,” explained Chapman. “There is a real consensus that things are moving in the right direction; we have the players to make something happen. It's been the best vibe around the national team that I've seen.”
Canada will play four matches in qualification between now and next March with the aim of securing a spot in League A with the six teams who reached the Hex in the last World Cup Qualification cycle: Mexico, the U.S., Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago.
“I was gutted when I had to pull out,” lamented Chapman. “This is an important camp: these games mean something. Any time I'm able to represent my country is a huge opportunity. Disappointed, but there are more games coming up in October and November. Hopefully, I'll put myself in contention for that.”
The U.S. lost 2-0 to Brazil on Friday night with Delgado coming on late. Bono was on the bench backing up Columbus Crew SC's Zack Steffen. They will face Mexico on Tuesday.
“It's good for both of them,” said Vanney of the duo getting the call. “They're two young players in that mix, who are continuing to make names for themselves as guys who can play for that team on a consistent basis.”
Meanwhile, in Toronto preparation for the resumption of the MLS season and the inaugural edition of the Campeones Cup continues apace.
This international break provides a much-needed opportunity.
“The group has been wanting to get on the training field,” said Vanney. “This break is welcomed by all of us to get out and work.”
“The guys know what is in front of them. They understand we're in control of winning the games that are in front of us, seeing where this goes,” continued Vanney. “The mood is, 'Let's get to work; see what we can prepare ourselves to accomplish.'”
“The attitudes in training the last couple days have been unbelievable. [Wednesday] was incredibly hot and the guys worked their tails off,” added Vanney. “Nothing but good feelings about where group is at and their mentality to go forward.”