A pair of Toronto FC players, Jay Chapman and Liam Fraser, are braced for international action with Canada as Concacaf Nations League qualifying is set to resume.
Canada plays their third of four qualification matches on Sunday when they face St. Kitts and Nevis – kickoff is at 7:00 p.m. ET and can be streamed live on Concacafgo.
“The week has been good,” said Chapman from training camp in Basseterre, Saint Kitts by phone on Thursday. “Guys like myself came in on Saturday, were able to get a lay of the land early.”
“We've been able to get in quality sessions, in terms of how we want to set up in this game, getting used to the pitch and the weather here,” continued Chapman. “This has been one of the strongest starts to camp that we've had. It's looking very positive for the match.”
North American-based players arrived on the weekend, while those from Europe trickled in thereafter, depending on when their club duties were completed.
After two matches, Canada sits alongside 10 other teams with six points: goal-difference will thus prove crucial in determining the final standings. The Canadians are currently tied for third with Cuba at +13, behind Curacao (+15) and Haiti (+14).
The top six will secure themselves in a spot in League A when the Concacaf Nations League proper begins next year. That will mean more trips to unwelcoming locales with Mexico, the United States, Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago already assured a berth. The top 10 earn a place in next summer's Concacaf Gold Cup, as well.
“It's going really well,” echoed Fraser. “Getting to experience the elements that Caribbean countries have to offer. It's a good way for myself and other young players to get exposed to what the future holds for Canadian football.”
For Fraser, it was the chance to train alongside veteran midfielder Atiba Hutchinson that has stood out most.
“The opportunity to learn from Atiba, get that feeling,” explained Fraser. “It's the first time I've met him, first time I've been in camp with him. It's a great opportunity for a young player like myself to see one of those top-capped players, top footballers; probably the best Canadian of all time.”
And the two play a similar position.
“Just picking his brain, learning about how to get yourself up in difficult situations. He comes with so much experience,” detailed Fraser. “Being able to watch him play, the leader he is with his team, and how he carries himself on and off the pitch is something I value greatly.”
Having beaten the U.S. Virgin Islands 8-0 on Matchday 1 in Florida and dispatched Dominica 5-0 at BMO Field on Matchday 2, this third match poses a different challenge. Not only is St. Kitts and Nevis themselves undefeated and +11, but the match will be played on their turf: Canada's first foray into the wiles of Concacaf under John Herdman.
“We've done some research on them,” said Chapman. “They have a couple guys that play in the [EFL] Championship; a couple guys from Toronto that I know, who are good players. They have some good pieces, especially their front three.”
Those familiar faces from Toronto include former TFC Academy player Alain Sargeant, a Toronto-native, and Justin Springer from nearby Burlington, Ontario.
“I think [St. Kitts and Nevis] are going to look to play in the transition,” added Chapman. “We're going to have a lot of the ball. If a ball gets turned over, we're going to have to be aware of the flanks and when they're ready to breakout. That's something that we've been working on.”
Herdman and company have adopted a “no excuses” mentality when it comes to the irregularities of play in the region.
“There is always something that you have to deal with: the pitch, the weather,” said Chapman. “A motive for us is to not complain: it's Concacaf. They might be a little more used to the pitches, but it's something you have to play through [in this region].”
“If you hear someone complaining, you're going to be the guy that says, 'Stop, this is what we're doing,'” continued Chapman. “Once it comes to game time, we're going to be mentally prepared, physically prepared. We're not going to let the atmosphere and the pitch affect that, sweat us from getting the three points. It's tough, but both teams have to play on it; the team that wants it more is going to prevail on the day.”
Those extra few days on location have been useful.
“It was good for us to come down earlier, see what the grounds are like and how the temperature will factor,” added Fraser. “All the guys realize the elements we're going to have to face.”
And such, Canada will take an approach to this game “similar” to the one taken in the previous two matches.
“We've done very well in these past games, haven't conceded and been able to score a lot of goals,” said Chapman. “We take pride in not conceding and have a ton of attacking talent, so we're going to keep doing the same thing.”
“This is a different team, obviously,” continued Chapman. “They have some attacking talent, so we're going to have be aware of that. Just keep doing what we're doing and each camp getting better in our relationships and how John wants us to play. Keep building off our attacking and defensive success.”
The aim is that top spot overall.
“We all have that collective mentality to top the Nations League; to reach the next step,” urged Fraser. “[We] want to keep a clean-sheet; be a four-win team in [qualification]. The mentality that John has pushed upon us is that we want to go out there and represent the country as best we can.”
They will look to do so come Sunday. Elsewhere, several of their Toronto teammates are gracing the international stage as well.
Marky Delgado was an unused substitute for the U.S. national team in a 3-0 loss against England on Thursday. The Americans will face Italy in another friendly on Tuesday.
And at the 2018 Concacaf U-20 Championship in Bradenton, Florida, Ayo Akinola and the American side begin the qualification stage on Friday against Costa Rica. Akinola has five goals in as many matches through the opening action, but his TFC teammates who were representing Canada at the competition, including Julian Dunn and a number of TFC II players, were unable to exit the group stage after a tough defeat in the pivotal match against Panama.
For Chapman and Fraser, without Toronto teammates Jonathan Osorio, Tosaint Ricketts, and Ashtone Morgan, stalwarts with Canada, camp is a little different this time around.
“Those guys could slot in, no doubt. They're missed: their play, their personalities. Those are the tough choices John has to make,” said Fraser. “Jay and I are excited for this opportunity. We both understand how much of an honour it is to represent our country. We'll never take that for granted; we're going to represent Toronto and Toronto FC the best way we can.”