Coach Octavio Zambrano looks for balance in first roster selection
Octavio Zambrano, in his first roster selection as Canadian head coach, has opted for an experienced core augmented by a lot of youth.
Zambrano, appointed Canadian coach on March 17, named a 27-man squad ahead of a June 13 friendly with Curacao in Montreal. The game is a warmup for the July Gold Cup.
Zambrano plans to trim his squad after a June 9 intra-squad match, with 18-20 players dressing for the Saputo Stadium matchup between No. 108 Canada and No. 70 Curacao.
In the coming days, Zambrano also has to name his 40man long list for the CONCACAF championship. That will then be reduced to 23 for the Gold Cup’s group phase.
Seventeen of the players called up Tuesday are 25 or younger. Only four are 30 or over.
In all, 18 players on the roster have less than 20 caps. Tosaint Ricketts has the most international experience with 55 caps followed by Patrice Bernier (53), Marcel de Jong (50) and Adam Straith and Will Johnson (both 42).
“I purposely wanted a balanced group,’’ Zambrano said in an interview. “I think it’s no secret we’re in a transitional period in Canada ... The new crop of guys happens to be a very good group. There are some players though who have been playing for the Canadian national team at a very good level.
“And so that balance of youth and experience is what we want to try to bring for this first match.’’
Former captain Atiba Hutchinson, who has taken a hiatus from the national team, is not included. On Sunday, the 34-year-old midfielder helped Besiktas win the Turkish Super League title for the 15th time.
Zambrano says while he has had good conversations with
Hutchinson, it looks like he will not be part of the Gold Cup. Hutchinson wants to take time off to allow a nagging quad injury to heal.
“My hope is come (World Cup) qualifiers, if he’s healthy hat he will collaborate with us,’’ said Zambrano who called Hutchinson one of the best players Canada has ever produced.
“Whatever he can give us ... I know it will be quality,’’ he added.
Burnley midfielder Scott Arfield is getting married so has not been called up, but will be part of the Gold Cup squad. Highly touted Vancouver Whitecaps teenage Alphonso Davies is waiting on his Canadian passport with Zambrano saying the 16-year-old Liberian-born midfielder will be invited to camp as soon as it arrives.
There are four first-time callups: goalkeeper James Pantemis, defenders Juan Cordova and Kwame Awuah and midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye.
Defenders Tyler Pasher and Andres Fresenga and midfielder Raheem Edwards have been called up before but have yet to win a senior cap.
Highly touted Montreal Impact midfielder Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla declined Zambrano’s invitation. The 18-year-old has dual citizenship, having been born in the Ivory Coast.
“He didn’t close the door by any means,’’ said Zambrano.
“I’m not putting pressure on him.’’ he added. “He’s a young guy. He will add a lot to our national team. But he really has to be convinced himself, not having any doubts about what this means. Because this means a lot. And I let him know that.’’
Zambrano expects to have more talks with the player and his family while in Montreal.
The Canadians, who will divide their time in camp between Laval and Montreal, will assemble Sunday and have their first practice Monday.
Zambrano’s expanded roster
features 15 MLS players: five from Montreal, three for Toronto, two from Vancouver and Orlando and one each from FC Dallas, New York City FC and Sporting Kansas City.
Canada has played just once since Zambrano took over the men’s program.
The Canadians tied Scotland 1-1 five days later in Edinburgh, with Zambrano watching from the stands.
A native of Ecuador, Zambrano has coached club sides in Colombia, Ecuador, Hungary and Moldova as well as the Los Angeles Galaxy and MetroStars in the early days of Major League Soccer
Canada has been drawn in a pool with French Guiana, Costa Rica and Honduras at the Gold Cup, which serves as the CONCACAF championship.
In this file photo, Canada Soccer president Victor Montagliani, left, introduces new head coach of the Men’s National Team Octavio Zambrano at a press conference in Toronto on March 17.