Canada cut its Gold Cup roster to 23 Thursday, with uncapped Noble Okello and Kamal Miller joining veterans Atiba Hutchinson, Jonathan Osorio, Russell Teibert, Samuel Piette and Milan Borjan.
Coach John Herdman had named a preliminary 40-man roster earlier in May. Only injury-related changes will be allowed from now on from that list, up until 24 hours before a team’s first match.
Canada, currently ranked 78th in the world, kicks off the 15th edition of the CONCACAF championship on June 15 against unranked Martinique in Group A play at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. The Canadian men will then play No. 18 Mexico on June 19 in Denver and No. 174 Cuba on June 23 in Charlotte, N.C.
Herdman called the schedule and its associated travel “a bit of a beast.”
The top two teams in the group will advance to the quarter-finals.
Herdman said the selection process was tricky, saying he had to deal with injuries (David Edgar and Samuel Adekugbe) while balancing players’ needs to be with their clubs during a tournament that takes place outside a FIFA international window.
“All of the players we wanted on the roster and needed on the roster stepped forward. I think that’s exciting,” Herdman said in an interview.
The continental championship, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean, comes ahead of CONCACAF Nations League Group A play in the fall.
It’s a young Canadian group, with the 23 players totalling 400 caps. Hutchinson (81), Will Johnson (43), Borjan (41) and Piette (40) account for 205 of those. There are 11 players with fewer than 10 caps.
Still, the squad features 16 players with Gold Cup experience.
“I think there’s a good balance there,” Herdman said.
The 36-year-old Hutchinson will be making his sixth Gold Cup appearance, tying the national record held by Julian de Guzman. Hutchinson, who most recently featured in the tournament in 2011, previously helped Canada reach the semi-finals in 2007 and quarter-finals in 2009.
Borjan, Osorio, Teibert and Piette will be making their fourth appearance at the Gold Cup.
Others returning from the 2017 tournament are captain Scott Arfield, Lucas Cavallini, Maxime Crépeau, Alphonso Davies, Junior Hoilett, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Cyle Larin and Jayson Leutwiler.
Davies, an 18-year-old attacking midfielder with Bayern Munich, was named to the 2017 tournament all-star team and won both the Top Scorer and Best Young Player awards.
There are seven Gold Cup debutants, all 22 or younger. In addition to first-time call-up Okello of Toronto FC, the newcomers are Miller, Zachary Brault-Guillard, Marcus Godinho and teenagers Jonathan David, Liam Millar, and Derek Cornelius.
Herdman worked with the 18-year-old Okello at the Toulon youth tournament and liked what he saw, although he seemed to hint that the 18-year-old may not see much playing time.
“He’s a kid with a bright future, but also knows the role that he’s going to play in this team through this Gold Cup.”
As for the 22-year-old Miller, Herdman said team officials were impressed by his maturity and “tactical acumen” when he was in camp for the CONCACAF Nations League qualifying game against French Guiana.
Canada’s roster, whose average age is 25.53, has 12 MLS players including four from Vancouver, three from Toronto and two from Montreal.
Defender Adam Straith, who plays for Germany’s VfL Sportfreunde Lotte, will attend Canada’s pretournament camp as a 24th player.
Tesho Akindele, Raheem Edwards, Anthony Jackson-Hamel, Dejan Jakovic, Tosaint Ricketts and Ballou Tabla were among those who did not make the transition from the preliminary roster to the final squad.
Herdman said he plans to have someone from the military at the team’s pretournament camp “to put them through some adversity together.”