Just 20, Ismael Kone is making his mark with club and country.
Kone showed off his speed and power Tuesday in a head-turning outing in the Canadian midfield with Stephen Eustaquio and Jonathan Osorio as Canada defeated Honduras 4-1 in CONCACAF Nations League play.
“Probably one of the best midfield performances I’ve ever seen in the time I’ve been here,” said Canada coach John Herdman.
“That was a real breakout performance for Canada,” he added.
And it came in just Kone’s 11th appearance (and fourth start) for Canada.
Kone is also winning fans in England, having signed a 4 1/2-year contract with second-tier Watford in December after seeing action in all three of Canada’s games at the World Cup in Qatar.
Born in the Ivory Coast, Kone was seven when he came to Canada and signed a pro contact with Montreal, his hometown club, in August 2021. He made his Major League Soccer debut in February 2022, playing 25 games last season.
For Kone, the transfer to England is another step forward in his rapid rise.
“I’m only 20 and I get to play on a world stage,” he said in Qatar. “It’s unbelievable.”
“I didn’t have a professional contract two years ago but here I am,” he added.
“Kone, with the physicality he has, he’s so intense,” Eustaquio said in the buildup to Tuesday’s match.
After seeing his playing time dwindle in Turkey with Besiktas, striker Cyle Larin has found a rich vein of form in Spain with Real Valladolid.
Larin has five goals in eight games for the La Liga club.
And the 27-year-old from Brampton, Ont., has kept rolling with a three-goal haul in Canada’s CONCACAF Nations League games against Curacao and Honduras. It could have been four if he had not sent his penalty kick wide in the 4-1 win over Honduras on Tuesday.
“When he came into the World Cup, he had like 100 minutes [playing time with Besiktas] in four months‚” said coach John Herdman. “I mean, that’s not Cyle Larin. It wasn’t the Cyle Larin we saw going though World Cup qualification.
“We had a number of players that were at a World Cup that were, I would say, out of real match rhythm, out of that real Tier 1-edge rhythm. But he’s at that now. He’s in a Tier 1 league, scoring goals, and he came into this camp as fit as I’ve seen him The Cyle Larin we’re seeing now is a guy that could help us win a Nations League final.”
Larin, a former MLS rookie of the year with Orlando City, tops the Canadian men’s all-time scoring list with 28 goals in 60 appearances.
Back in Spain, Larin and Valladolid visit Real Madrid on Sunday.
“He’s going to go in a high, I know that for sure,” Herdman said.
Man in the mask
Defender Scott Kennedy was hard to miss in Canada’s recent CONCACAF Nations League games.
The 25-year-old from Calgary, who plays his club football in Germany for SSV Jahn Regensburg, was wearing a mask after breaking his cheek in training four weeks ago.
“It’s the last week that I have it on, but maybe I’ll keep it on longer. It looks kind of cool,” he joked.
He appreciated the protection on Saturday in Curacao when the ball deflected into this face.
“I was thankful I had it there. It definitely shook me up a little,” he said.
Kennedy, who has won 10 caps for Canada, is no stranger to bad breaks. He missed out on the recent World Cup after suffering a shoulder injury in Germany.