As the CONCACAF Gold Cup rolls onward for Canada and the Canadian Men’s National Team, it bears mentioning that the Vancouver Whitecaps have eight Canadians on their roster, none of whom have a starting role at present with the club.
Without putting too fine a point on it, this upsets me. I’ve always been of the opinion that, generally speaking, if you’re good enough to play for your country, you should be good enough to play for your club.
There are caveats to this, obviously. A starting winger for, say, Malta or San Marino is not exactly going to be pulling rank with those international bona fides, such as they are. Canada, however, is not Malta. It’s definitely not San Marino.
Four Whitecaps – Alphonso Davies, Russell Teibert, Marcel de Jong, and Sam Adekugbe – have seen time on the pitch for Canada at this year’s Gold Cup.
So, what’s the deal?
The Whitecaps love to trumpet their player development model. Heck, club president Bob Lenarduzzi represented Canada at the 1986 World Cup. Why isn’t the Vancouver starting eleven awash with maple leaves?
FC Edmonton celebrating Canada 150 night, in honour of the number of minutes a Canadian player gets for the Whitecaps.
— Ben Massey (@Lord_Bob) July 16, 2017
If the Davies hype train wasn’t at full stream before, you’d better believe it is now.
Three goals in three games for Canada at the Gold Cup will do that.
The point is, stardom doesn’t have a great track (heh) record for being kind to teenagers, let alone teenage athletes who are expected to become something even greater.
The 16-year-old is unquestionably a one-of-a-kind talent. That kind of talent should be used, yes, but not to the point of breaking.
So far, that’s exactly how Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson has used Davies for the Whitecaps, and should continue to do so.
Injury provides an excuse for central defender David Edgar, who will be on the shelf for the rest of the season following a hit-and-run incident during the pre-season south of the border.
Adekugbe also picked up an injury away from Vancouver, though his was during a loan spell with England’s Brighton & Hove Albion FC. Brighton would end up winning promotion to the Premiership while Adekugbe would return to the ‘Caps injured.
It should be noted, though, that Adekugbe has since recovered and started for Canada in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Maybe he should be starting for the ‘Caps every so often, too.
Teibert is stuck somewhere between Ben McKendry and Andrew Jacobson in the midfield depth chart, which is wrong on so many levels. Above all, it was wrong to try converting the attack-minded young Teibert into a ball-winning defensive midfielder.
It turns out S-W-A-G and fly hair doesn’t count for bupkis if you’re stuck harrying attackers all day long. Thanks, whoever decided attacking flair was a trait to be weeded out instead of encouraged.
And yet, Teibert is still getting caps for Canada. In midfield, no less. Go figure.
De Jong, on the other hand, has no such ambiguity about his role on the pitch. He’s a left-sided wingback for his country and has played with clubs in top-tier European leagues (Roda JC Kerkrade in the Dutch Eredivisie, FC Augsburg in the German Bundesliga).
In Vancouver, however, he’s had only 11 appearances across all competitions over two years. He’s been given chances to oust incumbent left-back Jordan Harvey, yet has failed to capitalize and remains on the bench by and large for league play, letting his talents go to waste.
While keeping the Canadians stapled to the bench can be defended, changes need to be made when warranted. Right now, there’s certainly a case to be made for pushing Davies into competing with Yordy Reyna, since a solid Gold Cup campaign tends to make people want you on the field more often than not.
I mean, can you imagine getting this on a regular basis (0:53 in the clip below)?
On the other end of the performance spectrum, Harvey has been less than his usual self this season – that one volley against New York City notwithstanding.
It’s also an inaccurate depiction of Harvey’s body of work this season. Unlike prior seasons, Harvey has not made himself immune to being taken off the starting lineup. Once the Gold Cup players have returned, one of left-backs – de Jong or Adekugbe – deserve time in the starting role.
Adekugbe nearly did win a permanent job the last time he was given his shot. Were it not for a vicious injury suffered against Orlando City SC, the spot might still be his. Now that he’s been given time overseas, a taste of international action and a vision of what his soccer career could be, Adekugbe’s never been hungrier for minutes. He’s earned a chance, just like Davies has.
Who knows? He just might turn out to – gasp! – be good at soccer. Good enough to play for his national team, even. Fancy that.