The Brampton boys will lead Canada in Las Vegas; Ajax CB ruled out with injury


Published June 15, 2023 at 9:06 am

Brampton's Tajon Buchanan will lead Canada against Panama tonight in Las Vegas in the Nations League semi-final. Photo Matteo Ciambelli

Topping the group in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying is one thing but Canada has a chance at some serious silverware this weekend and it starts tonight when they square off against Panama in the semi-final of the Nations League in Las Vegas.

A victory at Allegiant Stadium will propel the 47th ranked Canadians into the final against either the USA or Mexico.

But first, the 58th ranked Panamanians, a side Canada beat 4-1 in October 2021 at BMO Field in Toronto in a huge qualifying game that was memorable for a goal scored by Bayern Munich star Alphonso Davies in the 66th minute that sparked the Canadians to victory.

Davies shocked defender Harold Cummings by racing down the right flank to pilfer the ball from under the feet of the defender and score the go-ahead goal, leaving a Panama sportscaster to hang his head in frustration on national TV while shouting, “It’s Alphonso Davies, it’s Alphonso Davies…”

Both Davies, the pride of Edmonton, and Cummings will be back for tonight’s game (7 p.m. EST), with Canada looking for their first CONCACAF trophy since winning the Gold Cup 23 years ago.

The boys from Brampton will be leading the charge for Canada, with midfielder Jonathan Osorio and forwards Cyle Larin and Tajon Buchanan – who scored one of the goals in that match against Panama 20 months ago – likely starting for coach John Herdman, with all-time cap leader Atiba Hutchinson coming off the bench at some point in what will be his last international tournament.

Another Brampton player, Junior Hoilett, may also get into the starting XI, depending on Osorio’s fitness. Hamilton’s Milan Borjan will get the start in goal, but he, like Hutchinson, is also winding down an illustrious career, with Pickering’s Dayne St. Clair on the bench tonight waiting for his chance.

Veteran centre back Steven Vitoria of Mississauga will also be in the starting lineup for Herdman in Las Vegas.

One player who won’t be playing is CB Derek Cornelius of Ajax, who was in top form this year with Malmo FF of the Swedish league until he tweaked a hamstring in an innocent looking play June 5 against Degerfors in a match his side would win 5-0.

Derek Cornelius of Ajax was ruled out of the Nations League finals after injuring himself on this innocent looking play in Sweden

Herdman included Cornelius, who played a key role in Canada’s qualifying campaign, on the roster for the Nation’s League semi-final but an MRI performed in Las Vegas ruled him out of the tournament. Colorado Rapids defender Moise Bombito, who was playing community college ball two years ago, will replace him.

Herdman said in a statement it is “unfortunate” that Cornelius, who was on last year’s World Cup roster but did not get in to play, is going to miss the tournament.

“He has been in great form since his move to Sweden,” Herdman said. “He was a big part of helping us qualify and we wish him well in his recovery.”

Canada is 4-2 with seven draws all-time against Panama, who did not concede a goal in winning their Nations League group, which included traditional Central American power Costa Rica

Les Rouges will be looking for success in the tournament as an appropriate send-off for Hutchinson – a legend in the Turkish league as well as with Canada – after the team’s captain announced his impending retirement last week.

Hutchinson has been capped 103 times by Canada, a record among men’s national team players.

Tonight’s game will represent a clash in styles, with most players on the Panama squad plying their trade in Latin America while more than half of Canada’s roster play in Europe. Canada has a younger team than Panama (despite 40 year-old Hutchinson on the roster) with 16 of 23 players 29 or younger (compared to 14 for Panama), with six born this century.

If Canada can weather the early storm and win the battle for the middle of the field their talent up front – Larin and Jonathan David represent the most lethal scoring combo in the region – should carry them through to Sunday’s final.

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