Canada are stronger than ever – and the best may be yet to come

<span>Photograph: Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Canada are looking to qualify for their first men’s World Cup since Mexico 1986. And they are attempting to do so with arguably the strongest group of players they have ever had.

Indeed, four of the players called up for this month’s World Cup qualifiers – the team play Panama on Wednesday night and are in fourth place, which would secure them a playoff spot – are on Canada’s top 10 all-time goalscorers list. Three of them are 28 or under.

Besiktas forward Cyle Larin, 26, has scored 20 goals for his country, making him two shy of equaling all-time top scorer Dwayne De Rosario. The 28-year-old Vancouver Whitecaps striker Lucas Cavallini isn’t far behind with 16. The most eye-catching of the three is Lille’s 21-year-old attacker Jonathan David who has also netted 16 times for Canada and, remarkably, currently averages a goal every 90 minutes.

The players are thriving in a structure put in place by coach John Herdman that is about more than just relying on star players. Larin is at his peak – he has 12 goals in 11 games for Canada in 2021 alone – but the most encouraging part is the array of talent coming through behind him. Besides David’s prolific goalscoring, Canada have a bona fide global star in 20-year-old Alphonso Davies, who plays for Bayern Munich. And in 22-year-old Tajon Buchanan they have a player with the potential to join Davies at that level.

Part of soccer’s beauty is the varying routes a player can take to the top, and Buchanan, David, and Davies each have their own story.

Alphonso Davies

Davies’ rise from making his professional debut aged 15 to playing left-back for one of the most successful clubs in the world has been swift. He has not been fazed at any stage, and it’s easy to forget he’s still only 20.

The sporting challenges Davies has faced pale in comparison to those he and his family encountered during their journey to Canada. They arrived in the country as refugees when Alphonso was five, resettled from a refugee camp in Ghana after fleeing war-torn Liberia.

Once settled in Canada, Davies played for youth sides in Edmonton before joining the Vancouver Whitecaps in 2015. His hard work and application saw him breeze through the system to Major League Soccer via the United Soccer League.

Related: John Herdman aims to end Canada’s time in the World Cup wilderness

At international level, Davies was eligible for Liberia but chose the country that had welcomed his family. The ink was barely dry on his Canadian citizenship test when he was called up for the national team on 6 June 2017, going on to make his debut a week later.

A little over four years after his international debut, few would argue against the idea that Davies is currently the best player from the Concacaf region.

Jonathan David

David’s journey to Canada wasn’t straightforward either. He was born in New York before moving with his parents to their homeland, Haiti. When David was six the family relocated to Canada and settled in Ottawa.

Rather than follow up the interest shown in him from Canadian MLS teams, including the possibility of playing alongside Davies in Vancouver, he held on for a move to Europe. This eventually came with Belgian side KAA Gent after a successful trial and the completion of his high school studies back home.

After he displayed his goalscoring talents in Belgium he was snapped up by French side Lille with whom he won a historic Ligue 1 title in his first season at the club. Should he stay fit, the question is not so much whether David will overtake De Rosario’s all-time goalscoring record, rather how far past it he will go, and if any future Canadian striker will catch him.

Tajon Buchanan

Buchanan has emerged a couple of years later than David and Davies but has the potential to reach the same level.

The winger’s progress through the youth system in North America was not always smooth, and he still has areas to improve, but when he moves from New England Revolution to Belgian side Club Brugge in January 2022 he could progress just as quickly as Davies and David.

Buchanan’s own journey took him from local youth sides in his hometown of Brampton, Ontario, to Syracuse University, via a short spell with US Soccer Development Academy side Real Colorado.

After his sophomore year at Syracuse, he signed a Generation Adidas contract with MLS and was the ninth overall pick in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft, joining New England Revolution.

As one of the standout young players in the league during the past year or so, it was only a matter of time before Europe called, and the move to Belgium is a sensible one.

Despite being slightly older, he will be looking to follow David’s route to the top. As was the case for David’s former side, Gent, current Champions League side Club Brugge are aware that Buchanan’s stay will be a brief one if he continues to progress.

Though they have each taken different paths to the top of the professional game, the trio’s similarities are those of obvious talent and the potential to become even better as their careers progress.

For Canada these young players are not merely stars in the making, they are stars now. The buzz around them exists not only with possible qualification for Qatar 2022, but also because of what they could achieve when Canada co-hosts the World Cup in 2026.