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Five biggest questions facing Canada ahead of Copa America

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Canada is just over two weeks away from opening their Copa America against defending champion Argentina, but before that mammoth match, TSN Soccer analyst Kevin Kilbane examines the five biggest questions facing the Canadian team.


LUKE WILEMAN: It’s time for another edition of “Kev’s List”, and today the big question is about Canada. What are the five biggest things that you think, Kev, will affect Canada heading into Copa America this summer? And of course, as we see Jesse Marsch, the new identity, the new way of playing here for Canada getting into these first two big friendlies against the Netherlands and France, take us through your five.

KEVIN KILBANE: There’s a lot of things that we’re going to be talking about here, Luke. I think, first off, it’s absolutely the squad depth, because I think when we’ve looked at Jesse Marsch in maybe one or two selections that he’s picked prior to the Copa, it’s a lot of changes. There’s a lot of changes, Luke, for how he’s going to have to approach the next couple of years, not just for Copa, as well. Is this squad capable of making a change in running? Within 60-70 minutes, you need to make a change for someone that’s going to come on. We know the top four or five players that are absolutely going to be playing and going to be part of this team going into the Copa, but have they got enough overall? I think that’s got to be the thing that he’s going to ask going into the Copa.

Jesse Marsch’s style, this is another big thing, Luke, in how he’s actually going to approach the team. Consistently, Canada have played with a back five. It looks as though there’s going to be a change of system to a back four. Can they do that, first of all? But also, that high press, the real energy, have they got players capable? I think in the top end of the field, yes, real pace, quick transition players. I think that’s going to be something that’s probably going to suit those players, but it’s going to take a while for him to implement that style, and that’s going to be a big topic, I think, on the agenda going forward in how we’re going to do it.

What we have here, as well, the big one is if the star players perform, if they perform collectively, I think that’s the most important thing. It’s not just about maybe one or two of them playing, it has to be Alphonso Davies, Tajon Buchanan, Jonathan David, Stephen Eustáquio. Can he fit Cyle Larin in as well with that structure? Maybe not. That’s something for us further down the line. But I think collectively, they’ve got to buy in to what Jesse Marsch wants, but also perform then as well, off of the back of that. It’s going to be an interesting thing, I think.

In at two, I think probably one of the biggest things, the absolute thing that Jesse Marsch is going to try to implement as I said, a back four, but the defence, what are the defence going to do? Within that back four, we’ve seen maybe certain frailties, I think, defensively with Canada maybe even going back as far as the World Cup as a back five. Predominantly, they sit in, they like to soak up a lot of the pressure, try to play a counter-attacking style which suits Marsch, but with a back four it’s got to be different. It’s about a back four stepping up, playing a high line, and being brave. I’m not so sure they’ve got the players with the capability to do that, and that’s the one worry I’d have for Canada going into the tournament.

Number one is the number one, the position [goalkeeper]. What is Jesse Marsch going to do? It’s been a position I’ve looked in the last couple of years, even when John Herdman was involved, just to say “Look, who is he going to pick as his number one?” [Milan] Borjan had errors as we saw at the World Cup in him, brilliant in the lead up to the World Cup in qualification, outstanding from him. Who is it going to be now? It looks as though it’s going to be Maxime Crepeau, does he have the stature, does he have the mindset of that goalkeeper that’s going to be the number one, and lead his team throughout Copa? It’s going to be an interesting thing, Luke, I’m really looking forward to seeing how he’s going to do it. But there’s a lot of things for us to really digest going forward with Canada, what does Jesse Marsch do? How he implements it long term and not just in the short term at the Copa.

WILEMAN: This is a pretty intimidating list if you’re Jesse Marsch looking at what needs to be accomplished in such a short time. Should [Marsch’s style] not be higher? It’s not the way Jesse Marsch wants to play? The be-all and end-all here as we head into this, and how quickly he can get his principles over to this team?

KILBANE: I think for Jesse Marsch, it’s almost about off the field, as well. There’s been a lot of issues off the field. Can he create harmony? That’s the most important thing that Jesse Marsch needs to do. A harmonious squad will succeed, I think we all recognize that. So, that’s the thing that you need to do, get the team together off the pitch. On it, the style, you’re right in saying that in how he’s going to implement it. I think it’s a worry with the defence, that’s why I’m looking at these two positions here [defence and goalkeeping].

WILEMAN: But defence was a strength in World Cup qualifying.

KILBANE: It was, but there’s a change now. We saw it in the World Cup, Luke, about the frailties. We saw personnel didn’t necessarily live up to what they produced prior to the World Cup. So that is the worry anyway. Again, it’s quite daunting as you say, but when you look at it overall, it’s maybe an exciting thing for Jesse Marsch. He’s coming in with maybe a bit of a blank sheet that he’s got certain personnel that’s going to come into make a name for themselves, and again, looking forward to the World Cup, that’s the one thing that’s got to be on his mind.

WILEMAN: Jesse Marsch said if he was taking over a new club, you’d start with preseason games that are maybe against less of an opposition where you can have success. Well here we go: Netherlands, France, and Argentina, let’s see how it goes for Canada and Jesse Marsch.