TORONTO — Looking to put the sting of Canada's disappointing Gold Cup exit behind him, coach John Herdman has summoned three uncapped players and called up several others for the first time in 2019 for next month's CONCACAF Nations League matches against Cuba.
Fullback Richie Laryea, who has turned heads with Toronto FC this season, gets his first call-up. Cavalry FC's Marco Carducci, the pick of Canadian Premier League goalkeepers, and Toronto midfielder Liam Fraser get another camp invite in search of their first cap.
Forward Tesho Akindele, midfielder David Wotherspoon, fullback Juan Cordova and centre back Steven Vitoria earn their first call-ups of 2019.
The 78th-ranked Canadian men host No. 179 Cuba on Sept. 7 at Toronto's BMO Field before the two teams meet again Sept. 10 in George Town, Grand Cayman. The return leg was shifted from Cuba because Havana's Pedro Marrero Stadium does not meet CONCACAF requirements.
Canada has defeated Cuba in three straight matches, holding a career 6-2-3 edge.
Herdman's team has not played since blowing a 2-0 lead in a 3-2 loss to No. 83 Haiti in June at the Gold Cup.
"The Gold Cup, I mean that disappointment I don't think will ever leave you," Herdman told a media conference call Wednesday. "As a group of players and a coach, you'll carry that.
"But we've been able to reframe it and look at all the positives that came out of the Gold Cup for the team."
Herdman has also reviewed areas of concern, specifically his team's defence.
While Canada had outscored lesser opposition 21-1 in six wins under Herdman prior to the Gold Cup, it conceded three goals against both Mexico and Haiti at the tournament.
Against Haiti, Canada played a back four of Marcus Godinho, Doneil Henry, Derek Cornelius and Alphonso Davies, who often plays further up the flank when he sees action for Bayern Munich.
Atiba Hutchinson and Mark Anthony-Kaye also played in the backline during the tournament. Both play in the midfield for their clubs.
On Wednesday, Herdman noted that Henry and Cornelius are regularly playing together at the heart of the Vancouver defence. Vitoria has also established himself with his Portuguese club team.
He has more choices at fullback with a healthy Samuel Adekugbe and the return of Cordova. And like Laryea, Kamal Miller is impressing with Orlando City.
Samuel Piette, returning from injury, offers protection to the backline in the role of holding midfielder.
But Hutchinson and fellow midfielder Scott Arfield, who have worn the captain's armband recently, sit out the Cuba series. Both are dealing with injuries.
After Cuba, the Canadian men will face the 22nd-ranked Americans in the three-team Group A, part of the top tier of the CONCACAF Nations League, in October and November. The group winner advances to the semifinals of the tournament that covers North and Central America and the Caribbean.
Making the final four is key for Canada, which needs to rack up FIFA ranking points if it is to make the six-team CONCACAF Hex group — the primary path in World Cup qualifying in the region with 3 1/2 spots up for grabs. The Canadians will likely need to reel off a string of wins and hope countries like Panama and El Salvador fall by the wayside to join the Hex, however.
Chances are Canada will have to qualify the hard way, slogging though the rest of the CONCACAF field with the last team standing facing the fourth-place finisher in the Hex to determine the CONCACAF representative in a FIFA intercontinental playoff to get to the World Cup.
The Canadians are still smarting from a CONCACAF decision to use FIFA ranking rather than the confederation's own ranking system to determine who makes the Hex.
The Canadians thumped Cuba 7-0 in Gold Cup group play with Lucas Cavallini and Jonathan David each scoring a hat-trick. Both are back in Herdman's squad as part of a potent strike force that also includes Akindele, Davies, David (Junior) Hoilett and Cyle Larin.
Cavallini and David have seven goals apiece this year for Canada.
The 24-year-old Laryea has made 13 starts in his 17 MLS appearances this season with Toronto. Able to play both fullback and midfielder, he has pushed Brazilian starter Auro for playing time.
Carducci, who leads the Canadian Premier League with eight clean sheets this season, has represented Canada at youth level and was invited to a senior camp in 2017 but has yet to win a cap with the national team.
The 22-year-old Carducci is not the first CPL player to be called up by Herdman. Pacific FC midfielder Noah Verhoeven was part of the Gold Cup pre-tournament camp but did not figure in the tournament.
Davies, 18, and David, 19, are the youngest players in the squad while Larin is one of 12 players aged 24 or younger.
Veterans on the squad include Milan Borjan, Will Johnson, Jonathan Osorio, Piette and Russell Teibert.
The 24-man roster features 12 MLS players, including four from Vancouver, three from Toronto and one from Montreal.
The Canadian men are unbeaten at BMO Field since 2011 with nine wins and five draws in 14 international matches.
Canada will host the U.S. on Oct. 15 and play the Americans south of the border on Nov. 15. The Canadian men have not beaten the U.S. since 1990, when they won 1-0 in Burnaby, B.C. Canada has gone 0-9-6 since.
Goalkeepers: Milan Borjan, Red Star Belgrade (Serbia); Marco Carducci, Cavalry FC (CPL); Maxime Crepeau, Vancouver Whitecaps (MLS).
Defenders: Samuel Adekugbe, Valerenga Fotball (Norway); Juan Cordova, CD Huachipato (Chile); Derek Cornelius, Vancouver Whitecaps (MLS); Doneil Henry, Vancouver Whitecaps (MLS); Richie Laryea, Toronto FC (MLS); Kamal Miller, Orlando City SC (MLS); Adam Straith, VfL Sportfreunde Lotte (Germany); Steven Vitoria, Moreirense FC (Portugal).
Midfielders: Liam Fraser, Toronto FC (MLS); Will Johnson, Orlando City SC (MLS); Mark-Anthony Kaye, Los Angeles FC (MLS); Jonathan Osorio, Toronto FC (MLS); Samuel Piette, Montreal Impact (MLS); Russell Teibert, Vancouver Whitecaps FC (MLS); David Wotherspoon, St. Johnstone FC (Scotland).
Forwards: Tesho Akindele, Orlando City SC (MLS); Lucas Cavallini, Puebla FC (Mexico); Jonathan David, KAA Gent (Belgium); Alphonso Davies, Bayern Munich (Germany); David (Junior) Hoilett, Cardiff City (Wales); Cyle Larin, SV Zulte Waregem (Belgium).
Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter