Canada blends youth, experience for Bermuda friendly

Ben McKendry (pictured) is hoping to make his Canada debut in an international friendly at Bermuda on January 22, 2017. (Photo: Canada Soccer)

HAMILTON, Bermuda – With the CONCACAF Gold Cup still six months away, Canada is using its first gathering of 2017 to see if there’s any younger talent that could make a case for more regular inclusion as the tournament approaches.

The Canadians opened camp earlier this month with a 27-man roster and 18 made the trip to Bermuda for an international friendly on Sunday. There are five players -- Jay Chapman, Ben Fisk, Ben McKendry, and goalkeepers Callum Irving and Sean Melvin -- hoping to make their senior debuts.

“It’s a good match for the young guys. I think there are five of us that haven’t made our debuts so I think it’s a good match for us to come down and get our feet wet with national (team) play, so I’m excited for the match,” said Toronto FC midfielder Jay Chapman, who’s one of those in line for a first cap. “We went into town the other day and there are a lot of people saying they were coming to the game, so I think they’ll have a decent crowd and then it’ll be a good match for us to see what the competition is like going forward in CONCACAF.”

Despite the quantity of youth, the team doesn’t lack for experience. There’s plenty of veteran talent taking advantage of the camp as a way to prepare for the upcoming North American club seasons.

Players like midfielder Will Johnson and forward Tosaint Ricketts, who were Chapman’s teammates with 2016 MLS runner-up Toronto FC, are involved and are mindful mentors.

“I’m used to how they play. [Toronto FC] had a great year, so we had a lot of chemistry on the pitch,” said Chapman. “Being able to play with those guys back here with the national team is good and I think it helps the national team because the more guys you have playing year-in, year-out with each other, the partnerships don’t go away with the national team.”

With five players untested at the senior level, another five are still under 24-years-old or younger -- Tesho Akindele, Marco Bustos, Anthony Jackson-Hamel, Jonathan Osorio, and Maxim Tissot -- so the start of 2017 looks like it’s the beginning of a changing of the guard as Canada builds for the Gold Cup.