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Canada missing some important pieces for World Cup soccer qualifying showdown

Veteran goalie and team captain among those out for match with Mexico
Canada head coach John Herdman salutes the crowd as he leaves the pitch following a 1-1 draw against the United States in a World Cup soccer qualifier Sunday, Sept. 5, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. Canada will be missing some key pieces when it takes on mighty Mexico at famed Azteca Stadium in World Cup qualifying play Thursday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Mark Humphrey

Canada will be missing some important pieces when it takes on Mexico at historic Azteca Stadium in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying play Thursday.

Coach John Herdman said veteran goalkeeper Milan Borjan, who is recovering from COVID, did not make the trip. The Red Red Star Belgrade ‘keeper’s contribution instead was limited to a video message to the team.

“He’s pretty emotional,” said Herdman. “This is a big loss for us. Not just as a goalkeeper but his presence. He’s been unbelievable with this group during this campaign.”

Captain Atiba Hutchinson and forward Cyle Larin (Besiktas, Turkey) are both returning from injury and also absent. Striker Lucas Cavallini continues his return-to-play protocols with the Vancouver Whitecaps.

“We’re monitoring them every day. We’re getting good information that’s leaving us hopeful — hopeful that they might join us in this (international) window,” Herdman said.

Canada, on the climb in recent months, is ranked 51st in the world, compared to No. 9 for Mexico.

After playing No. 59 Jamaica in Kingston on Sunday, the Canadians return home to face No. 68 Panama at Toronto’s BMO Field next Wednesday.

Canada Soccer had previously said veteran forward Junior Hoilett (Reading, England) and midfielder David Wotherspoon (St. Johnstone, Scotland) would meet the team in Jamaica ahead of the weekend match against the Reggae Boyz so as to avoid the quarantine that visitors to Mexico have to undergo when returning to Britain.

Herdman, speaking to reporters virtually from Azteca Stadium on Wednesday evening, said Minnesota United goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair was with the team.

In the absence of Borjan, Canada is expected to start Vancouver’s Maxime Crepeau in goal. Crepeau was impressive in Canada’s 2-1 loss to Mexico at the Gold Cup semifinal in late July, stopping one of two penalty kicks as well as making a marvellous stop on Rodolfo Pizarro’s header in injury time. Mexico eventually won the game with a goal in the 99th minute.

Herdman says he saw “that little bit of fear in the Mexican team” that day. And he expects a big pushback Thursday.

“We left a mark on them in that last game,” he said. “And good teams, good players, championship teams, they step up.”

— The Canadian Press

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