Tasked with filling the sizable shoes of John Herdman, at least for the short-term, interim Canada coach Mauro Biello has a lot to do in little time.
The former Herdman assistant will get just three training sessions with his squad next week before an Oct. 13 friendly against No. 19 Japan in Niigata. The Canadian players will then disperse before reuniting for a pair of crucial November CONCACAF Nations League matches that serve as Copa America qualifiers
Given Canada sat out the FIFA September international window and is only playing one match in October, there is little preparation time.
In contrast, the U.S. scheduled four games over the two windows, defeating No. 73 Oman 4-0 and No. 75 Uzbekistan 3-0 in September ahead of October games against No. 15 Germany and No. 60 Ghana.
Japan, the top-ranked team in Asia, is coming off victories over Germany (4-2) and No. 42 Turkey (4-1) in September. And it plays No. 29 Tunisia in Kobe four days after the Canada game as it gears up for the start of its 2026 World Cup qualification campaign in November and the Asian Cup in January.
Canada Soccer attributed its thin schedule on "financial constraints" and its "inability to confirm an additional high-quality opponent."
"For this trip, getting players in with the travel, it's been a little bit tricky in terms of preparation," Biello told reporters in a virtual availability Thursday.
The majority of the players will fly Monday with a light session Tuesday and training Wednesday and Thursday ahead of the game. Biello anticipates a three-day preparation ahead of the first Nations League game in November.
On the plus side, Biello has been able to summon a strong lineup for the Japan game with Club Brugge winger Tajon Buchanan (hamstring) the major injury absentee.
Milan Borjan, Jonathan David, Alphonso Davies, Stephen Eustaquio, Alistair Johnston, Ismael Kone and Cyle Larin are included in the 23-man roster for the game at the Denka Big Swan Stadium in Niigata.
Canada has history in Niigata, losing 3-0 to Japan at the same venue at the 2001 Confederations Cup.
The Canadian men are 1-2-0 all-time against Japan, winning 2-1 the last time they met — in a World Cup warm-up game last November.
Canada, along with the 11th-ranked U.S., No. 12 Mexico and No. 46 Costa Rica, has been drawn directly into the two-legged Nations League quarterfinals. The winners there qualify for the 2024 Copa America as well as the Nations League finals in March.
The quarterfinals losers will meet in a pair of play-In matches to determine the final two CONCACAF teams at Copa America.
It will be a high-stakes challenge for Canada, which needs to face the kind of elite opposition that the Copa America provides in the lead-up to co-hosting the 2026 World Cup.
And with Canada Soccer in upheaval on and off the field, due to Herdman's departure and its well-documented financial problems, Biello has a lot of loose ends to tie.
There is a first call-up for Luc de Fougerolles, a 17-year-old Fulham defender who saw first-team action for the English Premier League team during its pre-season U.S. tour this summer. Born in England, de Fougerolles qualifies for Canada via his Canadian-born father.
"(He) played really well in those pre-season games against Brentford, against Chelsea … He's knocking on the door there at Fulham," said Biello.
De Fougerolles was invited to a Canadian under-20 camp in April in Costa Rica by Biello but was unable to attend for personal reasons.
"It’s always been a dream to play internationally at any level, and to achieve it so young is an added bonus which will hopefully allow me to play for a longer period of time and make the most out of the experiences," de Fougerolles told the Fulham club website.
De Fougerolles, who signed his first pro contract in April, has played for both Fulham's under-18 and under-21 sides.
There is also a call-up for 24-year-old midfielder Mathieu Choiniere, a former Canadian youth international who has impressed with Montreal this season.
Borjan is joined by LAFC 'keeper Maxime Crepeau, back playing after breaking his leg in the 2022 MLS Cup final, and Minnesota United's Dayne St. Clair.
The roster features 10 players from Major League Soccer, including three from the Vancouver Whitecaps, two from CF Montreal and one from Toronto FC.
Biello says he has yet to settle on a captain, saying he has a number of experienced options.
The Canadian men are 4-2-2 this year, last playing in July when they lost a penalty shootout to the U.S. in the CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinal in Cincinnati. Both losses came at the hands of the Americans.
Japan is on a four-game winning streak, having dispatched No. 22 Peru 4-1 and No. 76 El Salvador 6-0 in June before defeating Germany and Turkey.
The Japanese roster includes Liverpool's Wataru Endo, Monaco's Takumi Minamino, Brighton's Kaoru Mitoma and Real Sociedad's Takefusa Kubo. But Lazio's Daichi Kamada and Freiburg's Ritsu Doan miss out, reportedly for conditioning reasons.
The Japanese won their group at last year's World Cup, posting 2-1 wins over No. 10 Spain and Germany around a 1-0 loss to Costa Rica, before falling to No. 6 Croatia in a penalty shootout in the round of 16.
Canada, in its first trip the men's World Cup in 36 years, exited Qatar after first-round losses to No. 5 Belgium, Croatia and No. 13 Morocco.
Herdman stepped down in late August as Canada coach to take over Toronto FC.
Biello, a former Canadian international who both coached and played for Montreal, will be working with a new coaching staff, given most of Herdman's helpers have also gone to TFC.
Biello's assistant coaches, announced Thursday, are former Toronto FC captain Steven Caldwell and former TFC assistant coach Paul Stalteri with Paolo Ceccarelli as goalkeeper coach and Carmine Isacco as assistant tech support.
Biello says he has already connected with his players, asking for their feedback. And he says there is continuity in the program, given his time working with Herdman.
Canada Soccer says deciding on a permanent head coach will follow the naming of a new general secretary, which is expected by the end of the year. Biello has said he is a candidate for the coaching position.
Goalkeepers: Milan Borjan, SK Slovan Bratislava (Slovakia); Maxime Crepeau, LAFC (MLS); Dayne St. Clair, Minnesota United (MLS).
Defenders: Sam Adekugbe, Vancouver Whitecaps (MLS); Moise Bombito, Colorado Rapids (MLS); Derek Cornelius, Malmo FF (Sweden); Alphonso Davies, Bayern Munich (Germany); Luc de Fougerolles, Fulham (England); Alistair Johnston, Celtic (Scotland); Richie Laryea, Vancouver Whitecaps (MLS); Kamal Miller, Inter Miami CF (MLS); Steven Vitoria, GD Chaves (Portugal)
Midfielders: Mathieu Choiniere, CF Montreal (MLS); Stephen Eustaquio, FC Porto (Portugal); Ismael Kone, Watford (England); Jonathan Osorio, Toronto FC (MLS); Harry Paton, Motherwell (Scotland); Samuel Piette, CF Montreal (MLS).
Forwards: Charles-Andreas Brym, Sparta Rotterdam (the Netherlands); Jonathan David, Lille OSC (France); Junior Hoilett, Vancouver Whitecaps (MLS); Cyle Larin, RCD Mallorca (Spain); Liam Millar, Preston North End (England).
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 5, 2023
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press