Former Pacific FC mainstay Lukas MacNaughton’s dizzying rise continued Tuesday with a call-up to Canada’s pre-World Cup camp and friendly against host Bahrain on Nov 11.
The defender has gone from basically a walk-on PFC signee in 2019 to three impressive seasons with the Tridents through their Canadian Premier League championship in 2021 to a starting role this past season with Toronto FC in Major League Soccer.
Now comes his first national team call-up, and on the eve of this month’s World Cup. This is the last national team camp before the team moves into its base camp in Qatar for a friendly against No. 24 Japan on Nov. 17 in Dubai before opening the 2022 World Cup on Nov. 23 against No. 2 Belgium and continuing Nov. 27 against 2018 World Cup-finalist Croatia and then Dec. 1 against No. 22 Morocco.
Former Cavalry FC defender Joel Waterman and former Valour FC goalkeeper James Pantemis, now both of CF Montréal in MLS, struck another blow for the CPL by also being called to the Canada camp. MacNaughton, Waterman and Pantemis have earned the call-ups with Canada coach John Herdman saying: “We have been monitoring and tracking players.”
The camp in Bahrain features mostly MLS players, three goalkeepers and 18 field players, because the overseas pros are still involved with the European club teams. That includes Alphonso Davies with Bayern Munich, Jonathan David with Lille and Tajon Buchanan and Cyle Larin with Club Brugge.
Herdman will be watching anxiously the final few European club games before the World Cup break Nov. 14, regarding potential late injuries like the one to Scott Kennedy, who will miss the World Cup after going down recently in a game with his club SSV Regensburg in Germany. Herdman said his conversation with Kennedy, following his injury, is one of the most searingly difficult he has had in his career with a player.
“The next two weeks is a tricky period of time. You have a pit in your stomach [thinking about] losing a critical player,” said Herdman, in a Zoom call Tuesday with the Canadian sports media.
“We are aware this is the World Cup. We are no longer in CONCACAF. This is the next level. CONCACAF doesn’t prepare you for matches against the likes of Belgium and Croatia and genuine Tier 1 top-five-in-the-world World Cup contenders. You need your top guys.”
Canada is allowed to carry 26 players in the World Cup.
“Normally, 17 players will get the massive amount of playing time,” said Herdman, who has analyzing other national teams in past World Cups.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who those 16-17 guys are. The next level [below that] will contribute to the team in other ways. We used 39 players in qualifying. But the World Cup is a very different cadence, with three-to-four-day turnarounds, and you are not travelling 7,000 kilometres from hot to cold.”
Whatever role MacNaughton plays, he will do it knowing he has risen steeply from Starlight Stadium to possibly the highest level in Qatar.