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Canadians Abroad Roundup: Jonathan David among Europe’s elite

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If 2021 gives us any indication of what awaits in 2022, it’s that the 2000-born generation of strikers is taking over European soccer.

From Dortmund’s Erling Haaland to Fiorentina star Dusan Vlahovic, some of the most sought-after players in the winter and summer transfer windows will be 21-year-old forwards.

Jonathan David is in that elite group, having been linked to a number of marquee clubs in recent weeks. Real Madrid is the newest potential suitor, with Spanish newspaper Marca reporting that Los Blancos are keen on the Canadian striker.

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David’s agent revealed that this will be his client’s last season with Lille, which comes as no surprise. The club is in debt, albeit in recovery thanks to its run in the UEFA Champions League, but player sales are still necessary to remain afloat and David is the team’s hottest commodity.

Even if a move to Madrid sounds farfetched, the fact that a Canadian is in high demand like Haaland and Vlahovic is a testament to David’s quality.

David struggled in 2020 but enjoyed a red-hot 2021, finishing with 27 goals in 45 games across all competitions for Lille. He capped off his remarkable year with another strike versus Bordeaux on Wednesday and honoured his late mother in the process.

Wherever David ends up, his next club will be acquiring a complete forward in every sense. Not only does he score, he is a creative threat as well, as evidenced by his statistical radar.

Curiously, all of David’s goals this season have been scored in the box. He’s also among Ligue 1’s expected goals (xG) leaders and is heavily involved in Lille’s open-play attacking sequences. The Canadian is averaging 2.59 goal-ending per 100 open-play sequences and 14.77 shot-ending per 100 open-play sequences, according to Opta

When David is able to collect the ball in deeper areas and then drive forward, that is when he excels. Take the goal against Bordeaux.

There were other instances as well, like receiving this pass in open space before setting up Burak Yilmaz.

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Or this goal against Wolfsburg in the Champions League earlier this month.

David thrives when he’s in a system that plays incisively and vertically. That is partially why his form for Canada hasn’t been as consistent. The recruitment of Ike Ugbo, who can stretch defences, could alleviate some of those issues.

Despite that, David has scored three goals in the final round of World Cup qualifying thus far, including the winner against Costa Rica in November. If that form is ever replicated with the national team, Canada will boast the most lethal attack in Concacaf, hands down.

BITS AND BOBS

• Alphonso Davies closed out 2021 with an emphatic showing in Bayern Munich’s resounding win over Wolfsburg on Dec. 17. Davies was also voted Canada Soccer male player of the year to add to his already packed trophy cabinet.

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• Cyle Larin bagged his seventh goal of the season in all competitions to help Besiktas defeat Goztepe in midweek. Larin and the club have stopped negotiating a new contract, with the Canadian’s deal expiring in June. His agent spoke to Watford and Newcastle a few weeks ago, as the player can agree to a free transfer in January.

• Sam Adekugbe missed Hatayspor’s match on Christmas Day after accumulating a pair of yellow cards in Wednesday’s loss to Konyaspor. Neither booking was particularly justifiable, either.

It was an uncharacteristically poor game from Adekugbe overall. He was responsible for a couple of poor turnovers, one of which led to a goal for Konyaspor.

That said, Adekugbe still produced a few quality attacking sequences and he’s been consistently brilliant in the final third all season.

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• Ike Ugbo returned to the starting lineup for Genk on Sunday, converting the opening goal in a 4-0 win against Oostende. Just watch the movement to set up a quality chance for himself.

The 23-year-old has scored six goals in around 760 minutes across all competitions this season. That’s a tremendous return considering he’s been in and out of the lineup all year.

• If Stephen Eustaquio stays at Pacos de Ferreira after January, it’ll be a travesty. Pacos earned their first league victory since August, with the Canadian maestro playing a pivotal role. He completed 34 of his 41 passes, won five of his nine defensive duels and logged 12 recoveries. Surely one of Portugal’s biggest clubs or anyone in the big five European leagues could snatch him for a cut-rate price.

• Milan Borjan could be heading to MLS after he told Red Star Belgrade that he wants to spend the final years of his career in a “calmer” environment. Perhaps we’ll see Canada’s No. 1 on this side of the Atlantic very soon.

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• Motherwell’s Norwegian defender Sondre Solholm recently revealed that he is eligible to represent Canada. The 26-year-old is becoming a regular starter in the Scottish Premiership, is a right-sided centre-back and has excellent vision, even if his pace and overall technique are lacking. That makes him a solid option should he be called up to the national team.

• Scott Arfield was a second-half substitute in Rangers’ 2-0 victory versus St. Mirren in their final game before a three-week winter break. The champions resume their campaign on Jan. 18 against Aberdeen.

• There are a few names worth tracking ahead of Canada’s camp, which will run concurrently with the U-20 retreat. The first is Jules-Anthony Vilsaint, an 18-year-old forward on the books at Royal Antwerp in Belgium. The teenager is following a similar path to Jonathan David – who began his European career in Belgium – and shares the same agency as the Canadian superstar.

Vilsaint has played with Antwerp’s reserves and U-21 team since joining the club in March, but he impressed in a recent match behind closed doors, scoring in a 4-1 victory.

• There may not be a more under-the-radar Canadian talent than Matt Passacquale.

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The 17-year-old joined Heerenveen’s youth setup a few years ago after drawing interest from Ajax and Feyenoord. Recently, Passacquale left the club to pursue better opportunities, impressing in recent trials with Anderlecht and Venezia.

The vision, awareness, tactical intelligence and technique are off the charts for a player his age. Watch No. 10 in the blue and white stripes below and the rest of his clips here.

• Jeronimo Sabbatasso is another player in a similar mould. Also 17, Sabbatasso is currently killing it in the Empoli youth system. Like Passacquale, he’s so mentally sharp for a player so young and has the technique to back it up. He can represent Canada and Argentina internationally.

• 17-year-old Luca Koleosho has received invites to both the Canadian and American U-20 camps in January. He plays as a winger for Espanyol’s U-19s and has trained with the first team on a few occasions this season. This tug of war between the U.S. and Canada has only gotten started.





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U.S. squad prepares for gamesmanship from Iran in must-win match

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It’s win or go home for the USMNT, while Iran can advance with just a tie. Martin Rogers says that why the Americans should be ready for any tactic to muck up the game.



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World Cup Now: Does Belgium stand a chance vs. Croatia?

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Croatia dominated Canada on Sunday night. Will it manage the same against Belgium on Thursday? The “World Cup Now” crew previews the matchup.



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U.S. squad prepares for gamesmanship from Iran in do-or-die match

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It’s win or go home for the USMNT, while Iran can advance with just a tie. Martin Rogers says that why the Americans should be ready for any tactic to muck up the game.



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