St. Louis City’s Kyle Hiebert, Nashville’s Jacob Shaffelburg making strong cases for CanMNT selection
With numerous Canadians abroad like Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David, and Alistair Johnston getting a lot of love for their standout performances this season, a couple of Canucks this side of the pond have put themselves on John Herdman’s radar with their impressive starts to their respective campaigns.
St. Louis City FC centre-back Kyle Hiebert and Nashville SC winger Jacob Shaffelburg have been making a strong case to be part of the squad that takes on Curaçao and Honduras in the CONCACAF Nations League later this month.
Hiebert – who may not yet be a familiar name for Canada soccer fans – is playing in his first MLS season and his first campaign in any top professional division. Three weeks in, he has shown that he is ready to play amongst the best.
Anchoring the back line of the only team with a perfect record in MLS should have grabbed the attention of Herdman and scoring the match-winner on Saturday definitely won’t hurt.
The Winnipeg native will hope to be named in the upcoming roster not only because of his recent performances but also because defensive depth was one of the main concerns facing the national side going into the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Aside from long-time defender Steven Vitória, who is getting ripe in age at 36, there is a lack of centre-back experience; Kamal Miller is the only other player with over 30 caps in that position and, with Minnesota United’s Doneil Henry injured, the next closest is new Malmö FF signing Derek Cornelius with only 14.
So, Hiebert’s emergence couldn’t have come at a better time as not only can it solve some of the depth concerns, but it also potentially gives time for the new generation of centre-backs to be blooded and to build chemistry ahead of Canada co-hosting the 2026 FIFA World Cup.
His style of play fits the bill for the modern defender, as he is comfortable with the ball at his feet and playing out the back. For Herdman, that is a big plus point, as the Canada coach likes his team to hold possession and use his defenders to bring the ball up. He also seems to have impressively good judgement for a player who has not had much experience playing top-level soccer, as he has committed just one foul in 270 minutes of action for St. Louis.
On the other side of the field, a more familiar name to Canadian fans, especially in Toronto, will be looking to crack an already deep bunch up front. The aging of some regular roster players like Lucas Cavallini and Junior Hoilett will help Shaffelburg’s chances.
Shaffelburg will be hoping his hot start is enough to get him selected for the upcoming CONCACAF Nations League squad and scoring half of his team’s goals so far will have him feeling confident about being called up.
His scoring ability isn’t all that should impress Herdman, but his relentless willingness to track back and provide defensive assistance is much needed for the senior side. Having a player like him will only give players like Alphonso Davies and Tajon Buchanan more freedom to operate up front and not have to worry about their defensive duties as much, which gives Herdman the option to be more creative when setting up the side.
If selected, this would be the first call-up for Hiebert, while Shaffelburg has only four caps for Canada’s senior side.
Both have a strong case to be regular squad members given their young age – Hiebert is 25 and Shaffelburg only 23 – and because they may provide some answers to questions that have faced the national team, especially when playing top-level competition.
It will not be an easy task cracking the starting 11 for either of them, given the abundance of talent this Canadian team has. But the inclusion of Hiebert and Shaffelburg in Herdman’s next squad would add strong early-2023 form and much-welcomed youthful depth to a squad that is looking to mature together and peak by the time Canada hosts the nation’s first-ever FIFA World Cup in three years’ time.