For the first time ever, the Canadian men’s national team will be playing at the Copa America.

Yes, Canada will play in the biggest international tournament in the Americas. The Copa America will take place in the United States from Thursday, June 20 to Sunday, July 14. Canada will open the tournament against defending champions Argentina in Atlanta on Thursday.

Now that the friendlies are over, is Jesse Marsch and his squad up for the challenge? The Copa America is Canada’s biggest test until the 2026 World Cup.

Canada’s Copa America squad

Here is a look at Canada’s squad for the Copa America. It is worth noting that CF Montreal centreback has replaced Aberdeen midfielder Junior Hoilett. Hoilett sustained a lower-body injury

The squad Marsch has put together has names that have been around for a while such as Jonathan Osorio, Max Crepeau and Richie Laryea. There are up-and-coming names such as Ali Ahmed, Jacen Russell-Rowe and Kyle Hiebert.

Most of the squad is playing in MLS but there are a few playing in Europe.

One name that is a surprising omission is Ike Ugbo. The Troyes striker who spent the past season on loan with Championship sides Cardiff City and Sheffield Wednesday did not play in the friendlies against the Netherlands and France. However, Marsch on Saturday revealed that Ugbo was called up for the Copa America but decided to take a break for personal reasons.

Who will be the difference makers? Who could make a name for himself?

Canada will be led by Bayern Munich left-back Alphonso Davies. The 23-year-old is arguably the best left-back in the world. In the past, he has played left wing (His natural position) for Canada but Marsch has put him in the position he plays for his club. Davies has been named captain for the tournament and it would be interesting to see how he handles the responsibility.

There is also Lille striker/attacking midfielder Jonathan David. David scored 19 goals and tallied four assists with Lille in Ligue 1 last season. For the last few years, David has been linked with a move to the Premier League and Serie A. It looks likely he could finally get his move this summer. Depending on how he does at the Copa America, his transfer fee and demand could go up.

Stephen Eustaqio and Ismael Kone impressed in the 0-0 draw against France. Eustaqio’s defensive abilities and creativity will be key for Canada. Kone will look to impress as the 21-year-old has already shown lots of promise with his tackling and passing.

Derek Cornelius and Moise Bombito also impressed against France. Cornelius has been with the Canadian system for a few years. However, he is starting to become one of the regulars on the team. He has also impressed with Malmo in Sweden and has been linked to Dutch giants Ajax and Feyenoord.

As for Bombito, he has impressed with the Colorado Rapids and has been the fastest player in MLS this season. The Copa America is a huge opportunity to take his game to the next level.

Tajon Buchanan hasn’t had a lot of game time since he joined Inter Milan last winter. The Copa America is a good oppurtunity for him to get his form back up. Buchanan also hasn’t scored in 17 games for Canada. He is due for a backflip.

Jacob Shaffelberg, Ali Ahmed and Jacen Russell-Rowe bring pace, agility and creativity. The Copa America will be a big test for these three young players (24,23 and 21 respectively) to prove themselves on the big stage.

What would a successful tournament look like for Canada?

After Argentina, Canada play Peru on June 25 and Chile on June 29 as part of Group A. Peru is ranked 32nd while Chile is ranked 39th. Canada is ranked 40th so Peru and Chile are just ahead of them.

Let’s face it, it is extremely unlikely that Canada will beat Argentina. After all, they are the favourites to win the Copa America, won it in 2021 and have that Lionel Messi guy. However, getting a draw would be massive. Winning a close game would also feel good.

Then we get to Peru and Chile. Chile won the Copa America in 2015 and 2016. They have fallen off since then but still can’t be underestimated. The same can be said about Peru. They finished fourth in 2021 and they can’t be underestimated even though they struggled in 2026 World Cup qualifying.

The main goal is to win at least one game. Peru and Chile are the games that are the most realistic to win but it won’t be easy and neither would be getting out of Group A. That would be huge and would raise the bar ahead of the 2026 World Cup.

The Copa America is basically a dress rehearsal for the World Cup. What also would make a successful tournament for Canada is improvement and growth. That means Marsch has to prove he is the right man to lead Canada into the World Cup and the players need to prove they can play under him. Players like Kone, Ahmed and Bombito need to take the next steps and prove they can be regulars for Canada. Davies and David also need to lead the way. Overall, Canada must show they are learning and improving ahead of the World Cup during the Copa America.

As mentioned, Canada’s Copa America begins Thursday against Argentina. Kickoff is at 5:00 pm Pacific.