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2024 MLS season: Canadian players to watch

The new MLS season is fast approaching, with all three of CF Montreal, Toronto FC and the Vancouver Whitecaps hoping for stronger years in 2024.

We’re also into a big year for the Canadian national team, who are hoping to qualify for the Copa America this summer ahead of hosting the 2026 World Cup. 

With a big focus on 2026 going into this MLS campaign, this season is a chance for some players to nail down their national team spots ahead of what promises to be a massive few years for Canadian soccer.

Jonathan Osorio - CM, Toronto FC

Osorio, a 71-cap midfielder, is a fixture in the Canada setup, but this is an interesting season for him. Not only is he now working under former national team boss John Herdman at Toronto FC, but he’s been named club captain for the coming campaign.

Last year was a miserable one for Toronto and Herdman has been poached from the national team in an attempt to change that. Osorio had four goals and four assists last season, the joint-second-most goals and joint-most assists on the team.

Maxime Crepeau - GK, Portland Timbers

Crepeau departed LAFC at the end of the 2023 campaign having lost the MLS Cup final against Columbus Crew. The goalkeeper was sent off while simultaneously suffering a broken leg in LAFC’s MLS Cup victory in 2022, so this second shot at glory was huge for him. At the end of the campaign, he departed LA and joined Portland Timbers.

Portland are +5000 to win the MLS Cup this term, so it’s unlikely he’ll get the chance to make up for recent disappointments. However, Crepeau is now 29, which suggests he’s at his peak as a goalkeeper. As it stands he looks like the frontrunner to start in goal at the 2026 World Cup, but he’ll need to settle in quickly with the Timbers. 

Kamal Miller - CB, Portland Timbers

Portland should get plenty of attention from Canadian fans this term, having also added defender Kamal Miller in the offseason. Miller had spent last term with Inter Miami, featuring 22 times during a campaign where they struggled before Lionel Messi arrived. 

How Miller adapts to the Timbers will be interesting to watch this term. He could partner fellow Canadian international Zac McGraw in defence ahead of Crepeau, so Canada fans should keep an eye on the Timbers’ defensive record this season.

Jacen Russell-Rowe - FW, Columbus Crew

Russell-Rowe, a 21-year-old forward, had a breakthrough campaign with MLS Cup winners Columbus last term, making 21 appearances in MLS and scoring four times in just 538 minutes. While his playoff role was limited, there’s hope that he can kick on this term.

The forward has been capped four times by Canada but there’s a lot of competition in those attacking areas. If Russell-Rowe is going to feature long term for the national team, he needs to take another leap in 2024. 

Moise Bombito - CB, Colorado Rapids

Bombito had his first MLS campaign last season, having been taken with the third pick in the 2023 SuperDraft. He was limited to just 11 MLS appearances in 2023 due to injuries, but he’s a versatile player who can feature either as a centre-back or a holding midfielder. 

Bombito was called into the national team just 171 days after being drafted and he featured at the 2023 Gold Cup. There’s certainly potential there in the 23-year-old, but he needs to show more this year. 

Ali Ahmed - LB, Vancouver Whitecaps

Ahmed impressed last term in his first MLS season and he’s seen as one of Canada’s rising stars. He stood out at the heart of Vancouver’s midfield and that earned him a call up to the national side.

He was named Best Young Canadian Player in last season’s Canadian Championship and MLS success is the next goal. While he underwent surgery early this year, he should be back to fitness early in the 2024 campaign, giving him plenty of time to prove himself.

Samuel Piette - CM, CF Montreal

Piette bounced around leagues and clubs before landing in Montreal, but he’s now entering his eighth MLS season with the club. The 29-year-old is a veteran of the national side but injuries hampered his 2023 campaign.

He went into 2023 having been named captain, so there will be plenty of focus on him in a hopefully healthy 2024 campaign. 

Jacob Shaffelburg - LW, Nashville

Shaffelburg played his part in a good season for Nashville last term, having sealed a permanent move from Toronto FC. He had a bit-part role in a loan there in 2022 before making 28 appearances last term.

The hardworking winger chipped in with three goals as Nashville secured a spot in the postseason, but he’s going to need to make more contributions this term to take the pressure off Nashville's stars and possibly add to his seven international caps. 

 Kyle Hiebert - DF, St Louis City

Hiebert had a breakout season with 2023’s breakout MLS team, earning himself a new contract in the process. St Louis City topped the Western Conference in their debut season, with Hiebert’s promotion to the first-team early in the campaign playing a big role.

The versatile defender can play at centre-back or left-back and he’ll expect to play a big part for St Louis in their sophomore season. Their shock playoff exit did spoil the end of an incredible year, but they’ll hope to bounce back and Hiebert will have his eye on a return to the national setup. 

Ayo Akinola - FW, Toronto FC

Toronto are not short on young, Canadian talent but Akinola is an interesting one as he is in a tough spot. He broke out back in 2020 with nine goals. He was shipped out to San Jose on loan last year with an option to buy, but he barely featured for the Earthquakes and returned to Toronto for the 2024 season.

A ruptured ACL picked up at the 2021 Gold Cup scuppered his rise with Toronto and after making 14 appearances without scoring in the first half of last term, they shipped him out. However, the forward is now back at the club, once again working with Herdman. 

At just 24, he still has time to turn things around. Could he spark a comeback with Toronto in 2024? This does feel like a make-or-break year for Akinola, so his progress is worth keeping an eye on. 

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