Written by “FTF Affiliate: Ryan Lanteigne“
Despite advancing to the final stages of the Under-23 CONCACAF Men’s Olympic Qualifying Championship, Team Canada’s dreams of participating on the Olympic stage have once again been shattered. The Canadian squad coached by former Canadian International Mauro Biello was said to be the strongest side Canada has produced in years, featuring the likes of New England Revolution attacker Tajon Buchanon and Captain Derek Cornelius, however they were unable to overcome Mexico falling 2-0 to the strong Mexican side in the semi-finals. The young, disciplined Canadian side held a 0-0 draw until the 56th minute when Mexico’ midfielder Uriel Antuna was able to capitalize on a costly defensive mishap. The rest is history.
What Went Wrong for the Canadian Side?
Those familiar with the history of the Under-23 CONCACAF qualifiers would say that Canada was lucky to be drawn into Group B rather than facing the likes of Mexico, Costa Rica and their familiar foes the United States of America who were placed in Group A. However, Group B proved to present its own set of challenges. After coasting to a compelling 2-0 victory in their first matchup against El Salvador, the major let down of the tournament came in their second game against a beatable Haitian side. Canada came out flying, picking up where they left off in their previous game against El Salvador, but they were unable to convert on several vital opportunities. Talented right back Marcus Godinho came within inches of goal on a 25-yard strike in the 4th minute and team leading goal scorer Tajon Buchanon was found with his head in hand after two tremendous stops from Haitian goalkeeper Alan Jerome, but neither were able to find the back of the net. The Haitian squad came out pressing in the second half, but the game ultimately ended in a 0-0 draw which immensely hurt Canada’s chances at participating in the Tokyo Olympics. In a short tournament like this, one unfortunate result can compromise your chances to qualify and this is a lesson these young upcoming Canadian Internationals will take with them as they graduate to the senior side.
The condensed schedule of this tournament which was forced due to rescheduling presented a lot of challenges for participating teams. A consistent theme for Team Canada throughout the tournament was the significant drop-off in play from the first 45 minutes of the game to the final 45 minutes of the game. Canada was able to apply consistent pressure on the offensive side of the pitch early on in games as all three goals scored by the team came in the first half of their respective matches. Meanwhile, the team found themselves on their heels in the second half of matches which was evident in their fixtures against Mexico and Haiti. When a team’s performance dwindles as the game advances to the later stages, this could be a sign of fatigue. However, it is hard to blame any team for showing signs of fatigue when expected to play in a minimum of three high leverage games in such a short period of time.
The decision Canada Soccer made to elevate key players under the age of 23 to the senior squad, rather than having them compete at the Under-23 level is something they may want to reconsider going forward. Any player born in 1997 or later is eligible to play in the Under-23 division rather than playing for the senior side. This means talented players such as Alistair Johnston, Kamal Miller, Alphonso Davies and Liam Miller would have all been available in order to bolster Mauro Biello’s Under-23 squad. These are key players, all of whom could have had a major impact for the young Canucks. However, this is easier said than done as keeping these quality players out of the senior side can seem ridiculous, especially because these are all players who are ready to contribute at the highest level.
At this point, supporters of Canadian soccer are hungry and ready to support a team that can compete for major tournament hardware either at the youth or senior stage. The tournament may have ended in a disappointing fashion for Team Canada, but there is a lot to be excited about for this group moving forward. This strong youth side is most definitely the future, and soon to be the present of the Canadian National Soccer Program.