24 Under 24: Canada's top five overseas players under 24
Canadian fans have reason to dream, and not just becasue the national team is enjoying its best World Cup qualifying campaign since 1998. Their 24 Under 24 prospects based overseas are a promising bunch, giving fans reason to believe even beyond 2014:
5. Luca Gasparotto (Rangers FC)
Gasparotto may be an unexpected pick on this list, but at just 15 years of age, the defender started and played every minute in Canada’s three games at last year's FIFA Under-17 World Cup, an acknowledgement of his potential.
He has natural leadership qualities, but what catches the eye is his technical ability.
Gasparotto celebrated his 17th birthday earlier this month and is currently the captain of Rangers' U-19 side. While the senior side of the once storied club have plunged to the bowels of the Scottish professional footballing ranks, Gasparotto has remained with the club’s youth program and may just rise with the team, although it could be a bumpy ride back up to international prominence.
4. Randy Edwini-Bonsu (Eintracht Braunschweig)
It may seem like Randy Edwini-Bonsu has been on the scene for a long time now but in fact, the forward is still just 22 years old.
After struggling to adapt to a new country and a different language at the FC Metz academy in France, the Ghanaian-born Edwini-Bonsu moved back to Canada and to the Vancouver Whitecaps FC Residency, where he excelled and jumped to the senior team.
The expectations on the Whitecaps were that his world-class pace could make him a handful for opposition defenses. That potential, however, never really came to fruition as Edwini-Bonsu was used quite often as a “super-sub." Even then, his pace never really translated into goals.
The player was let go as the Whitecaps made the jump to MLS and he ended up with AC Oulu in the second-tier Finnish Ykkönen. After tearing up that league with 16 goals in 20 games, Edwini-Bonsu drew the attention of Braunschweig and moved there in 2011, although finishing has become an issue once again.
The potential remains, however. During Olympic qualifying in March, American fans will remember how he gave the US team fits with this speed on the wing in Canada's victory. But he also cost his team when he received a direct red card as he was being subbed off in that same match, resulting in a two-game suspension which included the decisive semifinal against Mexico.
3. Lucas Cavallini (Juventud de las Piedras / on loan from Nacional)
The technically gifted Cavallini has already put himself on the radar of many North American soccer fans, famously scoring Canada’s insurance goal as they upset the favoured United States in March in the Olympic qualifying tournament in Nashville, Tenn.
His South American flair eventually earned him his first cap for the senior men’s team when he came on as a second-half substitute in their 2-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago in Florida in August. Many believe he could be the finisher that the Canadian program has sorely needed.
Cavallini developed in the academy of defending Uruguayan champions Nacional and was recently sent on loan to fellow Primera División side Juventud de la Piedras, where he already has a goal in two games played. Although he's not the quickest player in the world, his experience at such a young age should be a boon for Canada.
2. Samuel Piette (Fortuna Düsseldorf)
Piette has quickly risen up the ranks in Canadian football. In 2011 he was a member of the U-17 team that played in Mexico for the FIFA Under-17 World Cup. He then was called into Tony Fonseca’s Olympic qualifying squad and impressed as the midfield engine.
Prior to that call-up for Olympic qualifying, senior men’s national team coach Stephen Hart called Piette up for the team’s camp in Cyprus in February.
Hart was impressed with the fearlessness and confidence of the young player and brought him back for the camp in June that included a friendly against the US and World Cup Qualifiers against Cuba and Honduras. Although Piette wasn’t used in the qualifiers, he did earn his first senior cap for Canada when he came on in the second half in the friendly with the US.
Piette's passing ability and vision make him arguably the top talent in the Canadian system. Although his diminutive stature may prove a challenge down the line, he can look to Julian de Guzman as a central defensive midfielder who has succeeded despite his size.
1. Junior Hoilett (Queens Park Rangers)
In order to put Hoilett on the list, you have to ignore the fact that he is yet to decide which country he will represent. He was born in Canada, but is eligible to play for Jamaica or England.
With seven goals scored in the English Premier League last year, there's little doubt that he would make an immediate impact with the senior Canadian side. His pace, trickiness, strength and goals earned him inclusion in the list of 13 players to watch as determined by FIFA.
With a solid defense and plenty of depth in midfield, Canada can sorely use someone with the ability to score in big games. Although several Canadian attackers play in some of the top leagues, their lack of consistent scoring on the international level plagues Canada.