U-17s: On verge of World Cup berth, Canada prepare for "biggest game of their careers"
There aren’t many Canadian men’s national team coaches who can say they’ve had their team on the verge of a World Cup. But Canada U-17 coach Sean Fleming can boast that he has a team on the precipice of qualification for a second consecutive occasion.
Two years ago, Fleming was at the helm as Canada reached the 2011 U-17 World Cup in Mexico, and this time around he’s be hoping to guide the young Canadian team to a second straight tournament when they take on Jamaica on Saturday (6 pm ET, sportsnet.ca).
“I think it is probably the biggest game of their careers,” Fleming told reporters in a conference call on Friday. “The kids have been committed on and off the pitch to make sure that they’re ready to go. It’s more just to focus on their individual roles and assignments and to make sure they have the ability to have their best performance.”
Canada qualified for the quarterfinal stage of the CONCACAF U-17 Championship with a win over Trinidad & Tobago and a draw with Costa Rica in the group stage and are up against a Jamaican team that tied both Panama and Barbados.
While the young Reggae Boyz may not the most skilled opponents, Canada can expect an athletic team that is physical – perhaps a little too physical. In their opening 1-1 draw with Panama, Jamaica had one player sent off with a straight red card and another ejected for a second yellow card. They also had four players receive individual cautions in that game.
“They’re very athletic, very physical, tremendous work ethic, some good individual players,” said Fleming. “It will be a very good challenge for sure and knowing their coach, he’s going to have them very ready to go and we’re going to have to match the intensity right from the start.”
As they have done for every game thus far, the team will be battling the heat and humidity that goes with playing in Panama, and will once more have to cope with less than ideal field conditions – the pitch at the Estadio Agustín Sánchez is artificial and Fleming admits that though it's older turf, he’s been impressed with how his team has battled through.
“We come in with a no-excuse attitude. It’s OK turf,” he admitted. “It’s quite old turf. It’s not consistent with the bounce of the ball but then again when you’re playing turf in this kind of heat it makes it harder on the turf.”