Olympic Qualifying: Canada's secret weapon vs. El Tri?
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – When Canada face Mexico in Saturday’s winner-take-all semifinal in the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament (9 pm ET, Sportsnet, CONCACAF.com), it will be the latest chapter in a contrast of styles: a physical Canadian side going up against a creative, possession-oriented Mexican squad.
The results are often predictable as the Canadians struggle to keep up with the Latin pace. But this time around, Canada’s lineup features two players who have some understanding of that fluid style of play.
Unlike their teammates – and most Canadian players – who develop in Europe or in the academies of the Canadian MLS teams, forward Lucas Cavallini (above, No. 13) and defender Andres Fresenga play their club soccer in Uruguay.
Both players believe their backgrounds give them a leg up when facing a tough team like the Mexicans, who are undefeated in this tournament and have outscored their opponents by a combined score line.
“You can see the different rhythm of things,” Fresenga told MLSsoccer.com at the Canadian team’s hotel on Thursday. “You see Central American and South American teams – they play with my rhythm, so it’s a quicker game, but I can take advantage of some stuff.”
In the three games thus far in the Olympic qualifying tournament, both players have made notable contributions. Cavallini scored Canada’s second goal in the 2-0 upset of the United States, while Fresenga (at right) did an excellent job to close down Brek Shea and the American attack from his position on the right side of the Canadian backline.
The teenage duo has had a few years under their belts in learning a style of play that is mostly new to the Canadian set-up. Fresenga was born in Toronto to Uruguayan parents, while Cavallini, from nearby Mississauga, has an Argentine father.
Fresenga was plucked at age 14 by Montevideo powerhouse Club Nacional while the Uruguayan outfit was conducting a soccer school in Toronto. He was one of two players the team took back to South America. Now 19, he plays for top-flight club Racing Club de Montevideo and is working his way into the first team.
Cavallini, meanwhile, was invited down to Uruguay when he was 16 by a former youth club coach and he’s been there ever since. Also 19, he’s now with Club Nacional and is part of the development squad with the club.
Both players say they’ve learned their lessons well in a part of the world famous for the sort of football at which Mexico excel.
“The best thing about South America is the technical abilities with the ball, and you don’t see that in North America,” said Cavallini, readily admitting he relishes playing in Uruguay.
They’ll get their chance to prove they can run with El Tri on Saturday. The winner of the semifinal at Livestrong Sporting Park gets a ticket to London.
"We're confident," quipped Fresenga. "Not overconfident – but confident."