NASHVILLE, Tenn. – In a split second on Monday night, Canada went from surprise winners of Group A in Olympic qualifying to a difficult semifinal, likely against the Mexican juggernaut, on Friday in Kansas City, Kan.
Maykel Reyes' last-gasp header for an equalizer left the young Canadians stunned after a 1-1 draw with Cuba. It was an anticlimatic bookend to a weekend in which Canada stunned the heavily favored US on Saturday and moved into the drivers seat in the group. Now, the young team's road to London has gotten a lot more difficult.
“A lot of young players don’t know how to manage games," Canada coach Tony Fonseca said in the postgame press conference. "Today, you pay a little bit of a price for being young and naïve. I think they could have managed the game a little bit better and especially those dying minutes of the game.”
With a roster whose average age is a shade younger than 21 years old, Canada's team is the youngest they’ve ever sent to an Olympic qualifying tournament. Three players in the squad, including Doneil Henry and Samuel Piette (above) – both of whom started on Monday – will still be eligible to play for Canada's Under-23s when qualifying rolls around for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“It’s a very young group," said Fonseca. "It’s about shaping us up for the future. It’s not about today. It’s not about the Olympics and the next six months. It’s about our future. It’s about how are we going to shape up ourselves and what kind of players we’re building for the future.”
On that front, Fonseca says he’s happy that the team has progressed and what they’ve done in the brief time the squad has been assembled. Fonseca doubles as the assistant coach of the Canadian senior men’s side. In this tournament, senior men’s head coach Stephen Hart serves as assistant as this team is the next generation of players who will try to make the World Cup for Canada. Some already have senior-team experience.
“I think this is a step forward in terms of desire, in terms of passion, in terms of dedication and respecting the country,” Fonseca said. “They have left everything on the field, to be honest with you. I cannot ask anything else.”