KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Over the last 10 days in March, Canadian soccer fans got a glimpse of just how far their program needs to progress if they want to close the gap with the top teams in CONCACAF.
The Canadian Under-23 team, a side hastily assembled prior to the Olympic qualifying tournament, bowed out in the semifinals, losing 3-1 to Mexico. The result followed draws against El Salvador and Cuba during in group play as well as the shock upset of a US team that perhaps never fully recovered.
There were flashes of potential in Canada’s play, especially against the US in Nashville, Tenn., but that performance was sandwiched between lackluster efforts in their two draws. And in their fourth game against Mexico, they were simply beaten by a better team.
The next step? Getting those good performances on a more consistent basis.
“I think we’ve done a good job to surprise the world, showing that Canada can play,” said the Montreal Impact’s Evan James (above), who was one of the bright spots in the tournament for Canada. “The youth is going to bring something to the next tournament or chance we get to play and show what we can do.”
Canada’s roster was the second youngest of the eight teams in the tournament. It featured two 18-year-old players in Doneil Henry (Toronto FC) and Bryce Alderson (Vancouver Whitecaps), as well as 17-year old Samuel Piette. These three players will still be eligible to play in Olympic qualifying for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
With Canada’s three MLS franchises and the NASL team in Edmonton giving the next generation of Canadian talent the opportunity to play at the top level in North America, Canada’s talent pool looks to be getting deeper. Despite failing to qualify for their first Olympics since 1984, there is some reason to be optimistic for the future.
“They had an opportunity to learn for four games and I think what they take from this tournament was huge,” Canadian head coach Tony Fonseca said in his postgame press conference following Saturday's loss. “I think this could be a historic for them and what they can learn from this and take from these four games is tremendous.”