Let’s not sugarcoat things: The recent history for the Canadian men’s soccer program has been pretty bleak.
The senior team is just now emerging from a two-year-long tailspin following its disastrous exit from qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, while the U-20 side has not qualified for its age group World Cup since 2007 – when, as hosts, Canada bowed out without a point or even a goal scored.
But in the frozen north, hope springs eternal. Head coach Benito Floro has emphasized the importance of the U-23 squad qualifying for the 2016 Olympics, and with a promising crop of players born in 1993 or later coming through the pipeline, there may finally be light at the end of the tunnel for Canada’s men’s program.
While starlets such as Lucas Cavallini and Russell Teibert miss the Olympic age cutoff by mere days, Floro still has a variety of promising youngsters at his disposal. Of course, nothing’s ever guaranteed with young players. This list could look very different a year from now. Still, here are 10 up-and-comers who may not only help Canada in their quest to reach Rio 2016, but Russia 2018 as well.
10. Keven Alemán
Club: Herediano (Costa Rica)
Birth date: March 25, 1994
The creative attacker made his senior team debut at last summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup but falls down the list due to an uncertain club situation this past year. If Alemán can translate the flair and promise he showed as a Canadian youth player into a steady pro career, he’s one to watch out for.
9. Samuel Piette
Club: Deportivo La Coruna (Spain)
Birth date: Nov. 12, 1994
Like Alemán, Piette seemed destined for a regular spot on Canada’s senior team until questions arose on the club side. Nicknamed “bulldog,” Piette has already become known for his rugged play in the center of the park. But how much further does he need to go – and how far can he go – in his development?
8. Jordan Hamilton
Club: Trofense (on loan from Toronto FC)
Birth date: March 17, 1996
Hamilton told MLSsoccer.com back in January that he hopes to become “what Canada needs up front.” With plenty of goals at the youth level and a number of appearances in USL PRO and Portugal’s Segunda Liga under his belt, the talented 18-year-old could be well on his way to doing just that.
7. Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé
Club: Montreal Impact
Birth date: March 9, 1995
The big teenager – JGL for short – has already racked up five caps for Canada’s senior side and has clearly impressed Floro. His versatility has served him well thus far with Les Rouges and helped earned him a Homegrown Player contract with the Impact this past summer.
6. Marco Carducci
Club: Vancouver Whitecaps
Birth date: Sept. 24, 1996
Along with Maxime Crépeau and Quillan Roberts, Carducci is part of a new wave of homegrown goalkeeping talent. The youngest of the three, Carducci has already made his pro debut (in the 2014 Canadian Championship) and looks set to confidently lead Canada into U-20 World Cup qualifying in January.
5. Fraser Aird
Birth date: Feb. 2, 1995
While his national-team future remains in question, his talent does not. The 19-year-old has become a fixture for Rangers as they’ve risen back up the Scottish professional ranks. Eligible for both Scotland and Canada, Aird could be a massive piece of the puzzle for a rebuilding Canadian side – if he commits.
4. Marco Bustos
Club: Vancouver Whitecaps
Birth date: April 22, 1996
After bursting onto the Canadian radar following a trial with Liverpool at age 14, this crafty playmaker has been full of promise for both club and country. After a brief flirtation with Chile’s U-20 team over the summer, Bustos appears to be back on board with his birth nation, Canada.
3. Cyle Larin
Club: University of Connecticut
Birth date: April 17, 1995
Considered by many as a potential No. 1 pick in the upcoming MLS SuperDraft, the impressive striker has spent the last few years bagging goals for the Huskies and League 1 Ontario's Sigma FC. The 19-year-old also nearly opened his scoring account for Canada at the senior level in October’s friendly against Colombia.
2. Hanson Boakai
Club: FC Edmonton
Birth date: Oct. 28, 1996
He made his NASL debut at age 16 and earned his first senior call-up at 17. The diminutive dynamo has the sort of skill set rarely seen in Canada and has already attracted interest from European clubs. Nothing’s guaranteed, but Boakai is one of the brightest lights in the Canadian system.
1. Michael Petrasso (pictured above)
Club: Notts County (on loan from Queens Park Rangers)
Birth date: July 9, 1995
Proof positive that playing time can do wonders for a young player’s development, Petrasso has impressed on four different loan spells in the past 12 months. The attack-minded winger, an alumnus of the Toronto FC Academy, may be the most seasoned and well-rounded Canadian teenager in the game today.
Honorable mentions: This list is far from complete – Floro can still choose from MLS Homegrown Players like Doneil Henry (Toronto FC), Manuel Aparicio (Toronto FC) and Sam Adekugbe (Vancouver Whitecaps) and look across the pond to the likes of Luca Gasparotto (Rangers), Dylan Carreiro (Dundee) and Daniel Stanese (Augsburg II).