OLIVA, Spain – A handful of MLS academy players got a taste of top-flight international soccer at the recently completed Canadian national team camp, giving the promising youngsters a glimpse of what their futures could hold.
Teenagers Jackson Farmer of the Vancouver Whitecaps FC Residency and Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé of the Académie Impact Montreal got their first senior caps for Canada despite not having yet signed pro contracts.
Sam Adekugbe, who signed his first pro deal with Vancouver the same day the Canadian squad was announced, and Whitecaps Residency player Kianz Froese were in camp but did not see playing time in either of Canada’s international friendlies against Mauritania.
Though it may be some time before they make a return to the senior squad, the players are eager for the fight to get back there.
“I learned the speed is much faster,” said Gagnon-Laparé, who saw action in both of Canada’s games. “All the little mistakes at this level can be exploited, so you have to concentrate all the time to make the fewest mistakes possible. Also it’s important to enjoy what you’re doing. These guys aren’t here to pressure you. They’re still happy to be here at their age and happy to play with the younger guys who are the future of the team.”
Floro previously saw all four players while they were with the Canadian Under-18 national team in Spain last month.
The players got their call-ups just days after returning from the U-18 camp. After an experience playing with and learning from Canada’s more experienced players, the youngsters know there’s plenty more work left to do before they get called back to the senior team on a regular basis.
“I have to keep improving in my club and hopefully signing contracts and just basically keeping sure that [head coach Benito Floro] is keeping tabs on me,” Farmer said. “He’s just got to keep looking at me.”
They all know they still likely have to work their way through the Canadian youth ranks before making a permanent move to the top team. But with the ongoing transition in the Canadian outfit and fluctuation in the coaching ranks and player pool, they’re hoping a window of opportunity cracks open in the next World Cup qualifying cycle.
“[The camp] was just a week, but I think it’s a first experience with professional football for me,” said Gagnon-Laparé. “I’m still not training with the pros at the Impact, so for me it’s a first step at this level. I’ve gained a lot of experience in this camp, and I hope I get the opportunity for more.”