Canada U-17 Hanson Boakai celebrates his equalizer vs. Costa Rica

CanMNT: Youngsters will provide a glimpse into the senior national team's future at U-17 World Cup

Since taking over as head coach of the Canadian men’s national team in August, Benito Floro has been on the hunt for young talent to help make his side competitive in the years ahead.

Over the next several weeks, he’ll have his best opportunity yet to see exactly what the future may have in store – and so will Canadian fans.

The FIFA Under-17 World Cup kicks off in the United Arab Emirates on Thursday, and Canada will be making their second straight appearance in the biennial competition. 

Under head coach Sean Fleming, the Canadians will be looking to build on their performance in 2011, the high point of which was a famous 2-2 draw with England that featured a late equalizer from Toronto FC goalkeeper Quillan Roberts. That result earned Canada their first-ever point in the competition in their fifth all-time appearance.

This time out, Canada find themselves in Group E of the six-group, 24-team field, alongside Austria (Saturday, 9 am ET), Iran (Oct. 22, 9 am ET) and Argentina (Oct. 25, noon ET). The top two finishers in each group, along with the top four third-place finishers, will qualify for the knockout stages.

Before Canada can dream of the round of 16, though, they’ll need to focus on procuring a first-ever win. The team did show some attacking flair in this year’s CONCACAF Under-17 Championship, with Vancouver Whitecaps Residency midfielder Marco Bustos, FC Edmonton midfielder Hanson Boakai (above) and Toronto FC Academy striker Jordan Hamilton among the standouts.

Canada booked a spot in the U-17 World Cup by reaching the semifinals of that tournament and would go on to defeat Honduras (who also qualified) on penalty kicks in the third-place game. Mexico and Panama contested the CONCACAF final, with the Mexicans – the reigning Under-17 World Cup champions – taking the continental crown.

For some players, the turnaround from this tournament to the senior national team is quick – Samuel Piette and Keven Aleman went from the Under-17 World Cup in 2011 to representing Canada at this past summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup. So this year’s team could very well feature players that will be on Floro’s radar as Canada look ahead to qualification for Russia 2018.

At the very least, there’s a good chance the kids will do something the senior national team hasn’t been able to do in a long time – score a goal.