Canada names young squad for CONCACAF U-20 qualifier in Costa Rica
Rob Gale’s search for young soccer talent knows no borders, as evidenced by the Canadian under-20 coach’s squad for the CONCACAF Men’s Under-20 Championship later this month.
The English coach estimates he has worked with 80-plus players over the last three years in refining his player pool. Given the injuries and other issues Gale has had to deal with recently, that depth has come in handy.
Canada’s 20-man roster features nine players based in Chile, England, France, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands and Scotland. Eight others are working their way through the system with Canadian MLS clubs while the remaining three are in the NCAA ranks.
It’s a young Canadian roster with five players born in 1999 (who will be eligible for the 2019 tournament), seven in 1998 and eight in ‘97.
Canada opens Feb. 17 against Honduras before playing Mexico on Feb. 20 and Antigua & Barbuda on Feb. 23 at the 12-country CONCACAF event, which runs through March 6 in San Jose, Costa Rica.
Four teams will qualify for the FIFA U-20 World Cup, which runs May 20 to June 11 in South Korea.
The challenge facing Gale’s squad to get to Korea is immense. Canada failed to qualify for the last four U-20 world championships and has not taken part since it served as host in 2007 when it failed to win a game or score a goal.
Injuries have not helped Gale’s cause. Midfielders David Choiniere and Shamit Shome (Montreal Impact) and goalkeepers Philip Di Bennardo (Toronto FC 2) and James Pantemis (Montreal Impact) are among those unavailable.
Defenders Marcus Godinho (Heart of Midlothian, Scotland) is recovering from a knee injury and only makes the threeman standby squad along with defender Matthew Constant (University of New Mexico) and midfielder Dayonn Harris (Penn State).
Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla, Montreal’s highly touted 17-year-old midfielder, declined an invitation.
“Which is disappointing,” said Gale.
Italy’s Palermo declined to release youth goalkeeper Sebastian Breza because of injuries to other ‘keepers.
Gale has seen one ‘keeper drop after another with Christian Kaiswatum, Marvis Kreitling, Pantemis, Di Bennardo and Breza all unavailable for one reason or another. All five were No. 1 or No. 2 on his depth chart at some point.
“It’s very unusual and very unfortunate,” said the coach. “But it gives two others the chance.”
Gales enters the tournament with Dayne St. Clair of the University of Maryland and Thomas Hasal of the Vancouver Whitecaps residency program as his options in goal. Both had been with the team in recent camps.
Canadian-born defender Fikayo Tomori, currently on loan to Brighton from Chelsea, has elected to represent alreadyqualified England although Gale holds out some hope he may switch allegiance at some point in the future.
The CSA has elected to keep 16-year-old midfielder Alphonso Davies, a rising star with the Vancouver Whitecaps, in the under-17 program.
Kadin Chung and Hasal come from the Whitecaps while Toronto FC provides Dante Campbell, Aidan Daniels, Liam Fraser, Shaan Hundal, and Luca Uccello. Montreal furnishes Thomas Meilleur-Giguere.
Gale will look for leadership from Meilleur-Gigeure, Ucello and Kosovar Sadiki with Meilleur-Gigeure the likely captain.
Canada’s record at the U-20 level has been very poor, failing to qualify for 12 of the 20 previous tournaments. Its record on the U-20 world stage is 4-18-5 while being outscored 50-16.
The team assembles Sunday in Costa Rica.
Canada’s U20 men’s soccer coach Rob Gale looks on during training at the FIFA U17 World Cup in Dubai in this October 2013 file photo.