It is never too early to start preparing for the next Under-20 World Cup cycle and that is just what Canada's Under-16 squad were doing this past week. All of the players on Canada's roster for a recently completed 11 day camp were born in 1997 which will ensure the entire group will be eligible to take part in Canada's U20 squad come 2017. That is the long term goal but in the short-term the squad kept busy with training in Italy.
The training camp got underway on April 26th and ran through the Torneo delle Nazioni. The squad worked under the watchful eye of head coach Rob Gale for 11 days, and by taking part in the Torneo delle Nazioni they got the chance to go up against some very strong European squads.
The results in the tournament were not quite what the team would have been hoping for but considering the level of the opposition it should serve as a good learning opportunity for the young players. The group included players with connections to all three of Canada's MLS clubs (as well as one from Real Salt Lake's Academy) with Toronto FC academy sending a total of four players. Donte Henry, Julian MacDonald, Kwame Amoah, and Luca Uccello all got the chance to represent the club making TFCA the top represented program on the 18-player roster.
For the event Canada were drawn into Group B along with Croatia, Montenegro, and Norway in what was a fairly tough group. The other two groups included the likes of Italy, the United States, Mexico, Slovenia, and Israel among others. It was a strong field for the event and Canada would be in tough just to reach the knockout round with only the group winners and the best second place winner advancing to the semifinal round.
Canada opened their tournament against a very strong Croatia squad and came out on the wrong side of a 3-0 scoreline against the eventual finalists. All four Toronto FC academy players got a chance in the starting lineup for the match with Amoah and MacDonald playing the full match in a losing effort. Canada were overrun early in the match by Croatia and by the time they reached the 5th minute of play they were already down 2-0 and had left themselves with far too deep of a hole to dig out of.
The second match went far better for Canada as they took on a Norway side that were coming off a 0-0 draw in their first match against Montenegro. Gale again went with a strong TFCA contingent in his starting lineup with Uccello, Amoah, and MacDonald all included. The later two would again play the entire match while Uccello was substituted off for the player who would score the game winner. Canada got second half goals from Hayden Simmonds-O'Grady of Capital United and substitute Derek Cornelius of Unionville SC. Norway would answer with a late goal of their own but it was not enough as Canada picked up their first win of the event with a 2-1 final.
With Croatia knocking off Montenegro 2-1 in their second match Canada was in position to challenge for second place in the group or even catch Croatia for first place but it would mean needing to grab a very lopsided result in their final match against Montenegro. With Canada's chances of reaching the knockout stages dependent on picking up a dominant win Gale again went with three TFCA players in his starting lineup while Henry came off the bench for MacDonald. With Montenegro also looking to claim second spot in the group with a win they came out pressing and ended up knocking Canada off 2-0 giving them four points and second place in the group.
The scoreline was not enough for either team to reach the knockout stages though as Croatia was the only team to move on from Group B having collected the full 9 points in convincing fashion. They knocked off the United States in the semifinals with a 2-1 final score setting up a date in the finals against Japan who relied on a second 1-0 win over Mexico to book their place. The final went the way of Japan who came out 2-0 winners completing a very strong tournament for the Asian squad.
Canada can take some pride in holding their own through much of their three matches but the results of the tournament should also serve as a reminder of the work that remains to be done. With both Mexico and the United States making it to the semifinals it goes to show that Canada has some work to do if they want to close the gap on their CONCACAF rivals and keep pace with the top sides.
The good news is that Canada had seven players on the squad coming from MLS academy programs where they are hopefully getting the best possible coaching and development opportunities. Add in Sonny Bircham, son of former crazy-haired Canadian international Marc Bircham, who is at Queens Park Rangers academy and you get a core group of players that will hopefully continue to develop and put Canada's youth squads in position to compete with the top teams in CONCACAF over the coming years.
GK- James Pantemis | CAN / Lakeshore SC
GK- Dayne St. Clair CAN / Ajax SC
D- Andre Baires | CAN / Phoenix SC
D- Sonny Bircham | ENG / Queens Park Rangers FC Academy
D- Donte Henry | CAN / Toronto FC Academy
D- Julian MacDonald | CAN / Toronto FC Academy
D- Mateo Restrepo | CAN / Woodbridge SC
D- André-Cédric Zibi | CAN / Académie Impact Montréal
M- Kwame Amoah | CAN / Toronto FC Academy
M- Joshua Doughty | USA / Real Salt Lake Academy
M- Jashandeep Sangha | CAN / Phoenix SC
M- Francesco Saporito | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC Residency
M- Aymar Sigue | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC Residency
M- Hayden Simmonds-O'Grady | CAN / Capital United
M- Emmanuel Zambasis | CAN / Mississauga Falcons SC
F- Jacob Bolton | CAN / Halifax City SC
F- Derek Cornelius | CAN / Unionville SC
F- Luca Uccello | CAN / Toronto FC Academy