Just one month from today the Canadian Men's Under-17 team will open their World Cup campaign in Dubai against Austria. It will begin a tough test for the young Canadian team as they will be looking to find a way past a group that includes Iran and Argentina along with Austria.
Canada has never managed to pick up a win at this event and until 2011 had failed to collect a single point. The Canadians managed to make headlines in Mexico in 2011 though despite crashing out at the group stage. Not only did they pick up their first two points in this competition but Quillan Roberts also became the first goalkeeper to score in the finals of any FIFA competition when he netted the equalizer in a 2-2 draw against England.
It wasn't the rousing success that many Canadian fans have been dreaming of but it was progress to see Canada actually picking up points. It will be key for Canada to pick up where they left off in Mexico when they get to the United Arab Emirates next fall.
With Canada in the midst of what is looking like a major overhaul of the senior national team a lot of fans will be looking to this tournament as a source for hope moving forward. Considering how many members of that 2011 World Cup team have already made their debut for the senior team in recent months it is not unrealistic to think that standouts from this fall's event could feature as soon as the next World Cup qualifying cycle.
The 2011 team is full of names who many Canadians are now keeping an eye on. That roster included Samuel Piette, Kevin Aleman, Luca Gasparotto, Michael Petrasso, Sadi Jalali, and Bryce Alderson. It was a talented group of players and it was a shame that they missed out on qualifying for this year's Under-20 World Cup.
This fall should see Canadian soccer observers introduced to a new group of talented young players. With a major lack of competitive internationals coming up at any level until next year the eyes of Canadian soccer fans will likely be focused on this event and hopefully Sean Fleming's team can deliver some reason for excitement and hope.
Heading into the event there are a number of names that Canadian fans should be aware of. Canada is heading into the event with a team that is capable of filling the back of the net when they get rolling. Jordan Hamilton, Hanson Boakai, Andrew Gordon, and Marco Bustos are just some of the players who Canada will likely have on the roster capable of scoring goals.
Boakai may very well be the most important player for Canada on the attacking side of play. Despite his small stature he was a commanding force for Canada in the CONCACAF Championships as his work at CAM was key to a lot of what Canada managed to do offensively. At 16-years-old Boakai has already signed his first professional contract with FC Edmonton and made his NASL debut. When he made his league debut against the Carolina Railhawks he became the youngest player to ever play in an NASL game having already been the youngest to ever sign for one. His goals against Costa Rica and Jamaica in the CONCACAF Championships played a big part in getting Canada into the World Cup and any success that they do have in the UAE will likely have a fair bit to do with his contributions.
Boakai won't be alone in leading the Canadian attack though. Around him it will likely be scoring by committee like it was in the CONCACAF Championships as they got the job done with six different scorers. The leader of the group was Jordan Hamilton who was also the most experienced player on the roster.
Hamilton made his debut in the CONCACAF U-17 Championships back in 2011 but despite helping Canada reach the World Cup that year he was not included on the roster that went to Mexico. This time around there is no chance that he will not be getting the call to head to Dubai when Sean Fleming names his roster. Hamilton was Canada's leading scorer in CONCACAF with three goals including the last gasp equalizer that kept Canada alive in the third-place match against Honduras which they eventually won on penalties.
It will be interesting to see how Fleming decides to use Hamilton in the World Cup. During the CONCACAF Championships he brought Hamilton off the bench on a number of occasions as well as bringing him off the field early in several other games. The only time that Hamilton went the distance in a game was that third-place match against Honduras. Fleming may have been trying to rest him throughout the tournament to bring him on late against tired opponents and it seemed to work out as Hamilton's three goals were tied for the second best return in the event despite spending that time on the bench.
The attack pack plenty of punch with Hamilton and Boakai leading the way but the questions for Canada will come on the other side of the ball. They conceded seven goals in CONCACAF and their attacking power was the main reason that they managed to finish in third place and book a spot in the World Cup.
Canada's defence looked shaky against the stronger attacks from CONCACAF as Jamaica, Panama, and Honduras all managed to score two goals. That doesn't sound that bad but Canada would have allowed quite a few more goals in the event if not for several strong performances in goal from Vancouver Whitecaps prospect Marco Carducci. He had to come up big a number of times against Costa Rica and Jamaica to help Canada qualify and he will likely be very important in the World Cup as well.
If Canada had a hard time dealing with the likes of Panama, Honduras, and Jamaica they will be up against it when they play Austria, Argentina, and Iran. Iran scored 17 goals in 6 matches in the AFC U-16 Championships to qualify to the event. Their biggest problem was that they also conceded 12 goals including 5 against Japan in the third-place match. Argentina made it out of CONMEBOL with 17 goals for and 13 against in their 9 matches. Austria qualified from UEFA with 3 goals in 3 games in the final stage but they also had 10 goals in 6 games in the earlier qualifying rounds.
Simply put, Canada's defence will be up against it in Dubai with all three of their group opponents bringing plenty of attacking talent to the event. If Canada relies on Kevon Black, Alex Comsia, Ian Fernandes, and Elias Roubos again in the back-line they will have to put in an improved performance to help provide coverage for Carducci in goal. The group has plenty of raw talent but like most 16-year-olds they showed plenty of room for improvement when it comes to positioning and marking.
With a month to go until the World Cup there are a number of question marks about this team but there are also a lot of reasons to be hopeful. Considering the lack of other things in Canadian soccer to be excited about these days it is worth looking forward to this event kicking off. The above names are certainly ones worth watching but hopefully for Canada's sake a few other names step up in UAE next month.