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Lessons to be Learned for Canada U20 against Haiti

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The Canadian U20 team played their highly anticipated first game at the CONCACAF U-20 Championship in Jamaica. They defeated Haiti 3-1, with Jordan Hamilton scoring a brace and Michael Petrasso adding a penalty.

John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Canada may have correctly taken their first step on the road to New Zealand, but a 3-1 victory against Haiti also left a lot of crucial lessons to be learned. The CONCACAF Under-20 Championship is important for several reasons: development most of all, a chance to earn a berth at a global tournament and, not to be overlooked, grasping an early understanding of the difficulties of playing international soccer on the continent.

From their very first bite in Jamaica, the young Canadian players have been given an adequate taste of the complications they will have to deal with for the rest of their international careers. Perhaps the only element of CONCACAF the game with Haiti lacked was the intimidating atmosphere. Other than that, it had a bit of everything.

A quick glance at the weather report in Montego Bay shows that other than the aforementioned missing away fans the setting was perfect. During the game, with humidity factored in, the temperature was around 35 degrees Celsius. The opponents, as always, took every opportunity they could to lie on the ground in pain. This was particularly noticeable in the second half, when it seemed like there was constantly an "injured" Haitian player.

Then, as always, there was the referee. One can only hope that this will improve as the tournament moves along for Canada, but at least there has been an idea planted that this will be something they will have to overcome going forward. This game surely was not as close as it should have been as there were more than one definite penalties that went uncalled.

To be fair, the referee wasn’t the only one who let the scoreline stay too liberal. Canada failed to take full advantage of a really poor Haitian defense. Several chances went begging due to poor execution on the Canadians part. Michael Petrasso did not have a very good game in this regard, as at least twice he was all alone with the keeper and was unable to finish. Last year’s U-20 player of the year was able to score on a well-taken penalty, however.

It is hard to be too critical of any Canadian team that scores three goals, however, as even with all of the missed chances Canada still demonstrated why people are so excited about this team. Toronto FC’s Jordan Hamilton was front and centre of it all, scoring two goals within the first 20 minutes of the match. He continues to be lethal at all levels. Marco Bustos was also very dangerous in the attack, although he had far less to show for it.

It also should be pointed out that the consensus first overall pick in the upcoming MLS Superdraft, Cyle Larin, started the game on the bench for Canada. That’s not a bad second weapon to have in attack, although it is more than likely that he will start in place of Chris Nanco going forward. Larin did see around 20 minutes of action near the end, but was fairly ineffective during that time.

Overall, there are plenty of areas Canada can improve upon going forward. For one, they were rather wasteful in possession and did not look particularly solid as a unit at this point, especially in the midfield. More passing and increased communication will be crucial going forward. The backline was fairly solid save for one lapse that led to the only Cuban goal. Luca Gasperotto continues to look well above his age class in terms of talent and has certainly earned the captain’s armband that he wears.

A number of Canada’s issues will have to be corrected in a hurry, however, as the next game will come against a powerhouse Mexican side fresh off a 9-1 trouncing of Cuba. The Mexican game will be nothing short of a massive test of character and skill for the Canadian team as they will try to get a result against the best team in this tournament. The reward would be pretty huge, it would give Canada a very realistic chance at winning the group and automatically qualifying for the U20 World Cup and final of this tournament.

So while Canada was taught a lesson at their first game in Jamaica 2015, it will be quickly proven how fast of a study this group is when they meet Mexico in two days time.