At some point or other, the traditional symptoms of Canadian soccer infect every one of the National teams. Unfortunately, even the talented and confident U20 squad currently trying to qualify for the U20 World Cup have been no different. A 90th minute goal conceded to El Salvador meant the difference between needing only one win in their final two games for Canada to qualify for the World Cup playoff round, and needing to win both. Because Canada soccer also likes to stick to horrible narratives, the final two games will be played against Cuba and then Honduras.
However, talking to Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé who plays his club football for the Montreal Impact, the U20 team is still very much confident in its abilities. For one, this is certainly a different World Cup qualifying tournament, one that has more games in a short time and has been fairly forgiving for a Canadian team who have lost two straight.
While the loss to El Salvador, it did teach the Canadian team a thing or two about how much depth this team really does possess. Hanson Boakai, who has barely featured at this tournament, came on and had an incredible second half in which he scored and was generally one of the best players on the pitch. He becomes one of six or seven quality midfield players who Canada has been able to rotate throughout the tournament.
"That's what makes our team so good is if players get injured or if they have a bad game the players on the bench can always come on and help the team to win games," explains Gagnon-Lapare.
It is also where this depth exists that makes this team an anomaly in Canadian soccer circles. Up front, for once, there are several options even with Fraser Aird and Dylan Carriero unavailable. Cyle Larin and Jordan Hamilton are two of the best strikes in the tournament. Michael Patrasso hasn’t been at his best, but has still shown flashes of why he too is a dominant presence.
"I think we are a good team going forward," says Gagnon-Lapare. "It's important at these types of tournaments because you want to score as many as possible."
Gagnon-Laparé, as his coach Rob Gale has done throughout the tournament, mentioned that this team hasn’t even been playing its best soccer. For a squad with this much potential, they really haven’t been able to put everything together at both ends of the field. Thankfully, unlike other CONCACAF qualifying tournaments in the past, they still have time to do this.
"I think for sure organization has to be a little better," says Gagnon-Lapare. " I think we are still a little nervous when we play. Our second half is usually much better than our first half so I think just being able to get into the game a little quicker will help us going forward."
For Gagnon-Laparé, it is the big game experience he has received with the national team and with his club that will help him deal with two, hopefully three, massive fixtures that the team is about to play. One such experience came with the men’s national team, where he had an opportunity to play against Colombia, then the number 3 team in the World.
"It's fantastic experience playing against these guys who are playing really top level in the world. You can always get something from that the way they play the way they move. "
The odds were stacked against Canada then, and they are stacked against Canada U20 now. But this team has the potential, more than most, to dig themselves out of the hole. If they can it will go a long way for the program.