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Canada men’s U-21 team continues to impress at Toulon Tournament

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Canada sit at the top of their group at the prestigious competition.

Canada Soccer/Flickr

The Canadian men’s under-21 team has been turning a couple of heads with their performances this week at the Toulon Tournament in France.

Canada currently sit in first place in the toughest group in the tournament after beating Turkey 1-0 today following their 0-0 draw with Portugal in their first game. A win in their final group game against Japan on Sunday would guarantee Canada a spot in the semi-finals.

The Toulon Tournament is a prestigious youth international competition held annually in France. This is the first time a Canadian team has participated, although this showing might earn the team a few future invitations.

At this level results are evidently important, but so is getting a look at who might potentially be a candidate to play for the senior national team, and the Olympic team, within the next few years. Here is what we have learned so far:

Canada’s high press causing all sorts of issues for opponents

Canadian co-head coaches John Herdman and Mauro Biello have taken a page out of Jurgen Klopp’s book so far at this year’s tournament, and has been working great. Herdman has continually been urging his players to press high up the field and make sure opponents have little time on the ball.

It has been a very tricky tactic to break down for opponents, particularly a young Portuguese side who seemed very surprised by Canada’s resolve. Jonathan David, Liam Millar and Aidan Daniels all tend to press up high while the Canadian midfield remains organized behind them ready to stop any ball or player that might step past them.

Especially considering the games are only 80 minutes long and Canada have four subs to work with, the team has been able to maintain the press all game long.

Herdman’s winning mentality is rubbing off on his players

After earning one of the shock results of the tournament, a 0-0 draw with a younger but highly touted Portuguese team, John Herdman said he was disappointed. As much as it was a good result from Canada this team had come here to win games, and had many chances to do that against Portugal.

That mentality seemed to echo with his players against an older and physically tougher Turkish side. Instead of playing for another draw with Turkey, which still would have been a decent result, Canada pushed on for a winner. They found that after Noah Verhoeven’s cross alluded everyone in the box and found the back of the net.

Who has stood out so far for Canada?

Having not conceded through two games at this tournament, the backline deserve a lot of credit. Central to that has been Derek Cornelius, a 20-year-old playing in the Serbian top flight. Calm and composed when he needs to be, but also aggressive at key moments, Cornelius could well develop into the solid central defender Canada has been lacking of late.

Both fullbacks have also had great tournaments. Émile Legault, an 18-year-old fullback who plays for AJ Auxerre in France was Canada’s best player in the first match. On the other side of the field, Daniel Kinumbe of the Impact’s academy has been just as good. His ability at both ends of the field has been one of the biggest surprises so far this tournament.

Ahead of them, Liam Millar hasn’t gotten as involved as the Canadian team would probably like, which isn’t entirely his fault, but when he has he’s been excellent. The Liverpool U-23 winger has had the bulk of Canada’s chances so far, many of which he has created himself.

From the Whitecaps system, meanwhile, both Verhoeven (who is on loan at Fresno FC) and David Norman Jr. have strong off the bench. Norman is a physically imposing midfielder who has shielded the backline well late in matches, while Verhoeven’s technical ability and creativity has already stood out in a big way.

How have the Toronto FC II players done so far?

Three Toronto FC players were called up by the national team for this tournament, and all have seen time on the pitch. Aidan Daniels has had the best tournament so far, just as he has been Toronto FC II’s best player in 2018. The attacking midfielder has made several slaloming runs through opposing defenders, and has been one of the team’s biggest threats.

Noble Okello has started both games in the midfield, but has come off early both times. His physical presence is clear with players closer to his age, and he has defended reasonably well in both games. His passing, however, hasn’t been great. Finally, Julian Dunn started against Portugal and showed his potential with a solid shift at the back.