After a painstaking process of weighing pandemic restrictions, club commitments and injuries, Canada Soccer has finally announced its Olympic qualifying team. The U-23 side features no Toronto FC players as the club’s recent Covid-19 outbreak at training camp played a major factor.
Canada opens the competition in Guadalajara, Mexico on March 19 against El Salvador. They subsequently play Haiti on the 22nd and finish the group stage against Honduras on March 25. The top two teams in the group will advance to the semi-final round. The winners of those semi-final games qualify for the Olympics. All of Canada’s matches will be available on OneSoccer.
Canada has not qualified for the Olympic games since 1984 when they lost to Brazil in the quarter-finals in penalties. Canada does have an Olympic gold medal, however, winning the soccer event at the 1904 games in St. Louis, Missouri.
Here is a full look at the roster and potentially what can be expected from head coach Mauro Biello in terms of team selection.
Goalkeepers: Sebastian Breza, Matthew Nogueira, James Pantemis
Not having Dayne St. Clair is a bit of a loss, although perhaps he will be featured in the senior national team camp later in March. Regardless, Canada arguably boasts one of the best goalkeeping contingents in the entire tournament.
James Pantemis brings with him good experience, having been called into several senior national team camps. He spent the Island Games with Valour, on loan from CF Montreal. Sebastian Breza and Matthew Nogueira are exciting prospects to add to the group. Nogueira, 22, plays for Maratimo B in Portugal having spent time with Benfica and Toronto FC’s academy.
While he hasn’t seen game time yet with the senior side, Breza is under contract with Bologna of Serie A and is one of the countries most promising goalkeeping prospects. Given his pedigree, the Ottawa native might be the favourite to start the tournament in net for Canada.
Defenders: Zorhan Bassong, Zachary Brault-Guillard, Derek Cornelius, Marcus Godinho, Thomas Meilleur-Giguere, Callum Montgomery
Not the deepest group, especially at centreback. No Frank Sturing is a bit of a surprise given that he was included in January camp. What this group does have is a lot of experience, as Derek Cornelius, Zachary Brault-Guillard and Marcus Godinho all have a solid amount of senior international experience.
Callum Montgomery made the step up from USL League One to USL Championship last season with San Antonio FC. The former fourth-overall pick in 2019 will give Canada a solid threat from set-pieces and is likely to pair with Cornelius. Zorhan Bassong and Thomas Meilleur-Giguere round out a solid group with decent positional flexibility. Worst case, Canada has a few midfielders who could potentially drop back into the centre of defence if needed.
Midfielders: Michael Baldisimo, Aidan Daniels, Lucas Dias, Patrick Metcalfe, David Norman, Ryan Raposo
The midfield might be the weakest part of Canada’s team, but there is still enough here to be excited about. This is where the Toronto FC absences certainly hurt most with Liam Fraser, Ralph Priso and Noble Okello all unavailable.
Micheal Baldisimo headlines the group, as the 20 year old’s passing range and ability will be crucial to Canada’s control of the ball. His experience playing alongside Patrick Metcalfe with the Vancouver Whitecaps should give Canada some built-in chemistry in the middle of the park.
The other exciting player is Lucas Dias of Sporting CP’s academy. The 18 year old has previously represented Portugal at the youth level and quickly becomes one of the most exciting prospects in the national team player pool. If there is a player that turns heads at this competition, it could well be Dias.
Attackers: Theo Bair, Charles-Andreas Brym, Tajon Buchanan, Ballou Tabla, Kris Twardek
In attack is where Canada looks the strongest going into this tournament. Every player in this group has played a decent amount of senior team football, all at a high level.
Given the breakout season he just enjoyed in MLS, Tajon Buchanan might be the star man on this Canadian team. His ability to beat players on the dribble coupled with his speed and intelligence to get into good positions will make him a major issue for Concacaf defenders.
Ballou Tabla hasn’t had the most favourable return to CF Montreal after his time spent with Barcelona B. But this tournament gives him a good opportunity to get back on track ahead of a big season with the club under the tutelage of a new head coach. In terms of raw talent, Ballou is unmatched on this squad.
FULL ROSTER (WITH TEAMS)
1- GK- James Pantemis | CAN / CF Montréal
2- FB- Zachary Brault-Guillard | CAN / CF Montréal
3- FB- Zorhan Bassong | CAN / CF Montréal
4- CB- Thomas Meilleur-Giguère | CAN / Pacific FC
5- CB- Derek Cornelius | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
6- M- Michael Baldisimo | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
7- F- Tajon Buchanan | USA / New England Revolution
8- M- David Norman | CAN / Cavalry FC
9- F- Charles-Andreas Brym | BEL / Royal Mouscron
10- M- Aidan Daniels | USA / Oklahoma City Energy
11- F- Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla | CAN / CF Montréal
12- F- Kris Twardek | POL / Jagiellonia Białystok
13- FB- Marcus Godinho | GER / FSV Zwickau
14- M- Ryan Raposo | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
15- F- Theo Bair | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
16- CB- Callum Montgomery | USA / Minnesota United FC
17- M- Patrick Metcalfe | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
18- GK- Matthew Nogueira | POR / CS Maritimo
19- GK- Sebastian Breza | ITA / FC Bologna
20- AM- Lucas Dias | POR / Sporting CP U-23