BURLINGTON, Canada—Canada opens their CONCACAF Men’s Olympic Qualifying Championship on Friday, taking on El Salvador at Estadio Jalisco in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Looking to qualify for the Olympic Games for the first time since 1984, Canada have been drawn in Group B with Friday’s opponents, as well as Honduras and Haiti. Group A consists of Mexico, USA, Costa Rica and Dominican Republic, who kicked off on Thursday.
The top two teams in each group move onto the semifinals at the tournament, which runs March 18-30. The two winners will then advance to the final, and both finalists automatically qualify for Tokyo 2020, set to take place later this summer.
There are no Toronto FC players on the U-23 Canada roster following a COVID-19 outbreak at the Toronto FC camp, which could have some major implications for the red-and-white, especially in midfield. Canada’s provisional roster had, among others, Liam Fraser, Ralph Priso and Noble Okello, all of whom could have been in line for some big minutes in this tournament, especially 23-year-old Fraser.
While it’s probably the weakest point on their roster, at least on paper, Canada still have a capable midfield, including Michael Baldisimo and a new recruit from the Portuguese national setup: Lucas Dias. The roster also includes a number of experienced players who have played for the senior national team, like centre-back Derek Cornelius, who has made 13 appearances for John Herdman’s side.
The team will be coached by former Montreal Impact head coach and senior national team assistant Mauro Biello, who has plenty of young, exciting talent at his disposal, even without Toronto FC’s youngsters.
An in-depth breakdown of Canada’s U-23 roster, written by Waking the Red’s Mitchell Tierney, can be found here.
The match can be watched live on OneSoccer. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 PM EST, with pre-game coverage starting at 5:30.
TOMORROW on OneSoccer ⚽#CanM23 kicks off their Concacaf Men's Olympic Qualifying campaign vs. El Salvador's U-23s— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) March 18, 2021
We'll have a pre-show at 5:30PM ET ahead of 6PM Kick-Off, too
For tonight? #USMNT vs Costa Rica, FOR FREE on YouTube ▶
Player to Watch — Ballou Tabla
Ballou Tabla is among the most talented players in this tournament. The CF Montreal attacker is quick and good with the ball at his feet. Capable of playing on either wing, Tabla could cause a lot of problems for the El Salvador defenders.
Over 89 senior professional appearances between the Montreal Impact/CF Montreal organization, Barcelona B and a brief loan spell at Albacete Balompié, Tabla has scored 12 goals and picked up seven assists.
He’s also made two appearances for the senior Canadian men’s national team, both in 2018, as well as 12 appearances between the U20s and U17s, and will now hope to use some of his experience to shine for the U23s.
While we don’t have too much of a scouting report on El Salvador to offer, historically, they have been a tough opponent and have a handful of players on their squad with MLS and European experience.
“Canada kicks off against a tough challenger. The Salvadorans have mostly drawn on players from local top-flight clubs, none of whom have a wealth of experience yet, but there are a few players to look keep tabs on. Forward Joshua Pérez, who just switched to El Salvador after playing for the American youth national teams since 2014, has been playing in the Spanish third tier with UD Ibiza. He played one game in Italy’s Serie A for Fiorentina a few years ago, and he also made 15 appearances in MLS for Los Angeles FC. Pérez’s uncle, former U.S. national team stalwart Hugo Pérez, is coach of this El Salvador team.
Enrico Hernandez is another forward to watch, having made his debut in the Dutch Eredivisie for Vitesse in February. Midfielder Eric Calvillo (also a recent U.S. to El Salvador convert) has 11 games’ MLS experience with San Jose as well.”
With Canada’s hopes of finishing top-two in their group, it’ll be important to get off to a good start Friday night.
For what it’s worth, the last time the Canadian men’s national team played a competitive fixture was Jan. 15, 2020, prior to the global pandemic.
What are your expectations for Canada at this tournament? Let us know in the comments!