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Canada U-20 falls 1-0 to 10-man Cuba, faces USA next

Canada’s U-20 Men are off to a rough start at the CONCACAF U-20 Championships.

Canada’s (in white) last great chance at salvaging a point gets wasted in the game against Cuba

Disappointing, Embarrassing, Shameful. Or just more of the same?

Canada’s Men’s U-20 team got off to an inauspicious start to the 2022 CONCACAF Championships in Honduras on Saturday. This edition of Canada’s Men’s U-20 team felt as though it would be better than recent versions.More was expected of the team when the roster was announced.

The Canadian squad is good, but hardly spectacular. It would have been nice to have names like Luca Koleosho, Kosi Thompson, Lucas Dias, and Jahkeele Marshal-Rutty on the roster, but they might not have made an appreciable difference Saturday night.

Lack of financial resources and effort spent on the youth programs over the past half decade has come back to haunt Canada. Although COVID-19 played havoc with the planned January U-20 camp, the fact that the only real preparatory camp for the U20s was held in April over 13 days is a little concerning. From that camp, only 13 players remain out of the 20 players rostered.

However, the fact remains that Canada has players playing in well regarded academies and youth programs throughout Europe and Canada. Something that Cuba does not. So what went wrong against Cuba?

Canada set up in a standard 4-3-3 with Biello opting for a lineup of Ben Alexander – Noah Abatneh, James Knight-Lebel, Matteo Campagna, Kwasi Poku - Maël Henry, Justin Smith (C), Gabriel Pellegrino – Jesse Costa, Hugo Mbongue, Matt Catavalo. This was not the strongest lineup Biello could have opted for and featured a few players that appeared to be playing out of position.

If Biello was looking past Cuba when setting up his lineup, then the ploy failed. Cuba hardly dominated the game, and if not for a sequence late in the first half capped off by Knight-Lebel’s soft back pass intercepted by Kevin Martin, likely would not have scored on Canada.

Canada led the game with 71% possession, but only managed a meagre two shots on target. Despite this dominance in possession, Canada played without any real sense of urgency, and often looked like a team devoid of ideas with the ball.

Canada was gifted with a late opportunity to turn the game around when Cuban goalkeeper, Ismel Batista, was sent off in the 72nd minute after the team had used up all of its substitutions. This forced Cuba’s goal scorer Kevin Martin, one of the smallest players on the pitch, to play goal for the remaining 25 minutes, including stoppage time. However, in that time with the man advantage, Canada could not muster a single shot on net, and rarely looked threatening.

With the loss, Canada must bear down in its two remaining games. Fortunately for the Canadians, the top three teams in the group move on in the tournament. However, the next game is against one of the tournament co-favourites, the United States.

The US team features a strong line-up including MLS regulars like Caden Clark, Cade Cowell, and Paxton Aaronson. The USA are fresh off a 10-0 drubbing of Saint Kitts and Nevis. After Saturday’s ignominious result with Cuba, just getting a point against the Americans may be wishful thinking. The round-robin finale against Saint Kitts and Nevis on Wednesday has now become a must-win game for Canada.

Possible Lineup against the United States:

4-3-3 - B. Alexander – K. Franklin, J. Smith, M. Campagna, N. Abatneh – R. Zouhir, M. Catavalo, G. Pellegrino – K. Habibullah, H. Mbongue, T. Coimbra.

Game Date – Monday 20 June 2022

Time – 8:30 pm EST

Watch – OneSoccer YouTube Channel (Free)

Place - Estadio Nacional, Tegucigalpa, Honduras