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The top 23 Canadians who are 23 and under

Part 1 in this look at the CANMNT’s best prospects born in the 2000’s.


Qatar 2022 is in the books, CONCACAF Nations League resumes in a few weeks with games in Curacao and at BMO Field vs Honduras, and the 2023 Gold Cup follows a few months later this summer.

The end of each world cup cycle bring with it the promise of renewal and raises the hopes that the new cycle will bring more success than the last. What might the near term and longer term make up of the Canadian men’s senior team look like? Who are some of the upcoming prospects that may soon find their way on to the senior CanMNT roster? Who might be called upon to take us through the tournaments leading into the upcoming World Cup cycle?

Canada head coach John Herdman will gradually find it necessary to introduce the next generation of players for the national team set-up as veterans either age out or retire. Turnover is expected from the World Cup squad of the last cycle, but when these changes will occur remains a mystery as there have been no international retirements announced post Qatar.

This analysis will focus on those prospects still in the ‘has potential’ stage of their careers, particularly players born in the 2000’s. From this group a select few are closer to becoming CanMNT call-ups or even regulars than others. It is also important to keep in mind that many of the prospective players are dual nationals having strong competing offers from other federations. A few appear committed to les Rouges, while some will need more convincing than others to pledge their international futures to Canada.

A word about the CONCACAF U17 championships just concluded last month. The Canada U17s had a modestly successful tournament bowing out in the semi-finals, but with qualification to the Men’s U17 World Cup in Peru achieved. Acknowledgements must be made that there are a few players on the current team with skills and potential that stand above the rest in Alessandro Biello, Chimere Omeze and Lazar Stefanovic.

However, none of the current U17s have shown any indication that they are ready to make any meaningful contributions to the senior squad in this cycle. While some past U17s were prodigies in their day, like Alphonso Davies, and to an extent, Jonathan David, none of the current U17 players have shown themselves to be at their standard, and have not made this list.

The list of 23 players under 23 years of age was compiled from observations made over a good many months, and apologies in advance to the many talented prospects that fell short of making the list.

The main criteria, aside from being born in the 2000’s, is that the player is a prospect with a likelihood of making a contribution for the senior CanMNT team in the lead-up to, and including the 2026 World Cup. As the emphasis is on prospects, Canada’s stars such as the aforementioned Davies and David do not appear on this list.

One factor considered is the younger the prospect the less certainty there can be about their future and the more conjecture creeps into the analysis. Conversely, the older prospects are closer to being the finished product and greater certainty and expectation enters the picture.

Of course, certain positions, such as those where a current or looming need for the national team, will carry some extra weight. Canada’s senior squad is currently strong down the flanks but the quality of depth is thinner down the middle. But let us not be so naive to believe that if Canada has were to face an injury or prolonged absence of any sort, at any position, would not provide cause for concern. On a positive note, with each year there will be less need to agonize over Canada historical lack of depth, the talent pool is getting bigger and better.

This analysis begins with a look at a baker’s dozen worth of prospects ranked 23 to 11.

23. Jonathan Sirois

CF Montreal - Goalkeeper - DOB: 2001-06-27

One of just two goalkeepers to make the list, CF Montreal’s 21 year old keeper Jonathan Sirois looked good on loan the past two seasons with Canadian Premier League side Valour FC. The Quebec native began his CPL career recording six consecutive clean sheets, a league record, and was selected as the league’s Goalkeeper of the Year. Although his playing time decreased over the course of the second season in Winnipeg, Sirois is expected to compete with fellow Canadian James Pantemis for the starter’s role with CF Montreal this year with Sebastian Breza having returned to Europe. Sirois got his first taste of MLS action when Pantemis came out injured in the season opening game, and followed it up with his first start the week after. With Pantemis looking as though he may be missing more games this could be Sirois’ big moment. Turning 24 during the 2026 World Cup, Sirois could find himself in the mix for one of the three keeper spots on the CanMNT.

Santos Laguna v Montreal - CONCACAF Champions League 2022
Rida Zouhir (18 in black) shields the ball against Santos Laguna in CONCACAF Champions League play.
Jos Alvarez / Jam Media/Getty Images

22. Rida Zouhir

CF Montreal - Centre Midfield - DOB: 2003-11-23

After making a confident debut in the 2021 Voyageur’s Cup championship game against Forge FC Rida Zouhir was expected to make waves in 2022 but was unexpectedly overtaken on CF Montreal’s central midfield depth chart by Ismaël Koné. With Koné now departed for the English Championship, 2023 is now lining up to be Zouhir’s opportunity to nail down a spot in CF Montreal’s midfield rotation, especially with Matko Miljevic out of the lineup for up to three months with a serious knee injury. Zouhir will have quite the battle on his hands with fellow Canadians Mathiu Choinere, Sean Rea, and relatively unknown newcomer Nathan Saliba, also staking their own claims to a coveted midfield role at CF Montreal. The Montreal native is of Moroccan descent and has received strong overtures from the Royal Moroccan Football Federation to join their program. However, last year Zouhir was selected by, and played all four games, with Canada’s U20 team as they fell short of qualifying for this summer’s U20 World Cup in Indonesia and the upcoming Paris Olympic Games. Zouhir may need more seasoning over the next year or two to truly push for inclusion in the senior men's team.

21. Osaze De Rosario

York United FC - Striker - DOB: 2001-07-19

York United FC striker, Osaze De Rosario, has a fine pedigree as the eldest son of TFC talisman and former CanMNT record goal scorer, Dwayne De Rosario. A tall target up front, De Rosario enjoyed a very productive rookie season in the CPL recording a goal contribution less than every two games (12 goals plus four assists in 27 games) and added another goal in 3 Voyageurs Cup matches. De Rosario’s play both on and off the ball, improved continuously as the year progressed and was rewarded with a two year contract extension with York United in November. The 2022 nominee for the CPL U21 Player of the Year Award will look to pick up where he left off in his sophomore season. Born in the United States, De Rosario’s previous move to Ukraine was cut short after just two games on account of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Should he build on his rookie season success De Rosario will be sure to garner interest with MLS clubs or abroad, and from the CanMNT as well. If De Rosario can build on last year’s success it will be a matter of when rather than if he gets a sniff with the senior team as a third or fourth option up front.

SC Freiburg U19 v Borussia Dortmund U19 - DFB Juniors Cup Semi Final
Gabriel Pellegrino (red centre) of SC Freiburg U19 challenges for the ball against Borussia Dortmund U19.
Christian Kaspar-Bartke / Getty Images

20. Gabriel Pellegrino

SC Freiburg U19 - Centre Midfield - DOB: 2004-03-25

Woodbridge native and former Toronto FC youth product Gabriel Pellegrino passed up the offer of a MLS homegrown contract offer after 3 years with the club. Pellegrino opted to sign with Germany’s SC Freiburg, known for its strong academy, in 2021 instead. At that time Pellegrino, who who holds joint Canadian and Italian citizenship, was held by TFC in a similar regard to Jakheele Marshal-Rutty. The 18 year old central midfielder has been training and playing with SC Freiburg’s U19 team that plays in one of Germany’s fourth tier divisions. Comfortable playing any role in the centre of the park Pellegrino has started 93% of his club’s matches and played 88% of his teams available minutes this season. Prior to accepting the Freiburg offer Pellegrino also trialled with Portuguese giant FC Porto and Spanish giant FC Barcelona. Pellegrino was also a member of Canada U20 squad that participated in last year’s CONCACAF U20 Championships, and has recently stated his desire to continue representing Canada. Pellegrino is one for Herdman to keep his eye on.

19. Victor Loturi

Ross County FC - Centre Midfield - DOB: 2001-05-21

Alberta native Victor Loturi is a youth product of the Calgary Foothills FC Generation Program which he joined in 2018. The next year he moved up with Cavalry FC for the CPL’s inaugural season as a 17 year old. However it was Loturi’s second stint with Cavalry in 2021 and 2022 where the defensive midfielder began to be recognized for his play. The 2021 CPL nominee for U21 Player of the Year was now catching the eye of European scouts. In the summer of 2022 Loturi was signed by Ross County of the Scottish Premier League for a three year contract. After a slow start with the Staggies, which saw Loturi fixed to the bench more often than not, his prospects started looking up by October. Loturi was now being called upon with increasing regularity for the relegation embattled club. Loturi has become a fixture in Ross County’s starting XI through his respectable play as a box-to-box midfielder. Eligible to play for South Sudan, where his older brother William Akio has pledged his allegiance, Loturi appears to have his eyes on playing for Canada, and has been encouraged to reach that goal by Ross County manager Malky Mackay. A call-up for this summer’s Gold Cup would not be too surprising.

SOCCER: JUL 03 MLS - Philadelphia Union at Columbus Crew
Jacen Russell-Rowe (39 yellow) reaches to control an airborne ball in a match vs Philadelphia Union.
Jason Mowry / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

18. Jacen Russell-Rowe

Columbus Crew SC - Striker - DOB: 2002-09-13

Centre-forward Jacen Russell-Rowe is another former TFC academy player that only found the spotlight after leaving the club as TFC had a surplus of young strikers in their fold. Picked up by the Columbus Crew II after a nondescript two year college career Russell-Rowe exploded in the new MLS Next Pro development league. In 2022 Russell-Rowe became MLS Next Pro’s first big star in the league’s inaugural season when he scored a gaudy 25 goals with six assists in 29 combined regular season and playoff games in leading his team to win the regular season and playoff titles. Signed to Columbus’ senior squad in the summer of 2022 Russell-Rowe saw but limited action in MLS. For 2023 he is slated to stick with the MLS side but minutes may be a difficult proposition with Columbus’ DP Cucho Hernandez firmly entrenched in front of him. As well, the jury is still out on how good MLS Next Pro as a league really is and whether Russell-Rowe’s stellar season there will translate to MLS, and a call-up to the senior CanMNT. Although he was also eligible to play for Jamaica, Russell-Rowe was a part of Canada’s U17 team that participated in the 2019 U17 World Cup where he scored both of Canada’s goals in the tournament. Depending on whether his game can come anywhere close to replicating his past season, Russell-Rowe could find himself vying for a spot as a third or fourth striker behind Jonathan David and Cyle Larin with Canada.

17. Alessandro Hojabrpour

Forge FC - Centre Midfield - DOB: 2000-01-10

Defensive midfielder Alessandro Hojabrpour, the oldest player to make this list, is an intriguing selection as he seems to have a penchant for flying below the radar most of the time. A onetime member of the Vancouver Whitecaps FC Academy, it may come as a surprise to some to learn that Hojabrpour is a CPL veteran having just completed his fourth full year in the league before the end of his 22nd year. In 2021 he was rewarded for his efforts by being selected as the CPL U21 Player of the Year. Having recently turned 23 this deep lying playmaker, thrives as the pivot at the base of the midfield who foremost acts as a shield in front of his back line. Yet Hojabrpour has shown a flair for the dramatic, scoring the game winner in each of the last two CPL championship games. His first came in 2021 with Pacific FC against Forge FC, and he then returned the favour for Forge in 2022 over Atlético Ottawa. Born to an Italian mother and Iranian father, Hojabrpour has played for Canada’s U17 program where he tallied a goal in his three appearances. Should he continue his trajectory Hojabrpour could make a compelling argument to be called into the senior CanMNT as a depth player in the middle of the park.

Ayo Akinola in action against CF Montreal
Sean Pollock / Waking the Red

16. Ayo Akinola

Toronto FC - Striker - DOB: 2000-01-20

Much has been expected of Ayo Akinola since the burly youngster signed a Homegrown Player contract with TFC at 17 years of age. Those expectations were beginning to bear fruit with his inspired play at the MLS is Back tournament and much heralded switch of international allegiance from the USA (he was born in Detroit) to Canada before suffering a horrific knee injury at the 2021 Gold Cup. After a long layoff to recover and rehabilitate after surgery, Akinola has yet to find his goal scoring groove. Rewarded by TFC last year with a Young Designated Player designation, this season Akinola will be out to prove to his detractors that his knee is recovered and that he is ready to be a major contributor to TFC. The former US international Akinola made a much celebrated FIFA switch to Canada in 2021 before incurring his injury. A return to international favour will largely depend on a change in fortunes and a return to his 2020 production when Akinola scored nine goals in just 15 MLS matches. He will face increased competition at striker in the CanMNT setup in the years ahead. Akinola, who finds himself in somewhat of a make or break year, would love nothing more that to be back in the conversation for a role in the CanMNT strike force.

Jesse Costa (30) in action with Wolfsburg U19

15. Jesse Costa

Vfl Wolfsburg U19 - Centre Midfield - DOB: 2005-04-28

Jesse Costa is the sole 2005 born and the youngest player to make this list. As a 15 year old, Costa had a stint with League 1 Ontario outfit Prostars Academy before he spent some time in the academy of Sporting Lisbon in Portugal. However, the onset of Covid lockdowns resulted in the premature end to this opportunity. When COVID restrictions began lifting in 2021, Costa now found himself on the radar of a few Bundesliga academies and chose Vfl Wolfsburg as his next destination. After making the leap to Vfl Wolfsburg in Germany, Costa was initially assigned to their U17 team, but his stay there would not last long. In 2022 Costa moved up to Wolfsburg’s U19 program and has been invited to participate in the senior team’s training sessions on several occasions. Costa plays anywhere in the central midfield but professes to prefer a more attacking role. Another dual national Costa played with the Portugal U16 program before making the switch in 2022 to join Canada’s U20 squad for the CONCACAF U20 championships. Costa netted his first international goal during the tournament. Should his career trajectory continue on its current course it would not be out of question to find Costa as a depth piece for the next CanMNT world cup roster.

Jayden Nelson begins new chapter with Rosenborg BK

14. Jayden Nelson

Rosenborg BK - Left Wing/Midfield - DOB: 2002-09-26

Jayden Nelson had been tagged as a blue chip prospect in Toronto FC’s system for so many years it can be surprising to know he only recently turned 20. In fact, Nelson has been a member of the senior TFC roster for three seasons, and racked up more than two thousand playing minutes in all competitions last season alone. But Nelson’s prospects in Toronto were headed towards a wall. With Lorenzo Insigne well in front of him on TFC’s attacking left side minutes were certain to become scarce in 2023. However, the just completed transfer to Rosenborg BK of Norway’s top flight may have arrived at the right time, and may turn out to be just be the boost to his career that the long time prodigy needed. Ostensibly a left wing or left-sided midfielder, Rosenborg may experiment more with Nelson in a a more central role, or even up top as a striker. Management at Rosenborg are quite high on their acquisition of Nelson and expect big things from the Brampton native. Already capped four times by the senior CanMNT with a goal to his name, Nelson has found it difficult to get national call-ups as there are several Canadian left-sided attackers in his way, the most notable being Alphonso Davies. It is difficult to see Nelson break through this logjam of left-sided talent in the near future, but a successful transition to a central midfield role might prove to be his ticket.

13. Woobens Pacius

Forge FC - Striker - DOB: 2001-05-11

Woobens Pacius almost made this list solely on the strength of having the most outstanding footballing name in the country. Originally a CF Montreal academy product, Pacius chose to leave the club in 2021 when he was not offered a first team contract. Pacius then signed mid-season with CPL side Forge FC. where he continues to grow his game. There, Pacius has had one and a half successful seasons as part of a rotating cadre of strikers in Bobby Smyrniotis’ attack. Pacius is a natural target man up front who has been scoring at a consistently productive rate for CPL champions Forge FC, contributing 21 goals across 61 games in all competitions. His 13 goals in 2022 contributed to Pacius earning a nomination for the CPL U21 Player of the Year award The now 21 year old has seen some European interest reported but specifics have yet to be revealed. At this time it appears Pacius will be be returning for his third season in Hamilton where he is sure be looking to assert himself as an everyday striker. Eligible to play internationally with Haiti, Pacius has his sights on a call up to the senior Canadian side. Should he continue to produce at club level it seems inevitable that MLS or Europe will come calling for Pacius’ services. A CanMNT call-up for Pacius would not be far behind.

12. Jules-Anthony Vilsaint

CF Montreal - Striker - DOB: 2003-01-06

Jules-Anthony Vilsaint has been making headlines touting him as the next Canadian soccer star since he was just 13 years old. Now the Laval Quebec native will be wearing the jersey of his hometown CF Montreal for the 2023 season and beyond. Vilsaint, who shares the same agency as Jonathan David, had gone for a trial with Lille OSC before signing on to Royal Antwerp SC. Assigned to the Young Reds, as Antwerp’s reserve team is known, Vilsaint appeared to struggle for game time right out of he hop. Although he was invited to train with Antwerp’s first team on many occasions, a move to a new environment where he might have better access to minutes was necessary. While some will see his transfer to CF Montreal as a sideways move at best, Vilsaint is at a point in his career where he needs minutes to progress. As a dual national with Haitian descent, Vilsaint had been invited to participate in a Haitian U17 camp but never saw playing time. In 2022 he was invited to the Canada U20 team preparing for the CONCACAF championships but ultimately did not attend the camp. With a 6’3’ frame and blessed with speed Vilsaint has the tools to be a dominant striker and but needs to start producing for his club to get in with the senior CanMNT. He is not alone as a young Canadian striker with this profile.

11. Karifa Yao

Vancouver Whitecaps FC - Centre-back - DOB: 2000-09-28

Centre-back Karifa Yao came through CF Montreal’s youth academy before signing a MLS Homegrown contract in June 2019. Beginning in 2021 the Montreal native was sent out for two consecutive loans to CPL side Cavalry FC. He excelled in those two years with Cavalry, playing a total of 56 games in all competitions and leading his team in minutes in 2022. Yao appeared to be ready for the jump to MLS but surprisingly CFM declined his 2023 option. However, Yao was not unattached long as he was snapped up by Vancouver Whitecaps FC in the MLS re-entry draft. Yao had participated in a Canada U17 camp but had no caps. The 6’2’’ Yao, who is also eligible for Senegal through his parents is yet to be called by the Senior CanMNT but that is likely to change in the next few years. The CanMNT is notoriously thin at centre-back, and Yao who can play both left centre-back and right centre-back, is one of a select few prospects in this position of need that is likely to contribute to this upcoming world cup cycle.

Stay tuned for part two of this discussion, which will conclude with the top 10 CanMNT prospects revealed.