clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The top 23 Canadians, 23 and Under (Top 10)

Part 2 - The A-List of the CanMNT’s best prospects born in the 2000’s.


Welcome to the second part of this analysis where we will count down the final ten names of Canada’s best prospects for the national team born in the 2000’s. Before picking up where we left off in the first instalment, a brief review of the eligibility criteria for inclusion on this list is in order.

The end of each world cup cycle brings with it change, particularly in terms of roster turnover when veterans retire and pass the torch to the next generation. Although Canada’s team is not old per se, there will be veterans that will eventually age out or retire during this cycle.

Necessity will gradually compel Canada coach John Herdman to transition his roster to a younger generation of players. Canada is not exceptional in this regard. However, the timing of these changes remains a mystery as there have been no international retirements announced post Qatar.

Most of these prospects are still in their formative years and still ply their trade on youth academies and second or third division leagues. A select few are closer to entering the regular orbit of the senior squad.

Furthermore, many, if not most, of the prospects considered are dual nationals, with many feeling the pull from competing national federations. A good many appear committed to les Rouges, while some, including some highly desirable targets, will need more convincing than others to pledge their international futures to Canada.

To reiterate, the main criteria to make this list, aside from being born in the 2000’s, is that the prospect is a player with a likelihood of contributing or playing a role for the senior CanMNT team in the lead-up to, and including the 2026 World Cup. As previously noted in part one, this list emphasizes prospects, which by definition refers to a person regarded as likely to find success. There are no guarantees with prospects. Established stars such as the aforementioned Davies and David do not appear on this list as they no longer meet the definition of prospect despite being born in the 2000’s.

Of course, certain positions, particularly those where a current or looming need for the national team is perceived, will carry some extra weight. Canada’s strength is currently concentrated down the flanks but quality and depth is thinner down the centre of the pitch.

Accordingly, players predominately playing positions of greater need may score higher in this analysis. Nevertheless, the CanMNT depth in any position is not so great that an injury or prolonged absence of any sort by any of the regulars would not provide a cause for alarm.

This list was compiled from observations made over a good many months, The order and standing of players rose and fell as individual circumstance in their careers evolved. And, once again, apologies in advance to those prospects not recognized here.

Given the criteria described above, let us look at the top ten CanMNT prospects.

10. Dieu-Merci Michel

Vitória Guimarães SC U-19 - Striker - DOB: 2004-02-09

As a youth in Edmonton Dieu-Merci Michel began his journey with the BTB Academy, the very same academy that was instrumental in giving Alphonso Davies his first organized footballing opportunities.

Dieu-Merci Michel trialled with Bayern Munich, also following the path blazed by Alphonso Davies, and Club Brugge too before settling on Portugal’s Vitória Guimarães. Michel would most likely have made the move to a European club sooner had he been able to secure a European passport.

The 6’3” striker has the physical tools to dominate, and he can play either wing as well. Nicknamed Deuce, Michel has been tearing up Portuguese U-19 opposition this season. Now on 14 goals in less than two dozen games this year, with five goals being match winners and another goal to earn his team a come from behind draw. All this despite Michel having been sidelined with injuries on a few occasions this year. It is apparent that Michel must make the move up to the first team soon or seek a new professional challenge elsewhere next year. It is readily apparent that Deuce needs stiffer competition to further his development.

Dieu-Merci Michel is also eligible to play for Angola through his parents’ roots but there is little information to suggest he is inclined to go that route. Michel was invited to Canada’s U-20 camp in 2022 but for reasons not clear he did not participate. As with several taller, young attackers on this list, Michel would seem to be the ideal complement to Jonathan David to form a potent strike partnership.

9. Sean Rea

CF Montreal - Winger/Midfielder - DOB: 2002-05-15

Sean Rea began his career in the CF Montreal academy in 2014 and has had trials with Pescara in Italy and Schalke 04 in Germany. Like CFM teammate Jonathan Sirois, Montreal native Sean Rea went out on loan to Valour FC for consecutive years in 2021 and 2022. The most recent season in Winnipeg was particularly impressive for the diminutive winger.

Rea created 71 chances this past season in the CPL, 28 more than the next player. This is in addition to his 5 goals and 9 assists, the latter being a new league record. Rea’s efforts were rewarded when he was crowned with the 2022 CPL Player of the Year Award.

Rea looked impressive in CFM’s pre-season with all indications suggesting he is ready for MLS. With many attacking midfielders leaving the club and the injury to Matko Miljevic look for Rea to push hard fto stake his claim as a fixture to the CFM attack. Rea made his CFM debut with a spirited offensive display in the season opening loss to Inter Miami as a second half substitute. He was handed his first start the next week and picked up where he left off the previous week.

Rea holds in Italian passport through a grandparent, but in this case Canada need to worry about losing Rea to Italy as he has been a member of Canada’s U15 and U17 programs. As a winger he plays a position of strength within the CanMNT program. However, Rea could push to become a depth option for the senior team within a few short years, especially if he makes his mark in his favoured attacking central midfield role.

8. Jamie Knight-Lebel

Bristol City FC U-21 - Centre-back - DOB: 2004-12-24

Born in Montreal, Knight-Lebel moved to Bristol England at the age of five. There he signed his first professional contract in May 2022 after previously playing out of Bristol City’s academy. Listed by the club as part of the Bristol City FC U-18 team, Knight-Lebel appears to be primarily playing for Bristol City’s U-21 team since 2021. He has been frequently wearing the armband for the U-21 team since November 2022 as well.

The 6’2” centre-back has demonstrated his versatility by playing in both a back four or as part of a 3 man backline with the Robins. A stalwart in defence, Knight-Lebel has also proven to be adept on offence as well contributing some key goals and assists over the current season.

Knight-Lebel is highly regarded by Bristol City. Should he continue to shine for the U-21’s then it seems inevitable that a call up to the senior team, currently in the EFL Championship, will not be far off. With a suspected long term injury to one of the Senior squad’s starting CBs, and his understudy also expected to be out for a few weeks, there was speculation Knight-Lebel might be seen as a short term solution for the senior squad already. However, this was not yet been the case as Knight-Lebel also recently picked up an injury and has missed time over the past month. It would be quite the accomplishment for the still 18 year old Knight-Lebel to be called up and see game action in the Championship.

In June 2022 Knight-Lebel was selected to the CanMNT U-20 squad for the CONCACAF U-20 championships. There he played three of four games and impressed observers after some shaky moments in the first game. As noted, Knight-Lebel is still just 18 years of age, which is generally considered young for a professional centre-back. It would not be surprising to see Bristol City loan him out as soon as next year to a League One or League Two outfit to gain professional experience. Accordingly, if Knight-Lebel is to make inroads with Canada’s senior team it is likely to occur in two or three years. It just appears to be a question of when, not if, he arrives on the CanMNT scene.

Owen Goodman with Crystal Palace FC U-20
Federico Guerra Maranesi / PPAUK

7. Owen Goodman

Crystal Palace FC U-21 - Goalkeeper - DOB: 2003-11-27

Born in the United Kingdom, Goodman was raised in Canada. Upon returning to the UK after nine years Goodman joined the Crystal Palace Academy’s U-13 program. Described by Crystal Palace as “an athletic, imposing goalkeeper”, the now 19 year old is a locked in starter between the sticks for Crystal Palace’s U-21 team. In 15 Crystal Palace U-21 starts the 6’4” keeper has only allowed 20 goals and has kept an impressive tally of five clean sheets. Goodman has also been training regularly with the first team since 2022 and has even been called into the senior squad on a few occasions to serve as the backup keeper.

Nigeria eligible through parental descent. Nigeria working hard to bring him into their fold. How hard the effort is up for interpretation as the Nigerian Football Federation reportedly asked that Goodman pay his own travel expenses. Goodman declined their offer.

Goodman almost joined Canada’s U-20 team last summer for the Olympic and CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers but mysteriously backed out just prior to the tournament. Rumour had it that Goodman lacked a Canadian passport at the time. However Goodman still managed to make his Canada U-20 debut in the April camp in a friendly with Costa Rica.

Prior to this he spent some time with the England U-18 team and for the moment he may be training with England’s U-20 program. As with many Canada-eligible dual nationals in England, Goodman may be staying put with the England national program for now as it would be seen to better his professional prospects.

Despite the above, this month’s Canada camp presents an ideal opportunity for Herdman to cap the promising keeper with both Maxime Crepeau and James Pantemis unavailable due to injury, Thomas Hasal fixed to Vancouver’s bench and Sebastian Breza currently just playing in Italy’s Serie C. Goodman is a highly coveted goalie for Canada where he could secure himself a spot on the CanMNT with the potential to beome Canada’s starting keeper for many years.

Jakheele Marshall-Rutty post game 19 March 2022 at BMO Field
Sean Pollock / Waking the Red

6. Jakheele Marshall-Rutty

Toronto FC - Midfielder/Wing-Back - DOB: 2004-06-16

Labelled a prodigy for what seems like the dawn of time itself, it may be surprising to some that Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty is still just 18 years of age. Marshall-Rutty, or JMR as he is often abbreviated to, first joined Toronto FC as a homegrown player at 15 years of age and earned the distinction of being TFC’s youngest ever player. Still listed on TFC’s website as 5’7”, the eye says this information is out of date. The now 18 year old has grown in stature and is likely closer to at least 5’11”, although JMR’s frame could still use some filling out.

Marshall-Rutty had trials in Europe including Belgium’s Club Brugge, and Arsenal of London, and a much publicized extended tryout with Liverpool FC a year ago. There were strong indications that Liverpool was willing to purchase JMR but were ultimately put off by TFC’s exorbitant, though unconfirmed, asking price of $20 million US. In October 2021 Marshal-Rutty found a place on The Guardian’s Next Generation list identifying the world’s top prospects born in 2004.

The question of where to play Marshall-Rutty remains unsettled. Is he a winger, midfielder, or fullback? It appeared he was somewhat shoehorned into the fullback role last season. His natural skill-sets are more suited to the attack, and a future role as a central midfielder should not be ruled out. Listed as a midfielder on TFC’s pre-season roster on their website, where Marshall-Rutty will find minutes this season remains on the anvil.

Through his father’s background Marshall-Rutty is also eligible for Jamaica but it appears clear that Canada is where his heart is at. He was a member of Canada’s U-15 program where he scored a goal in his five appearances. Marshall-Rutty was one among the entire TFC contingent selected for the CanMNT U-23 squad that had to back out of the Olympic qualifying U23 tournament in March 2021 due to Covid protocols. More recently, in June 2022 Marshall-Rutty was not released by TFC to participate with the Canada U-20 team at the 2022 CONCACAF championships as he was a regular starter for the club at that time.

Ironically, prior to either of the aforementioned youth tournaments Marshall-Rutty was called up by the the senior team for the January 2021 edition of Camp Poutine. He was deemed the youngest Canadian male call-up for the senior team, beating the previous record of Alphonso Davies. However, as this was at the height of the pandemic there were no games scheduled in that window, thus, leaving Marshall-Rutty as yet uncapped. A role on the CanMNT is likely to come for JMR sooner than later. The question with Marshall-Rutty, as always, is where will he play? Herdman loves positional versatility in his players so this uncertainly may end up benefiting JMR in terms of his national team ambitions, no matter what position he settles upon.

Justin Smith in action with OGC Nice II
Justin Smith Instagram

5. Justin Smith

US Quevilly-Rouen Métropole - Centre-Back/Midfielder - DOB: 2003-02-04

In his younger teens Justin Smith was originally on the books with Paris St Germain’s academy before arriving at OGC Nice. There he primarily played with Nice II in 2021-22 but he was brought in to Nice’s first team for a Ligue 1 match against Lille OSC where Smith was an unused substitute. Smith would find himself on the Nice’s first team’ bench as an unused substitute nine more games that season.

This season Smith was sent out on loan from Nice to US Quevilly-Rouen Métropole of Ligue 2 in search of minutes and experience as was mired in the reserve side for Nice. It is notable that the provisions of the loan do not include an option to buy, suggesting Smith remains in Nice’s plans.

However, Smith has made the game day bench just five times this year and only made his Ligue 2 debut with a 1 minute cameo against Guingamp last month on February 3rd. Overall, it appears the loan to QRM has not panned out as hoped for and there was some speculation he may be recalled and re-loaned elsewhere in search of minutes. This scenario did not play out and Smith will be with QRM for the remainder of this season.

Born in Paris France, Smith is Canada-eligible through his Canadian parents who hail from the Ottawa area. Smith played all four games for Canada at the CONCACAF U-20 Championships, captaining the three games he started. Smith was by most observations considered the best Canadian player at the tournament.

Smith is a versatile player capable of lining up as either a left or right centre-back, or as a defensive midfielder. Smith lined up in the defensive midfield for Canada’s U-20’s last summer but at 6’3” he appears ideally suited to play centre-back. No matter which of these positions he plays, Canada could use him.

4. Daniel Jebbison

Sheffield United - Striker - DOB: 2003-08-13

Daniel Jebbison was hurled into the spotlight when, as a 17 year old, he became the youngest player to score in his first start in Premier League history in a 1-0 victory over Everton. It was a newsworthy event in the UK, but for footy fans in Canada is was something bigger. Suddenly, it seemed, Canadians woke up to the realization that a young Premier League star in the making could be within the CanMNT’s grasp.

The Oakville native, a son of an English born mother and a Jamaican born father, only moved to England as a 13 year old and was essentially anonymous to Canada Soccer. The now 6’3” Jebbison comes by his height and athleticism honestly; his father, Patrick Jebbison, was a former standout university basketball player for the Brandon University Bobcats, who also represented Canada internationally.

After his sensational debut late in the 2021 season Jebbison when out on loan with Burton Albion for the following year. After five months Jebbison was recalled from his loan to Burton Albion, where he was playing well, scoring nine goals in 23 appearances. However, upon return to parent club Sheffield, goals and minutes have been harder to come by. Injuries have been a factor, as has a recent three game red card suspension.

On 7 January 2023 Jebbison was handed his first start for Sheffield United, a 70 minute appearance, since last August. Jebbison wasted no time in making an impact, scoring in a 2-0 win over Millwall in the FA Cup. But minutes with Sheffield United, now in the Championship, remain scarce.

His club had publicly speculated that a loan to one of the top Bundesliga clubs could have been in the offing. This has been a successful career path of the recent English starlets like Jadon Sancho, Jude Bellingham, Reece Oxford and Felix Nmecha. However, a loan move abroad also did not materialize.

Jebbison has played at several levels within England’s youth program, and has scored twice in 10 games. At 19 years of age he remains eligible for England’s U-20 squad for this year’s U-20 World Cup, or England’s U-21 team for next year’s EURO’s. Where he decides to pledge his national team loyalties beyond that is up in the air.

Highly coveted by the CanMNT due to his physical attributes and raw potential, many observers feel that for Jebbison it is more a question of when, not if, he will make his switch and return to his country of birth. But for now, the allure of playing for England and the financial implications it may have for his club career are keeping Jebbison out of the Canadian fold. When that time comes, should he return to the Canadian fold, Jebbison will have the potential to team up with Jonathan David to become a formidable strike force.

3. Luca Koleosho

RCD Espanyol - Winger - DOB: 2004-09-15

Luca Koleosho is not just a dual national. Rather, he is a multinational player with plenty of options and nothing decided. However, despite indications that he is leaning towards a Canadian future, competition for Koleosho is a concern. Koleosho is eligible to play for Canada and Italy, through his mother, Nigeria, through his father, the United States via birth, and he could soon be eligible for Spain on account of residency.

While Luca was born in the USA, he moved to Spain when he was 12 years old to join the youth academy of FC Reus Deportivo. He then joined RCD Espanyol Academy while still just 15 years of age.

Koleosho has mostly suited up for Espanyol B since signing his professional contract in 2020. Koleosho made his senior club debut in a one minute cameo against Granada in May 2022. In the current season he has increasingly participated in training sessions with the senior squad and made a few more appearances as a substitute. In January Koleosho made his debut in the Copa Del Rey against Athletic Bilbao.

Although he played four games with the USA’s U15 team Koleosho has spent two international camps with the senior Canadian team. He has stated that he enjoyed the Canada camp experience but has not ruled out an eventual return to the US fold. With the USA having qualified for the U20 World Cup and Paris Olympic the possibility of being enticed back to the US is real.

However, the more immediate concern is that Koleosho accepted a call to join the Italy U-19 team in a camp ahead of this month’s U-19 Euro qualifiers in Germany. While participation in games could cap tie Koleosho for youth purposes, alone it will not seal his senior international decision. Its more likely that Koleosho is only attending the preparation camp to experience a taste of the Italian set up and will not play any games.

The now 18 year old winger has demonstrated much offensive promise. Koleosho is technically gifted, comfortable with both feet and capable of lining up on either side of the pitch. The nearest current CanMNT player Koleosho resembles, in style and stature, is Junior Hoilett. Like Hoilet, Koleosho is a hard worker on and off the ball, loves taking on defenders and driving to the opposition’s 18 yard box.

Although Koleosho plays a position of relative strength and depth for Canada, it is impossible to ignore a young player beginning to earn minutes for a La Liga club. Should he ultimately choose to represent Canada permanently Koleosho will be be pushing the likes of Liam Millar, Tajon Buchanan and Theo Corbeanu for spots, and he would be a logical, long-term replacement for veteran Junior Hoilett. But it cannot be underscored enough that this would all hold true only if he chooses Canada.

2. Theo Corbeanu

Arminia Bielefeld - Winger - DOB: 2002-05-17

Corbeanu is another former Toronto FC Academy member until 2018 when he moved overseas to join the academy of Wolverhampton Wanderers. The Hamilton Ontario born signed his first professional contract with the senior team and made his sole Premier League appearance for Wolverhampton to date in May 2021. The club was impressed with Corbeanu but there were too many attackers ahead of him and he needed playing time.

Wolverhampton sent Corbeanu out on loan to Sheffield Wednesday, Milton Keynes Dons and Blackpool FC over an eighteen month stretch up to January 2023. Corbeanu was recalled from his loan to Blackpool in January, partly to assess an ankle injury he suffered there. However, playing time and circumstances were likely not to either the club or player's liking as well. In January Corbeanu secured a loan abroad to Bundesliga 2 club DSC Armenia Bielefeld, where he appears to be integrating into the lineup slowly on account of his recent injury at Blackpool. Although this is his fourth loan away, Corbeanu appears to remain in Wolverhampton’s plans as the loan to Bielefeld has no purchase option.

Feeling scorned by Canada at the U-15 level, Corbeanu, who has Romanian heritage, joined up with the European country’s youth program . There he played 13 times for Romania U-18 and U-19 teams. But when Canada came calling in late 2020 Corbeanu did not hesitate to join John Herdman’s project. Corbeanu missed the January 2021 Camp Poutine but joined up with the CanMNT for World Cup qualifiers in March. He announced himself to the country immediately when he scored just four minutes into his Canada debut on his first touch, albeit the opponent was Bermuda. As a member of Canada’s 2021 Gold Cup squad, Corbeanu netted his second Canada goal against Martinique.

A tall, powerful runner, Corbeanu can set up anywhere along the attacking front but is primarily deployed as a winger. Fearless in possession Corbeanu does not hesitate to challenge defenders 1v1 and is not shy about making runs that spread defences and opens space for teammates. Corbeanu did not play much of a role during Canada’s Octagonal journey as he focused on his club commitments and getting some traction to his professional career. He just missed out on the World Cup squad as well. As the CanMNT rejuvenates heading into the upcoming world cup cycle Corbeanu is sure to be pushing hard for any role in Canada’s attack.

1. Ismaël Koné

Watford FC - Centre Midfielder - DOB: 2002-06-16

Topping this list of top prospects for the CanMNT born in the 2000’s is Ismaël Koné. Nobody’s rise has been more meteoric than that of Koné. Born in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, but raised in Quebec since arriving in Canada aged seven, Koné was relatively unknown player for PLSQ side St Laurent before he signed on with CF Montreal in the summer of 2021.

Koné then burst onto the Canadian soccer consciousness from out of nowhere at the start of the 2022 MLS season. The as yet unknown teenaged midfielder went on a tear during CF Montreal’s CONCACAF Champions League run. Before the year was out Koné was coming off the bench for Canada in the World Cup in Qatar.

While still playing semi-pro football with CS Saint-Laurent prior to signing with CFM Koné had some trials in Europe with Belgian sides KRC Genk and RE Mouscron in 2020. An unfortunate combination of Covid lockdowns and severe financial issues at Mouscron put pause to Koné’s European dreams.

His consolation was signing on with CF Montreal in August 2021, although his debut would come at the very start of the 2022 season. In 32 games across all competitions with CFM the 6’2” box-to-box midfielder finished with four goals and five assists.

Koné’s confident performances at CFM caught the eye of a pair of English clubs before the season was half way done. After a move to Sheffield United fell through in the summer of 2022, and among rumoured interest by clubs in the Netherlands, Germany and Italy, Koné eventually settled on a transfer to English Championship club Watford FC in January 2023. Before he played a match with Watford there was speculation that an eventual move to Italian club Udinese, with whom Watford has close ties, was in the cards.

Koné appeared to have won the trust of Watford coach Slavan Bilic quickly upon his arrival, even taking set pieces in the most recent outing. However, with Watford sacking Bilic, the question now is whether incoming manager Chris Wilder will value the young Koné as Bilic did? Objectively, his play should speak for itself and Koné will likely carry on as before.

Internationally, Koné’s rise was no less spectacular than his club career to date. In the space of year he went from unknown CF Montrreal prospect to playing at the Qatar World Cup. Koné scored his first Canada goal in the world cup tune-up game against Bahrain and then saw action in all three of Canada’s Group F matches.

Possessed with sublime ball skills and impressive passing nous for a 20 year old, Koné’s efforts in 2022 did not go unnoticed. To no one’s surprise, Koné was selected as the 2022 Men’s Canada Soccer Young Player of the Year.

Ismaël Koné has the highest odds of becoming the first of Canada’s 2000 born prospects not named David or Davies to establish himself as an essential piece, if not a regular fixture in the CanMNT midfield. That confirmation could come as soon as the end of this month’s window when Canada plays Nations’ League matches against Honduras and Curacao. As he continues to mature into his role with the national team, fans of Les Rouges should expect Koné to regularly line up with Stephen Eustáquio in the centre of Canada’s starting eleven.


This list of 23 young prospects was winnowed down from more than 40 candidates. The task of selecting names is more difficult than any in the past due to the sheer volume of Canadian talent that has materialized since the emergence of professional soccer in the country. Players’ fortunes can change over the course of six months or a year. New, exciting players will appear out of nowhere while other highly touted prospects will flame out or simply fade away having never reached the potential expected of them.

Finally, honourable mentions are extended to Ralph Priso, Tiago Coimbra, Lucas Dias, Moïse Bombito and Lowell Wright. If any others were missed feel free to comment.

It will certainly be intriguing to see how the select 23 players have fared a year from now, and how many fulfill their footballing promise by the time the current world cup cycle concludes in 2026. Should just a handful of these prospects make the grade and choose Canada then the CanMNT’s future remains bright.