There is some World Cup hope for Canada
Young Whitecaps players show promise and believe they can help
For all the doom and gloom about Canadian men’s soccer that makes the rounds every four years, say this for the next generation: They have belief.
“Nothing happens overnight,” said Marco Carducci, the 17-year-old Whitecaps goalkeeper from Calgary. “But I think with the amount of young players coming through, in the next couple of World Cup (cycles), if we keep progressing, I don’t see why we can’t be a serious contender in CONCACAF.
“We’ve shown lately we can be competitive at the under-17s and hopefully now at the U20s.”
Carducci, one of the standout players in last year’s FIFA U-17 World Cup, is one of eight Whitecaps in the mix for Canada’s U20s, who are focused on making the 2015 FIFA U20 World Cup in New Zealand.
The qualifier — the U20 CONCACAF championship — is next January, and there’s a strong feeling among the group that they’ll be the first to reach a U20 World Cup since hosting the biannual event in 2007.
The U20s will head to the Milk Cup in Northern Ireland at the end of July, where they’ll face Mexico and China. It’s the kind of high-level competition that’s crucial for development and for these players to gauge where they’re at compared to the rest of the world.
“You can see a base,” said Caps left-back Sam Adekugbe, 19, “and the players are realizing we’re not that far away.”
Whether that’s true or not will reveal itself in due time. And one thing everyone seems to agree on is that professional opportunity is a crucial ingredient for U17 and (hopefully) U20 success to translate to the senior team.
“In the past that hasn’t happened,” said Carducci, “but they never had what we have now — the chance to push on in MLS teams, and that’s a big reason we’ll be able to continue to grow.
“It’s a lot easier said than done but that’s the level you’ve got to get to. That’s the only way you’re going to progress and be an international player.”
It will make for fascinating viewing over the next few years as Canadian MLS teams try to strike the right balance between results and development, and the CSA works to expand the professional game in Canada and lobbies MLS to relax roster rules.
Currently, Canadians count as international players for U.S.-based MLS teams, a sore spot with the CSA. MLS commissioner Don Garber has talked vaguely about finding an alternative solution.
In Vancouver, Russell Teibert, 21, has pushed through to the first team and Caps coach Carl Robinson has touted the Niagara Falls, Ont., native as the future captain of the club.
But the reality remains that Teibert has yet to establish himself as an every-week starter, and Bryce Alderson, 20, can’t buy a minute.
Carducci’s still very young for a goalkeeper and Adekugbe has to work his way back from a knee sprain before he can push veteran Jordan Harvey for starts.
Caps centre-back Jackson Farmer is on loan to the Charleston Battery of the third-tier USL Pro league. Residency graduate Brody Huitema is playing for Duke University. There are high hopes for 18-year-old attacking midfielders Kianz Froese and Marco Bustos, but they remain unsigned to MLS deals.
In other words, this remains very much a long-term project.
But Teibert, who is hoping to get back in Benito Floro’s Canadian senior team mix in the coming months, remains positive about the present. Asked when Canada could realistically qualify for a first World Cup since 1986, his answer was Russia in 2018.
“We have a lot of work to do,” he said. “We’re starting from the ground up. But there’s a lot of talented young guys coming through and we’ll be exciting.
“Obviously playing (professional) games is important, but we’re in a good place here. Management really takes care of us and they’re keeping us on the right track.”
Watching the World Cup in Brazil this month, and seeing CONCACAF’s considerable success, has only added to the motivation for this young group of Canadians.
“I can just imagine myself crying, singing the anthem,” said Calgary-raised Adekugbe, who’s enjoyed watching the young guys, like England’s Luke Shaw, an 18-year-old left-back.
On Tuesday, it was 19-year-old Julian Green providing a spark for the U.S. in their eventual loss to Belgium.
Adekugbe spent his Tuesday playing for the Caps’ U-23 PDL team in Richmond. He’d have surely started the Caps Canadian championship games in May had he not been hurt. His chance will come. And he doesn’t expect anything to be handed to him.
“It’s up to us to push ourselves to get matches,” he said. “We have to improve.”
Big on the mental side of the game, Adekugbe talked about watching World Cup players in the tunnel before the introductions. He likes seeing who looks nervous and who doesn’t, and then seeing how they perform. He marvelled at Neymar’s ability to deliver for Brazil in a pressure-cooker.
Unburdened by the naysayers, Canada’s youth seems determined to march on, believing they’ll be in that tunnel, feeling confident, sooner than you think.
“If you don’t have that belief, then all this work goes to waste,” said Carducci. “Just look at Costa Rica.”
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