Everything you NEED to know about the CanMNT in Concacaf U-20 Championship
The race to Indonesia and Paris begins here.
It’s snuck up rather quickly here, but all of a sudden, the CanMNT Under-20 squad is heading down to Honduras to kick off the 2022 CONCACAF U-20 Championship, which officially get going on June 18th over on the OneSoccer YouTube channel (8:30PM ET / 5:30PM PT vs. Cuba).
There, Canada will have a huge opportunity laid out in front of them, as they try to both win this tournament as well as qualify for some bigger events, such as the FIFA U-20 World Cup and the 2022 Summer Olympics.
Because of that, it’s going to be a crucial couple of weeks for Canada’s youngsters down in Honduras, as they try to navigate what lies ahead of them.
Here’s a closer look at what to expect from Canada at this tournament, as well as a quick dive into the competition itself.
Tournament format presents unique opportunity:
Let's start by taking a look at the format of the tournament itself. It's quite unique, but for those who have followed other CONCACAF youth competitions this year, it's one you may already be familiar with.
Starting off, a lot of important work has already been done for Canada leading up to the start of this tournament, as they were placed into the group stages of this tournament as one of the top 16 teams in CONCACAF in the Men’s U-20 rankings.
That means that they were able to qualify directly for the group stages, in which they were split into four groups of four via a draw.
(For those who missed it, Canada drew the United States, Cuba and St.Kitts & Nevis in Group E.)
From there, they'll play each other team once, with the top three teams advancing to the Round of 16, where they’ll join the nine other teams who will progress from the group stages, as well as the four other teams who qualified via November’s U-20 qualifying route.
After that, things are pretty straightforward, as it’s all straight knockout from there right to the final, where two teams will battle for the trophy.
But, as mentioned earlier, the trophy isn’t the only thing that teams are chasing.
Firstly, there’s potential qualification to the 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup held in Indonesia, where CONCACAF holds four spots. Those spots are going to each of the four semi-finalists of this tournament.
Secondly, there’s the further opportunity to qualify for the 2024 Summer Olympics held in Paris, where CONCACAF holds two spots, going to each of the finalists of this tournament.
So, while winning this competition is most certainly the main goal for all of the teams, a nice secondary goal is qualifying for either or both of those tournaments, as the opportunity of participating in either a World Cup or Olympics (or both) is immeasurable.
It gives us an idea of why this tournament is crucial for Mauro Biello's Canada, as they look to snap a 15-year absence from the FIFA U-20 World Cup, and a 38-year absence from the Olympics.
Canada looks to erase recent past with promising team:
A big task lies ahead of Canada, as they try to erase their past struggles at this tournament – and make no mistake, there are plenty of those.
Consider this: Entering this tournament, Canada last finished in the top half of a CONCACAF U-20 Championship all the way back in 2005, failing to do so in the six subsequent tournaments they’ve played in since.
You can see why many are skeptical of Canada’s chances in this tournament, as it’s not exactly been one that they’ve dominated in the past.
Despite that, however, if there’s a team that looks to be capable of changing that, this one certainly might be their best hope in a while of doing so.
Helmed by first-team assistant coach Mauro Biello, who has been specifically tasked with running this group and imposing the philosophies that have been extra successful with the senior team as of late, this is arguably one of the deepest squads that Canada has assembled for this competition.
With a good mix of professional experience, as well as some youngsters in the set-ups of some very big clubs in Europe and South America, Canada has put together a blend of talent and experience that they typically haven’t come close to producing in the past.
Yet, due to the emergence of the Canadian Premier League and MLS Next Pro, as well as a rise of Canadians playing in Europe, they were able to draw from a wider pool than before, which typically used to just be MLS academies, leading to this newfound depth.
Thanks to that, they’ve now got a 20-player squad that includes eight players in MLS systems, six CPL players, five European players and one South American, as well as a training squad with four further players in MLS systems, and another European player, which is massive.
(NOTE: After an injury sustained by Loïc Cloutier in the lead-up to this camp, Jefferson Alphonse has replaced him in the main squad.)
Plus, as hasn’t always been the case, they also had a preparation camp for this tournament, giving a chance for these players to both audition for places and build some chemistry ahead of this tournament, instead of throwing them into this blindly, as they might’ve in the past.
Because of all that, it feels like Canada could stand to do some damage in this tournament, if all goes right for them.
It won’t be easy, as a path to the top four includes going through the US, and potentially one of Mexico, Honduras or Costa Rica, but Canada will feel that they have what it takes to do some damage, especially if all pans out for them as hoped.
Four players to watch:
Speaking of which, here’s a quick look at some of the players who could really do some damage for Canada at this tournament, helping increase their chances of going far down in Honduras.
Jesse Costa, Attacking midfielder (VFL Wolfsburg)
At just 16 years of age, Costa is going to be one of the youngest players in this tournament, period, yet don’t be fooled by that - he’s going to be key for Canada. Currently in the Wolfsburg system over in Germany, he has impressed onlookers there with his maturity for his young age, looking like someone who could be gracing the fields of the Bundesliga sooner rather than later. Plus, having scored for Canada in their April camp, he looks to be a potential key piece for Biello already, who will be happy to have the services of the Portuguese dual-national for this camp, in what is hopefully the first of many tournaments he plays for Canada in his career.
Justin Smith, Midfielder/Centre back (OGC Nice)
Speaking of promising dual-national playing in Europe, however, Smith is a name who stands out, as the 19-year-old remains a player to watch in the OGC Nice system. Yet to make his Ligue 1 debut, he featured on the bench a lot for them this past season, and is expected to contend for a spot in the squad again this preseason, showing his promise. Because of that, he’s going to be a leader on this Canadian team, one who will be happy to have him, knowing that he’ll be able to hold it down both as a defensive midfielder and as a centre back.
Rida Zouhir, Midfielder (CF Montréal)
One of the names in this squad with professional experience, convincing the 18-year-old Zouhir to come in was a big coup for Canada, as he actually chose to play with Morocco’s U20s instead of Canada’s earlier this year. But being courted by both federations, the Montréal midfielder is very interested in Canada, and that’s shown by his inclusion in this tournament, one where he’ll be expected to dominate. Having gotten a good taste of MLS and CONCACAF Champions League already, this shouldn’t be anything he hasn’t seen, making him a key piece for this side, one they’ll look to rely on heavily.
Lowell Wright, Forward (York United)
A prime example of the benefit of having the CPL, the 18-year-old Wright is one of those aforementioned six CPL players in this squad, already in the midst of his third campaign with York United. There, he’s grown into a real force at the CPL level, showing great maturity for someone his age, as reflected in his impressive strike rate for a youngster (seven goals in just over 2000 minutes of play across three seasons). Because of that, it’s hoped that he can do some damage against kids his age in this tournament, already having proven to be a very solid player amongst men with York, making him one to watch.
The CONCACAF U20 Championships kick off on June 18th, 2022, in Honduras. Catch all of Canada’s group stage games live on OneSoccer’s YouTube channel.