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Canada U23 Express Tournament Preview

It’s tournament time. As Canada gets ready to vie for a spot in the Olympics, we get you ready for the matches with a quick refresher course.

2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup - Group A: Canada v Martinique Photo by Shaun Clark/Getty Images

The return of Canadian Men’s International football is a here. While the first team takes on Bermuda in World Cup Qualifiers late next week, the U23 team gets their CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying tournament underway on Thursday with a fixture against El Salvador in Guadalajara.

Because it’s been so long since a match of this magnitude, let’s get caught up to speed in what you need to know about the U23’s, with as much brevity as possible.

The Schedule

As mentioned, the U23’s begin play on Thursday against El Salvador, followed by Haiti on Monday, and Honduras next Thursday. All matches are streaming on OneSoccer.

The Format

This set-up has been a recipe for heartbreak on Canada’s last two attempts. On both occasions, the Canadians reached the semifinals as a second seed, but were eliminated by Mexico. It could be crucial that Canada is able to secure top spot in the group if they’re to have a chance at qualifying for the finals and earning an Olympic place in the process.

The Opposition

The consensus seems to be that Canada’s opponents in the group stage will progress from easiest to most difficult. El Salvador is on a downward trend but is a well structured group, Haiti is riding some momentum, with positive vibes from the Gold Cup and with a lot of senior-team experienced players, and lastly, Honduras has been the juggernaut of this group recently, and are the most recent Champions other than Mexico.

The Canadian Squad

Both Theo Bair and Michael Baldisimo should feature prominently for Vancouver Whitecaps fans. CF Montreal will have a strong showing as well, with James Pantemis likely to start between the sticks, and both Zachary Brault-Guillard and Zorhan Bassong likely to feature at the fullback spots. Rounding out the MLS notables is winger Tajon Buchanan, who burst onto the scene last fall during the New England Revolutions’ MLS Cup Playoffs run.

Two wildcards on the roster are wingers Kris Twardek and Ballou Tabla. Twardek is one of the oldest players on the roster, but has been on the rise since a move to the Polish first division, and Tabla is looking for redemption after a much-hyped, but ultimately unsuccessful stint in the FC Barcelona system. A final shout to watch out for is youngster Lucas Dias, who plays for Sporting CP’s U-23 setup. He’s spoken of highly by the coaching staff, but a tournament like this will be a major test for the young attacking midfielder.

Expectations

Anything short of a trip to the semi-finals would be a massive disappointment for Canada. That being said, I think anything more than that would be a welcome surprise. If Canada can get on the front foot early, and secure at least four points in their first two matches, they’ll be set for a successful tournament.