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Young Canadians start qualifying road, looking to advance to 2025 FIFA U-20 World Cup

With club connections from Croatia, England, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico and the Netherlands as well as Canada and the United States, the current edition of the Canadian under-20 men's soccer team has no shortage of pedigree.

But getting to the FIFA U-20 World Cup has been a difficult road for Canada, which has made the soccer showcase eight times but not since it hosted the event back in 2007.

The young Canadians start their journey towards the 2025 FIFA U-20 World Cup on Friday when they open play against Dominica at the CONCACAF Under-20 Championship Qualifiers in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad.

Head coach Andrew Olivieri likes what he sees from his team.

"Canada has had special groups over a number of (U-20) cycles. I think where this group is different is we've got most of those special players — their clubs have made them available," said Olivieri.

Oumar Diallo is in Inter Milan's system while fellow forward Santiago Lopez is with Mexico's Pumas UNAM.

Just 15, Sergei Kozlovskiy started CF Montreal's first pre-season game at centre back against Minnesota United on Jan. 27. Centre back Lazar Stefanovic has already appeared for the Toronto FC first team.

Jesse Costa is with VFL Wolfsburg in Germany. Fellow midfielder Tiago Codinha, who grew up in the Netherlands with a Canadian parent, plays in Dutch side Twente Enschede's system.

CONCACAF U-20 qualifying runs through March 2 across five venues in Central America and the Caribbean. Twenty-seven teams have been split into three groups of five and three groups of four with the group winners advancing to the main CONCACAF tournament this summer.

The U.S., Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic have received byes into the CONCACAF main tournament. The four semifinalists qualify for the 2025 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Chile.

Located in the Caribbean, halfway between Puerto Rico and Trinidad and Tobago, Dominica's population of 76,650 is about that of Sarnia, Ont. Its senior soccer squad is ranked 180th in the world and 27th in CONCACAF, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean.

'Unfortunately we don't have a lot of information on them," acknowledged Olivieri.

After Dominica, the Canadians face St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Sunday and Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday. All the Group D matches are at the Hasely Crawford Stadium.

"We have to win these first two matches," said Olivieri. "And then the tough Trinidad match. We have to win the group."

Canada has taken part in 24 of the 28 CONCACAF U-20 Championships to date, winning the tournament in 1986 and 1996. In 2022 in Honduras, the Canadians made it to the round of 16 where they lost to Guatemala in a penalty shootout.

Trinidad and Tobago have been to two U-20 World Cups, in 1991 and 2009, and were CONCACAF runner-up in 1990.


Canada Roster

Goalkeeper: Nathaniel Abraham, Toronto FC II (MLS Next Pro); Ivan Pavela, NK Lokomotiva Zagreb (Croatia); Gregoire Swiderski, Girondins Bordeaux (France).

Defenders: James Cameron, Vancouver FC (CPL); Christian Greco-Taylor, unattached; Sergei Kozlovskiy, CF Montreal academy; Adam Pearlman, Toronto FC II (MLS Next Pro); Theo Rigopoulos, Toronto FC academy; Ethan Schilte-Brown, Kilmarnock (Scotland); Lazar Stefanovic, Toronto FC II (MLS Next Pro).

Midfielders: Jeevan Badwal, Whitecaps FC2 (MLS Next Pro); Alessandro Biello, CF Montreal academy; Tiago Codinha, Twente Enschede (Netherlands); Jesse Costa, VFL Wolfsburg (Germany); Myles Morgan, unattached; Matteo Schiavoni, CF Montreal academy.

Forwards: Oumar Diallo, Inter Milan (Italy); Kimani Stewart-Baynes, Colorado Rapids (MLS); Kevaughn Tavernier, Forge FC (CPL); Tavio Ciccarelli, Sheffield United (England); Santiago Lopez, Pumas UNAM (Mexico).

Training Players/Alternates: Richard Chukwu, Toronto FC II (MLS Next Pro); Lucas Ozimec, Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia).

Head Coach: Andrew Olivieri.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 22, 2024.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press