Sober Second Thoughts–Now about the kids

The afterglow of Canada’s win over the United States is still very real. It’s going to be a while until Canadian soccer fans are going to want to be overly critical of anything wearing the red and white.
That’s fine. We haven’t had much over the years. Enjoy this win as the pressure will be all the way back on in just a month. Canada will need a result against the United States to finish its miracle run to the Hex. Failing to win Group A in League A will make qualifying very difficult and probably dependent on Canada scheduling a couple high profile friendlies and winning them.
That’s especially the case with Curaçao, currently on top of its group, looking increasingly like the team that will be fighting Canada for the 6th spot. If the Dutch Caribbean Island beats Costa Rica at home on November 14, they’ll advance to the final 4 and get two more games with a 25 multiplier. That might be too much to overcome.
Regardless, of how the fight for the Hex plays out, there has been a lot to like about Canada’s Nations League adventures so far – seven games played, seven wins. Hard to argue with that.
More importantly, the young team appears to actually enjoy playing for Canada and doesn’t appear to be frightened of their own shadow. I will print this column out and eat it if this group of Canadians lies down and allows 8 in Central America anytime soon.
So, lots to look forward to. But, before all that fun there is another tournament to watch and fret over. I’m talking, of course, about the FIFA u17 World Cup, which kicks off on Oct 26 in Brazil.
Canada has been drawn in with the hosts, Brazil along with Angola and New Zealand. Outside of expecting that Brazil will probably be OK, it’s a bit of a fools game to try and handicap how a tournament involving 17-year-olds is going to play out, but it is an opportunity to look at how a group of players deemed to be the best in this country stand up with others deemed to be the best elsewhere.
Well, maybe – we tend to assume that other countries send their very best rosters to these things when most leave the very best to stat with their club teams. The understanding being that teams develop more in a club setting than with a national team and that at a youth World Cup you’re best to allow the very top players to stay and fight against better players for playing time. This thinking is shared by John Herdman, who has long held senior players that still have youth eligibility back from playing with youth teams.
So, it’s counterproductive to get bogged down into what u17 results mean. If Canada goes out and beats Brazil it won’t mean that Canada has better prospects than the South American powerhouses. No, it will just mean some Canadian kids won a soccer game.
But, that doesn’t mean there isn’t things to evaluate in this u17 World Cup. Namely, it provides us will an opportunity to further evaluate whether Canada’s development focus of funnelling talented kids into regional REX programs and then eventually into one of the three MLS teams’ academies is the right approach.
There are many that feel that it isn’t. The thinking is that kids get labelled too quickly and, as a result, fail to get identified as National Team prospects if they dare go outside the system.
Whether there are dozens of missed prospects floating around less fancied clubs of in other countries is a hard thing to quantify. We’re talking about teenagers. Unless they are true freaks of nature – think Alphonso Davies – most people don’t have a lot of understanding of the u17 talent pool. And, that’s anywhere.
What we do know is that the Canadian team that will play in Brazil is very much a product of that system. There is only one player named that is not part of the “establishment,” with eight players in Toronto FC’s academy, and six each in Montreal’s and Vancouver’s. We also know Canada has not looked great – in either gender – over the past few youth cycles.
Although it’s important to keep a u17 tournament in perspective – the best countries in the world only graduate about 1-2 players from a u17 pool to anything close to a full national team level – it’s also important for the players to show…something. Something that will give us confidence that the talent pathway isn’t flawed and that we are identifying the right players that will allow us continue to have nights like we had against the United States moving forward.







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