Canada, Panama look to go distance at U17s

PANAMA CITY, Panama -- Two years ago in Montego Bay, Jamaica, Canada cruised into the championship match of the CONCACAF Under-17 Championship, scoring 11 goals and conceding none in its previous four games. With a place at the FIFA U-17 World Cup already assured, the Maple Leafs dropped a 3-0 decision to the United States after extra time in a hard-fought final between North American rivals.

In this year's edition of the tournament, the Canadians may not be as dominant defensively, but they did qualify for the next U-17 World Cup with an exciting quarterfinal 4-2 win over Jamaica.

"It is a tremendous feeling and you cannot take these moments for granted," Canada head coach Sean Fleming said after Sunday's game. "The boys were immense in the second half and to qualify for our second-consecutive FIFA U-17 World Cup is a great achievement for this program."

On Wednesday, Canada will aim for a second-straight appearance in the CONCACAF Under-17 final, when it faces host Panama in a semifinal at the Estadio Rommel Fernandez in Panama City.

There is still much to play for and the Canadians aspire to more than just the already-booked ticket to the United Arab Emirates. They're aiming for the big silverware.

"Our job here is not done," Fleming said on a Monday. "We remember the feeling of losing to USA in the 2011 CONCACAF final and we don't want to feel that way again.

"We want to win a confederation championship for Canada."

The United States won't stand in the way this time after being eliminated by Honduras in the quarterfinals. Panama, however, does pose a significant obstacle to Canadian dreams.

After opening the tournament with three-consecutive games against Caribbean sides (2 wins, 1 draw, 0 losses), the Canaleros may need to adapt to a different style of regional play. That adjustment period, however, will be aided by the presence of two exciting offensive talents in Ervin Zorrilla and Ismael Diaz, each of whom has scored two goals. The impressive duo has also demonstrated an ability to involve their team mates and unsettle defenses, on and off the ball.

Canada will counter with a trio of two-goal scorers in Hanson Boakai, Andrew Gordon and Jordan Hamilton. It also has goalkeeper Marco Carducci, the 2012 Canadian Under-17 Player of the Year, ready if called upon to thwart the potent Panamanian attack.

Panama fell to Canada 1-0 in the 2011 U-17 semifinals, allowing an early goal. Can the home side reverse that result in front of its own supporters? Or will Canada return, once again, to the final?

The intrigue in discovering that answer is why they play the game.