Canada U20s aim to end 10-year wait

(l-r) Tristan Borges, Gabriel Boakye, Liam Fraser and Aidan Daniels are representing Canada at the 2017 CONCACAF Under-20 Championship. (Photo courtesy of Canada Soccer)

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica -- A decade has passed since Canada last took part in a FIFA Under-20 World Cup, and that was when it hosted the 2007 edition.

On the eve of the 2017 CONCACAF Under-20 Championship, the players that make up the 20-man squad in Costa Rica understand there’s a lot of pressure on their young shoulders to disrupt that trend.

But they’re focusing on the present and that starts with Friday’s opener against Honduras.

“It’s been mentioned a little bit,” said midfielder Tristan Borges of the 10-year dry spell.  “But we try to focus on the things that we can control and I think that’s the most important thing.  We just focus on ourselves and reach the goal that we all want to achieve.”

Borges was also part of the Canada under-17 team that fell one-game short of qualifying for the 2015 FIFA Under-17 World Cup.  That near-miss is serving as special motivation for Borges and the others who took part in that tournament in Honduras.

Also, at the 2015 CONCACAF Under-20 Championship in Jamaica, a highly-rated Canadian team got off to a strong start by beating Haiti in its first game, only to lose its next four.

Head coach Rob Gale, in his second tournament in charge of the under-20 team, hopes to apply some lessons learned from that first venture.

As a result, he had his team train in the hotter environments of Panama and Mexico in the run-up to the tournament to improve conditioning.

“It’s the off-season for our North American-based players and it’s very tough for players to get fit and ready,” said Gale.  “It’s so hard for them to be match ready when they haven’t played a competitive game in over two months so what we’ve done this time it back end the projects and give ourselves a chance to work with the North American player pool.”

After Honduras, Canada will complete Group A play against three-time defending champion Mexico (February 20) and Caribbean runner-up Antigua & Barbuda (February 23).  A positive result against the first-place side from Central American qualifying will set a positive tone, possibly banishing the burden of past tournaments.