Canada U20s look to balance results with development

Rob Gale (pictured) will be leading Canada for a second time in the CONCACAF Under-20 Championship at next year's edition in Costa Rica. (Photo courtesy of Canada Soccer)

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica – Canada hasn’t played in a FIFA U-20 World Cup since it hosted the competition in 2007.

And while it would certainly like to remedy that situation by finishing among the top four teams at the next CONCACAF Under-20 Championship, head coach Rob Gale realizes there is a bigger development picture to address rather than reveling in isolated successes.

“It’s a staging post,” said Gale of the tournament, after last week’s draw for the 2017 event, which will be played in Costa Rica. “It’s vital in our development. Our long-term plan for Canadian players is that we get them more and more experiences against CONCACAF opposition, against top-level opposition. Obviously, in these tournaments, it’s a great staging post to see where we are at this stage, at this level, so it’s vital for us.

The Canadians have won one game in each of the last four CONCACAF Under-20 Championships. Their ability to improve on that record and challenge for a World Cup place hinges on how they perform against Group A rivals Mexico, Antigua & Barbuda and Honduras.

“At this level, there’s always going to be difficult groups and, I think looking at it, any time you get Mexico, a perennial powerhouse of the region…I think they’ve won it so many times…it’s going to be a difficult challenge,” Gale commented. “Then we got thrown in with the Central American champions Honduras and Antigua, who finished as runner-up (in the Caribbean), so certainly on paper there’s good pedigree throughout the group.”

Regardless of what happens in Central America, Canada’s overall player development plan emphasizes qualifying for World Cups at the senior level. In order to accomplish that goal, a solid foundation must be put in place for those launching their international careers through the youth program.

“Whether you come down here and play three games or hopefully six games, it’s about the learning experiences and the development for the players,” finished Gale. “It’s great for them to face this level of competition early on in their careers and you hope it bodes well and we can progress these players into the senior national team environment.”