Gale, Canada U20s ready to take next step

Head coach Rob Gale (pictured) is aiming to take Canada to the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup. (Photo courtesy of Canada Soccer)

SUNRISE, Florida -- There’s quite a bit of heat around the Canada under-20 national team and it had little to do with the South Florida sunshine the group took in on its final training camp late last month.

With the CONCACAF Under-20 Championship in Jamaica on the horizon and coming off a string of successful results in European friendlies, the confidence around head coach Rob Gale’s squad is sky-high.

“They believe in what we’re trying to do and how we’re trying to play,” Gale told  “I think it’s good the players have ownership of that and they know it’s in their hands.  They have a lot of quality throughout the squad and good depth.”

Gale used the gathering as an opportunity to get the North American-based players some much-needed fitness training.

“It’s been a good camp, a lot of fitness involved in position-specific work related to the game to try and get these guys up to speed, especially in North America who have not had many games recently,” Gale commented.  “They’re lacking that match sharpness.”

Many of the group’s European players proved what they could do on the field in three friendlies in a seven-day span in Europe last November.

Canada played host England to a 2-2 draw and picked up wins over the United States and the Russia U-21s in Marbella, Spain.

Toronto FC striker Jordan Hamilton netted a pair of goals, while Michael Petrasso (Notts County), Dylan Carreiro (Dundee FC) and Marco Bustos (Vancouver Whitecaps) also scored on the tour.

“It was a good test,” Gale said.  “Regardless of the result – we know it’s going to have very little relevance to what we’re going to face in qualifying – it was a chance to see players and test them and to monitor our performance and how we’re building in our game model and our tactical objectives going forward with this group.”

A major part of that objective is to play possession-oriented soccer.  It’s part of what Gale calls a “clearly mapped out vision and game model” drawn up by Canada Soccer technical director Tony Fonseca.

“We need good decision makers and technical capabilities we feel if we’re going to progress and develop players ready for the senior international stage,” Gale said.

Gale acknowledged that vision is shared amongst the Canadian youth teams, which have far more interaction than in the past.  For example, his assistant coach, former Canada international Ante Jazic, is also the under-15 head coach.

“We’re trying to build those relationships between the age groups and continue to develop a brand of possession soccer, building out, creating players who are comfortable on the ball and good technical players who can make good decisions in the game,” Gale said.

Ultimately, Gale believes this philosophy will pay off “8-10 years down the line” and bleed into the senior men’s national team.

For now, though, the goal is qualifying for the FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand and Gale believes his group is ready for the challenge.

“They’re a great group of boys,” he finished.  “I’ve had them since they were 16 years old.  We have a great camaraderie and spirit amongst us, which I think carries off the field with their friendships.

“They’re very professional in everything we do, on the field it’s a very competitive environment and, hopefully, it’s a good step in the right direction in the long-term development of these players.”

Canada opens its CONCACAF campaign on Saturday against Haiti in Montego Bay.