Rob Gale recently joined the CanPL.ca Newsroom podcast to discuss Valour FC’s off-season and the upcoming Olympic qualifying tournament for the Canadian under-23 team.
Gale coached Canada at youth level from 2010 to 2018, overseeing the under-20 side for four years.
A total of 28 players on Canada’s 50-man provisional roster for this month’s Olympic qualifiers previously spent time with Gale at various youth levels, including James Pantemis and Julian Dunn who he called “certainties” to make the final 20-man squad.
“These returning players mean that we identified players at the right times – that’s good they aren’t coming in from scratch,” Gale told CanPL.ca. “But the question is can we get the fittest, sharpest players at that time – you’re really throwing darts at a dartboard into a hurricane blindfolded while swimming underwater in a frozen Winnipeg pool.”
Gale sympathizes with current Canadian coach Mauro Biello over the lack of a pre-tournament camp due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“He’s going to get four days with these players before he goes into battle. And that’s going to be the first time the squad is together – that’s what people don’t realize,” Gale explained. “You’re in a no-win situation as a national team coach at this time of year normally, let alone during a pandemic. Players are out of season, unfit and haven’t had competitive matches in months.”
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Gale, who has led Canadian youth teams into similar tournaments, predicts Biello’s final team selections will lean towards players who are as match fit as possible.
“These are staging posts and measuring sticks for young players to compete on that top level,” Gale offered. “It is very, very challenging but I think players that are in the top environments and closest to match-ready will be the ones to get selected and given those opportunities.”
A total of 11 CPLers were selected by Biello for his 50-man roster: Diyaeddine Abzi, Noah Verhoeven and Chrisnovic N’sa of York United FC; Terran Campbell, Thomas Meilleur-Giguère and Kadin Chung of Pacific FC; David Choinière of Forge FC; Mo Farsi and David Norman Jr. of Cavalry FC; and Easton Ongaro and Shamit Shome of FC Edmonton. Also on the list is CF Montréal defender Karifa Yao, who will spend the 2021 CPL season on loan at Cavalry.
Canada’s provisional roster will be pared down to 20 players no later than 10 days prior to the tournament, which begins on March 18. Concacaf rules stipulate all players must be born on or after 1 January 1997 are eligible to compete, although the actual Olympic competition allows for three overage players.
Canada will open the tournament against El Salvador on March 19 before closing out Group B play versus Haiti and Honduras. Group A consists of Mexico, the United States, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic. The top two nations in each group advance to the semifinals. Only the two finalists qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.
This eight-team qualifying tournament was originally scheduled to be played last spring, but like the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, it was postponed until this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Olympic soccer competition is scheduled to run from July 21 to Aug. 7.