Canada’s 50-man roster for the Concacaf Men’s Olympic Qualifying tournament was released this week. That list will be whittled down to 20 players no later than 10 days prior to the tournament, which begins on March 18 in Mexico.
Ten current CPLers were named to the Canadian provisional squad: 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 of Cavalry FC; and Easton Ongaro and Shamit Shome of FC Edmonton.
Olympic qualifying was initially set to begin last March but was postponed, along with the 2020 Olympics themselves, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The year-long delay allowed for CPLers to prove their worth. Choinière, Farsi, and N’sa, for example, weren’t featured in Canada’s 50-man squad in 2020. Other CPLers, meanwhile, saw their stock rise at The Island Games and beyond.
Here’s one big reason why each of the 10 CPLers were named to Mauro Biello’s 50-man roster list this year.
One of 12 players on the 50-man list with Canadian senior team experience, the FCE midfielder is a shoo-in to make the final roster when it’s unveiled next month. With over 70 professional appearances (most of them in MLS) and several Canadian youth national team camps to draw from, Shome will head to Mexico as a team leader with an eye to solidify a starting role at this summer’s Tokyo Olympics.
Diyaeddine Abzi (York United) – Opportunity at left fullback
The absence of Alphonso Davies in this Olympic qualifying tournament presents a unique opportunity for Abzi, who is likely much higher on Canada’s senior team depth chart than his zero caps would indicate. John Herdman’s Canadian side has fancied the 22-year-old ever since his breakout season with York in 2019.
Does Abzi usurp Davies as Canada’s starting left fullback? No, of course not. But, does Abzi present the most Davies-like mix of technical ability, speed, and attacking nuisance in Canada’s pool of under-23 left fullbacks? I’d say yes. This is a perfect tournament where Abzi can prove he can fit into the Canadian system.
He rarely put a foot wrong in PEI, made more impressive by the fact he was often tipped to help in the attacking third, propping up star winger Marco Bustos and completing the second-most passes in the final third by any defender in the league (75).
Mo Farsi (Cavalry FC) – Hype train
The Canadian Premier League’s Under-21 Player of the Year probably wasn’t on Biello’s radar when this 50-man roster was first drawn up last spring – but a lot has changed since then.
Farsi, 21, caught the attention of CPL observers from the very beginning of The Island Games. Picked up by Cavalry as a previous AS Blainville (PLSQ) and futsal standout, the sprawling fullback had an assist and drew a penalty in his first 40-odd minutes of professional football. He followed that up with an off-the-post goal and a staggering 36 crosses and 191 touches in the attacking third for the rest of the season, which was third-most among all CPL players, let alone defenders.
Noah Verhoeven (York United) – Attacking ability and passing
Verhoven gets the call despite a disappointing Island Games where he featured just five times for Pacific FC. Now with York United, the 21-year-old is looking for a reset – perhaps Olympic qualifying is a good place to start.
The Surrey, B.C., native offers Biello something different as an attacking midfielder with an impressive passing ability and accompanying range.
Easton Ongaro (FC Edmonton) – Goal-scoring record
How many Canadian youth strikers have scored 15 goals in the last two years? FC Edmonton’s Easton Ongaro, 22, arrives after scoring five goals in 14 games between the last-placed Eddies side at The Island Games and his loan spell with Danish second-tier club Vendsyssel FF.
It’s easy to forget that Ongaro played nearly double the amount of matches many on this list managed to play thanks to his loan deal. Simply put, the six-foot-six centre forward arrives as a hot hand with relative match fitness.
Terran Campbell (Pacific FC) – Versatility
Terran Campbell didn’t have an ideal Island Games experience, scoring just once on a litany of chances. But the 22-year-old native of Burnaby still holds a solid record in a Pacific FC shirt – 12 goals and three assists over two seasons.
Perhaps Campbell’s greatest asset to this Canada squad is his variety in attack. He can play as a hold-up centre forward, a front-footed striker, or even out wide. Versatility is a strength when you can only name 20 players to a squad.
Chrisnovic N’sa (York United) – Potential
One of a handful of CPLers not listed on Canada’s initial roster in 2020, 21-year-old N’sa earns the nod after an impressive Island Games and swapping HFX Wanderers FC for York United FC.
N’sa, who was nominated for CPL Under-21 Player of the Year, has yet to feature for Canada at youth level but his breakout campaign was hard to ignore for Biello: he won the second-most 1v1s among defenders in the league and finished third in the CPL in successful tackles (16), third in successful duels (59), and fourth in interceptions (17).
Thomas Meilleur-Giguère (Pacific FC) – Experience
There are many reasons why current Pacific FC defender Thomas Meilleur-Giguère should make this squad. Canada should be in the business of developing as many young centre-backs as possible, and “TMG” is the best young defender Canada has at present. The 22-year-old former Ottawa Fury standout will be a leader on this team and could be poised for a breakout tournament with the national program.
David Choinière (Forge FC) – Big game Concacaf track record
The 23-year-old winger was Forge’s secret weapon in Concacaf League last fall, using his mixture of technical ability and pace to run at defenders, usually against the run of play, to a great result. This assist to Mo Babouli displayed the peak of his powers.
Canada could find itself pinned back against the likes of El Salvador or Honduras during the Olympic qualifiers. Having Choinière as a weapon to use against Central American teams could prove as useful for Biello as it did Forge coach Bobby Smryniotis.