TORONTO — Between the launch of the Canadian Premier League, the CONCACAF Gold Cup and the FIFA Women’s World Cup, 2019 promises to be quite a year for Canadian soccer.
Flying under the radar as a result of the busy calendar is the upcoming CONCACAF Men’s Olympic Qualifying Championship, in which Canada’s Under-23 team will look to book a spot at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
The qualification tournament will take place in Costa Rica in October and players born up to Jan. 1, 1997 are eligible to feature. Canada is in an interesting spot here, because several of its top youngsters have already progressed to John Herdman’s senior team. If they feature at the Gold Cup in the summer, they may not be called in for a second competition in the same year.
That could open up opportunities.
Here are seven names who could be called up to Canada’s Olympic qualifying squad later this year:
Pacific FC: Kadin Chung
This one’s easy: Chung was one of three CPL players called up to the most recent Under-23 camp, and though Canada’s coaching staff has since changed he will surely continue to factor in.
In fact, the 20-year-old may be among those Herdman is watching closest in the league’s inaugural season. Right-back continues to be something of a problem position at the senior level, with two similarly young players — Zachary Brault-Guillard and Marcus Godinho — the latest tested.
That Chung is in line for week-in, week-out starts in a professional league with Pacific could see him rise up the depth chart rapidly.
Watch out for Noah Verhoeven, too. The 19-year-old midfielder earned good reviews at the Toulon Tournament and the CONCACAF Under-20 Championship. The standouts of those squads are likely to feed into the Olympic qualifying group.
Cavalry FC: Malyk Hamilton
Cavalry is currently in the process of identifying a few younger faces to round out its roster and began with the signing of Hamilton, formerly of English Premier League club West Ham United’s academy.
Hamilton returned to Canada to join Toronto FC II this time last year but the USL was a tough league to go into at just 18 years of age and minutes were difficult to come by. In his hometown of Calgary, he has an opportunity to get his career back on track thanks to the CPL rule stipulating that at least 1,000 minutes a season must be accounted for by under-21 players.
The Olympic qualifying tournament may come too soon for the 19-year-old but regular action with Cavalry could provide him with a platform to work his way back into the Canada Soccer setup. His last appearance came for Rob Gale’s Under-18 team in 2016.
FC Edmonton: David Doe
Like Cavalry, FC Edmonton has drawn heavily from its local sources of talent but not many of those players fall in the 19-21 sweet spot for this tournament.
Prince Amanda and Marcus Velado-Tsegaye are only 17 and Bruno Zebie and Ajeej Sarkaria, among others, are just slightly too old. A dark horse, though, could be forward David Doe, who got his breakthrough with FCE in the NASL at the back end of 2017 before the club ceased operations.
Doe knuckled down and, according to head coach Jeff Paulus, “made it impossible for us not to sign him” a second time.
Randy Edwini-Bonsu and Tomi Ameobi figure to feature prominently up top for Edmonton but after that it is an open competition, and Doe should be in the mix for the kind of minutes that could propel him into contention.
Valour FC: Nicolas Galvis
There was a bit of buzz around Galvis before the 2017 Gold Cup, when he was called up to the senior Canadian squad while playing his club soccer in Colombia. Now, the 21-year-old is back in Canada with Valour FC and an intriguing source of playmaking for coach Rob Gale.
The truth is that the Bogota-born midfielder remains something of an unknown quantity — having originally moved back to South America to pursue a pro career, he has not followed the typical path up the ladder of the Canadian youth national teams. The same can be said of Jonathan Osorio and Lucas Cavallini, however, and their time in Uruguay during their formative years proved immensely valuable.
Galvis has a left foot that will catch the eye and if he can make the most of his debut CPL season, he is the perfect age to come into Canada Soccer’s Olympic plans.
Forge FC: David Choiniere
The other two CPL players, alongside Chung, at the aforementioned Under-23 camp in 2018 have both signed in Hamilton with Forge FC.
They are David Choiniere and Tristan Borges and could be competing directly to get into Bobby Smyrniotis’ starting lineup. If we assume that Kyle Bekker is one of the first names on the team sheet and that a more defensive player will be a necessity, one spot will be left in Smyrniotis’ midfield three for the attack-minded Choiniere and Borges, among others, to fight over.
Choiniere may come into camp with the edge; he’s 18 months older than Borges and has had a taste of MLS, the USL and the Canadian Championship during his time with the Montreal Impact and its former affiliate FC Montreal. Born on Feb. 7, 1997, he will also be one of the oldest and most experienced players eligible for the Olympic qualification squad.
It would not be a surprise, though, to see both players make the cut.
York9 FC: Diyaeddine Abzi
This one would be a great story.
York9 wing-back Abzi has only ever been called up to a Canada Soccer squad once — and that was the futsal team, just last year.
But now, at age 20, he is getting his shot in the pro game thanks to some breakout performances in Quebec with A.S. Blainville, who defeated the Oakville Blue Devils — thanks to Abzi’s winning goal — to set up a Canadian Championship tie with the Ottawa Fury last year.
Jimmy Brennan liked what he saw and is taking a chance on the explosive wide player. Perhaps he has found a diamond in the rough just waiting to be polished.
HFX Wanderers FC: Vincent Lamy
Every CPL team has looked to bring in a proven source of goals and HFX Wanderers FC are no different, signing Colombian veteran Luis Alberto Perea to lead the line.
Perea remains the only veteran striker on coach Stephen Hart’s roster, however, and competing with him directly for minutes as things stand is 19-year-old Vincent Lamy.
The former Montreal Impact prospect is another potential sleeper pick when it comes to youngsters who could make their mark in year one — though the CPL will be his first taste of the professional game, he hit the net to the tune of a goal a game for the Impact’s top academy side against the best development teams in the United States.
Only two out-and-out forwards were called up to last year’s Under-23 camp and any player of Lamy’s age who can show a knack for finding the net will immediately turn heads.