The kids aren’t alright, or so you would be led to believe if you tapped in to Canada Soccer twitter early this week as the U-17 national team went three-and-out at the World Cup.
After a reasonably solid 2-0 loss to Spain, despite being down to 10 men, in the opening match of the tournament, Canada lost 3-0 to Uzbekistan before being outclassed 5-1 by Mali in their group stage finale.
For one, the under-17 level is never worth overreacting to, because it is so early in player’s careers. Look at past Canadian Under-17 sides, or any national team for that matter, and only a handful of players, if that, ever reach the senior side in any significant role.
More than anything, tournaments like this are about giving those few young players who will eventually suit up for the CanMNT experience at the international level. In the lead up to these matches Canada played two games against Brazil and one against Argentina, that’s a positive from an experience standpoint. There were also certainly some bright spots talent wise, as Toronto FC’s Richard Chukwu, Vancouver FC’s TJ Tahid, Forge’s Kevaughn Tavernier and Whitecaps midfielder Jeevan Badwal in particular showed their quality.
It is now about making sure these experiences are good enough, as well as the relationships and friendships they form, for those players that when the time comes to commit to Canada they feel like that is the right move. Getting dominated for three straight matches and then sent packing doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, which also shows the importance that maybe catching a W every once in a while has at this level.
Some ideas for how to change that? Maybe stop just sending the Toronto FC academy to this tournament and calling it the Canadian men’s national team. There were more TFC academy players at the U-17 World Cup than from any other club (10). That was considered a point of pride for some, but with the how the Canadian team has performed in the past when made up of largely MLS academies, plus TFC’s poor player development record in general, it kind of speaks for itself.
There are no shortage of excellent young Canadian ballers in the League1 system, private academies, and even European academies as well. This is a stage that they might not get otherwise, and is equally beneficial for the clubs that they play for to get that international shine. The search for talent just needs to be more extensive, something that the lack of camps for these teams certainly doesn’t help.
It also might be time to consider a change to the coaching staff at the Canadian youth level, something that hopefully the new General Secretary will have on his ever-growing to do list. With the League1, CPL, and academy system growing there are more quality and qualified coaches in Canada than ever before.
Canada’s performance at the U-17 World Cup doesn’t mean that our player development system is broken (although we all know it still needs a lot of work), it doesn’t mean there aren’t still a BUNCH of young ballers from coast to coast. But something has to change in the way this team is approached, no question.