Ranking Canada Soccer’s Men’s National Team’s Olympic squad ahead of March 2021’s CONCACAF Olympic Qualifiers by ‘Surprise Rating’

Canada’s Men’s National U23 team has come together down in Mexico, as they’ve started preparation ahead of Olympic qualifiers in less than 2 weeks. In this, we break down the squad selected for the occasion, giving ‘Surprise Ratings’ for each selection. 

After a long road to get to this point, they’ve finally put a squad together. 

A year after CONCACAF’s Men’s Olympic Soccer qualifiers were postponed, the tournament returns in less than 10 days from now, giving 8 North and Central American teams the chance to be one of the two teams that will qualify for the Olympics later this year in Tokyo. 

For Canada, who are one of those 8 countries participating, they’ll look to end a 37-year Olympic drought in Men’s soccer by qualifying, showing others that this new generation of young players is here to play. 

So as part of their quest to go out and do just that, Canada Soccer released their 20-man squad for these qualifiers on Wednesday, as they’ve put together a strong team to try and break this duck. 

This being an under 23 tournament, Canada has found a way to field a team filled both with professional experience and upside, something they haven’t always been able to in past iterations of this competition, so they’ll be confident in their ability to do what Canadian teams before them failed to. 

U23 head coach Mauro Biello has picked a very interesting squad, one filled with a mix of promising youngsters and players with decent professional experience, giving him a balanced mix of players to tinker around with in their quest to try and make the Olympics. 

Led by players who weren’t even close to being alive when Canada last made the Olympics in Men’s soccer, it won’t be an easy task, but it’ll be one worth following along closely, as this team doesn’t appear to be here to mess around. 

But before we watch them play, it’s important to better understand who some of these names actually are, as it’ll be good to know who to watch for when Canada takes the field against El Salvador in Guadalajara, Mexico, on March 19th. 

To do that, we’ll do what we tend to do ahead of these sorts of camps, and break down each player on this squad by ‘Surprise Rating’, giving a rating to each player. For those who don’t know what the ‘Surprise Rating’ is, it’s based on a scale of 1-10, with a 1 being a call-up so unsurprising that most didn’t even double-check to confirm his presence, whereas a 10 would be someone so surprising that he caused a mass-scale googling of his name when people saw him on the list. 

Along with a blurb on their recent form and what they’re expected to bring to the table in this tournament, it gives us a chance to know the squad better, allowing us to be properly informed when the games kick off for real in a week and a half. 

So without further ado, we’ll jump right into this list, on which there are some very intriguing names. 

(This list is ordered by squad numbers for the tournament)

#1- GK- James Pantemis | CAN / CF Montréal


Starting off in goal is Pantemis, who heads into this tournament having had the most National Team experience of the 3 goalkeepers called up for this tournament, having participated in 8 different senior camps already. He’s yet to get his first senior cap, as he’s always been called up as a backup, but that shows how highly rated the 24-year-old is in Canada’s eyes. 

And coming off of a strong 2020 season, he’ll be in the conversation to start in goal for Canada here, as he first had a productive loan to the Canadian Premier League, where he played 7 games for Valour at the ‘Island Games’, before returning to his parent club, CF Montreal, in the fall, earning 3 starts down the stretch run. 

There’s a reason why Montreal traded away longtime veteran and fan-favourite goalkeeper Evan Bush last year, and that’s because Pantemis is more than ready to be a backup, as he’s deserving of a healthy amount of starting minutes this season. You just know that he’ll be looking to use this tournament as a chance to prove to Montreal that he’s ready, so if he gets the nod in goal, expect a fired-up Pantemis to give Canada everything he’s got. 

#2- FB- Zachary Brault-Guillard | CAN / CF Montréal


Up next on the squad list is Pantemis’s Montreal teammate, Zachary Brault-Guillard, who is one of the handful of experienced Canadian regulars in this Olympic squad, having already made 4 appearances for Canada’s senior National team.

And there’s no doubt that Brault-Guillard is going to be a massive asset for Canada this tournament, as he’s coming off of a season where he played 27 games for Montreal in all competitions, racking up over 2200 minutes in the process. After starting off slowly in his first MLS season on loan from Lyon in 2019, before finishing the year off strong, he rewarded Montreal’s decision to buy him in 2020, making the right back spot his own for much of last season. 

So expect Brault-Guillard to play heavy minutes for this U23 team down in Mexico. An attacking-minded full back, he’ll be expected to push up the pitch with the ball, while also helping Canada keep things tidy at the back whenever possible. Given that you could make a good case for him being Canada’s second-best right back at the moment behind Richie Laryea, the fact that he’s on this U23 squad will be a big boost to Canada’s hopes, so keep a close eye on him this tournament. 

Zachary Brault-Guillard smiles during Canada’s January Camp earlier this year (Canada Soccer)

#3- FB- Zorhan Bassong | CAN / CF Montréal


Joining his fellow club teammate at left back is Bassong, giving Canada a dual-CF Montreal threat at full back. And much like Brault-Guillard’s inclusion, this one isn’t that surprising, either, especially considering the fact that Canada has been working on this since January of 2020, when they first called Bassong into their ‘Camp Poutine’ as a potential Olympic squad hopeful. He was excellent at that camp, emerging as one of Canada’s standouts over the course of the 3 games they played against Barbados and Iceland, much to the excitement of fans. 

As a Belgian dual-national, his continued commitment to Canada over the past year has been positive, as he looks to be a solid potential long-term piece for the men’s team. A two-way full back who excels at getting the ball forward, he is the sort of modern left back that senior team manager John Herdman is keeping an eye on for that position in the long-term. 

So this year is going to be big one for Bassong, as he looks to push himself into Canada’s senior team conversation. After his time at Cercle Brugge didn’t end the way he wanted, leaving him as a free agent, the 21-year-old signed with Montreal this offseason, where he’s expected to play a big role for his new team. This tournament will offer a good opportunity for him to springboard into the MLS season in good form, so hopefully he can get some minutes here and do some damage at both ends of the pitch alongside Brault-Guillard.  

#4- CB- Thomas Meilleur-Giguère | CAN / Pacific FC


Moving over to the first centre back on the list, Meilleur-Giguère, this is where we see our first big surprise, but it’s a welcome one nonetheless. Given that the CPL last played games in September, it was hard to imagine there being many picks from the league, but Meilleur-Giguère’s form for Pacific was too hard to ignore for Biello. 

On a Canadian team short at centre back at both the senior and U23 level, Meilleur-Giguère is an excellent pick, as he played a big role in Pacific’s push to the final 4 at the ‘Island Games’, playing in all 10 of their matches, helping his team keep 2 clean sheets in the process. As a ball-playing centre back, combined with his ability to break up play and play in a high line, his skill set should allow Canada to take some more risks on both sides of the ball. 

With only 3 natural centre backs on the roster, he’ll be given every chance to win a spot in the starting 11, even despite not having played competitively in nearly 7 months. Not only that, with Canada’s need for centre backs in the long-term, he’ll want to use this tournament as a chance to remain in the National Team conversation long after the last kick of the ball down in Mexico. 

#5- CB- Derek Cornelius | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC


But while Meilleur-Giguère will be given every chance to win a spot in the starting 11, if he does win that battle, he’ll play alongside Derek Cornelius, who’s one of the locks to start given his vast National Team experience already at his age. Despite only being 23 years-old, he already has 13 senior caps, which is pretty impressive for a centre back, giving you an idea of his quality. 

He’s fresh off of a season where he was in and out of the Whitecaps lineup, playing 14 of a possible 23 league games (12 as a starter), which was solid, but disappointing considering his strong finish to the 2019 MLS campaign the year prior. 

If anything, Cornelius’s inclusion is a bit surprising from an overall perspective, especially considering he’s arguably been Canada’s best centre back in the games they’ve played since the start of 2019, but once his name was included on the 50-player preliminary roster for this competition, he was a lock to be in this squad. 

It’s also a sign of Canada’s intent in this tournament, as there would’ve been no way that he’d be in Mexico instead of in Florida with the senior team had they wanted to prioritize loading up their World Cup qualifying squad, so hopefully he’s able to help lead this team to glory. 

Also, given his pedigree and experience, don’t be surprised if he dons the captain’s armband during the first game, as he looks to reward Canada’s faith in sending him to Mexico. 

#6- M- Michael Baldisimo | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC


After Cornelius, the next Whitecap on the list is the exciting Baldisimo, who is fresh off of a breakout 2020 campaign, where he turned heads with his strong play at the heart of the Vancouver midfield whenever called upon. In his rookie campaign, the 20-year-old played 13 games, scoring a goal and adding 3 secondary assists along the way, quickly becoming a standout player on Marc Dos Santos’s ‘Caps. 

For a Canadian U23 team short on midfielders, especially after Toronto’s FC COVID outbreak that saw them unable to release any of their youngsters, Baldisimo is going to have to play a key role for Biello, as his transitional ability will be pivotal for this side. They should have a pretty solid defence, but they’re going to need Baldisimo to be the guy to get the ball forward to the attackers, something he did a great job at doing for the Whitecaps. 

So keep a special eye out on him this tournament, as he’s known for being able to create magic in flashes. After struggling with a bit of a knock over the offseason, he’s fully fit now, as well, so he should be ready and motivated to help Canada turn some heads at this tournament. 

#7- F- Tajon Buchanan | USA / New England Revolution


Joining Baldisimo as a fellow 2020 MLS standout is winger Tajon Buchanan, who is also coming off of a very strong year, one where he played important minutes on a Revolution side that made a surprise playoff run, making it all the way to the final 4 before falling short. On the way there, Buchanan was very productive, scoring 2 goals and adding 2 assists in 23 regular-season games, before adding another goal and an assist in 4 playoff games. 

Having gotten minutes both on the wing and as a full back, he’s a very versatile player, one who knows how to destabilize defences. With his deadly combination of speed, skill and IQ, he tends to get into good areas in the box, from which he knows how to create chances, both for himself and for teammates. 

On a Canadian team who will look to give their defenders plenty of run support, Buchanan may be the centrepiece to those efforts, at least based on his recent form, so expect big things from the 22-year-old at this U23 tournament. Considering that Herdman is already a fan of his, as well, he’s also on the cusp of senior team action, giving him even further motivation to put up a strong showing for Canada in these games. 

#8- M- David Norman | CAN / Cavalry FC


Further back in midfield is one of the bigger surprises of this roster, David Norman Jr, who earns the nod despite not having played competitive minutes since the end of 2019, when he got a good run of games on loan to Pacific FC in the CPL from the Vancouver Whitecaps. Since then, he’s been on a bit of a rollercoaster ride, as he was traded to Inter Miami at the end of the loan, where he suffered an injury in pre-season, robbing him of the entire 2020 season, before returning to the CPL by signing with Cavalry this offseason. 

Heading into this camp, the big concern has to be about his match fitness, especially considering the lack of games that he’s played over the past year and a half. When fit, he can be a force in the midfield, disrupting opposing attacks and launching counter-attacks of his own, as he often did for Pacific, but he’ll need time to get back to that level.

So for him, his goal this tournament has to be to battle his way into the starting conversation, as this will be a great opportunity for him to get valuable minutes. Plus, given his chemistry with Baldisimo, his former Whitecap teammate, they could offer up a decent partnership in midfield, with Norman Jr doing a lot of the dirty work defensively, allowing Baldisimo to push the ball forward. Heading into what’s hoped to be a big year for him with Cavalry, this could be a way for him to hit the ground running when their season kicks off in a few months. 

#9- F- Charles-Andreas Brym | BEL / Royal Mouscron


Moving up front, the first striker on the list is an exciting one, as Brym’s name was a surprising but welcome addition to the squad, giving Canada a good option up front. Having joined Royal Mouscron in the Belgian first division this past summer, as he left Lille, where he spent parts of 2 years playing for their B team, it’s good to see him back with Canada after a strong start to life in Belgium.

But after that strong start to the season, as he saw the field in 7 of the club’s first 19 games, he’s struggled to earn minutes in the past 10, often finding himself out of the 18 altogether. So for him, this call-up comes at a perfect time, as it’ll be a good opportunity for him to see the field and get minutes, which are absolutely what he needs at the moment. 

The 22-year-old French dual-national has only played once for Canada before, back in January of 2020 during ‘Camp Poutine’, but he was excellent there, so there’s no doubt that his play then left a favourable impression on Biello and Herdman. With the potential to play him in a front 3 with the likes of Buchanan and Theo Bair, who we’ll look at shortly, Brym should have plenty of opportunities to find himself among the goals in this tournament. 

Charles Andreas Brym in action for Canada back in January of 2020 (Canada Soccer)

#10- M- Aidan Daniels | USA / Oklahoma City Energy


Shifting back to the midfield once more, the next name on the list is a very intriguing one, as Daniels was a surprising inclusion into this squad, but looking at his statistical profile, this could prove to be a move that might pay off for Canada. The lone USL player on this roster, Daniels is arguably the most seasoned professional of the 20 players Canada has called, having played 95 games in the US’s second division these past 3 years.

The former Toronto FC player brings some much-needed experience to this squad, which will be an asset in a youth tournament like this one. As a result, he’ll be a strong candidate to start at the #10 position, which is his favoured spot on the field, playing the role of creator for Canada’s front 3. 

So while it may have been surprising for many to see a USL player in this squad, there’s a reason why it’s seen as a criminally underrated league in North America, as there are a lot of solid players currently plying their trades in that circuit. And while this call-up is important for Canada, who will need his experience, this is also a big tournament for Daniels, who could use this as an opportunity to audition for an upwards move out of the USL, of which he’ll be itching for sooner rather than later.   

#11- F- Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla | CAN / CF Montréal


Up next on the list is Tabla, who is arguably the biggest surprise on the roster, as he finally finds himself back in the fold for Canada after not having earned a call-up at any level for them since March of 2019. After earning 2 caps at the end of 2018, when he was still playing for Barcelona B, Tabla has been on a bit of a football adventure ever since, first heading out on loan to Albacete in Spain’s second division, before returning to Montreal on loan at the end of 2019, a move that was made permanent at the start of 2020. 

The once highly-sought-after prospect has now only played 250 minutes across 12 games in the past 24 months, which shows that it’s been quite the fall for a player who many thought was going to be one of the leaders of this next generation of Canadian soccer. Now, he’s just looking to put the pieces back together, starting with this tournament, which he’ll hope can be an opportunity to help get his career back on track. 

Still only 21(!!) years of age, he still has time to refind himself as a player, but times slowly ticking on him at Montreal, so he’ll need to use this camp as a chance just to get back on the pitch and play valuable minutes. As a tricky winger, he may one of the biggest wildcards on this team, as he can often be both maddingly frustrating and teasingly tantalizing at the same time.

For Canada, they’re definitely hoping that it’s more of the latter, hence the surprising call-up. 

#12- F- Kris Twardek | POL / Jagiellonia Białystok


Joining the forwards up front is another very interesting call-up in Twardek, who may prove to be a very underrated pick-up for Canada. Currently playing in the Polish first division, he’s played 12 times for Jagiellonia since signing for them this summer, where he completed a transfer from the Bohemian in the Irish first division. 

After bouncing between the second and fifth divisions of England, his move to Ireland proved to be a good one, as he played well for the Sligo Rovers before moving to Bohemian, where he scored a goal and 3 assists in the 2019/2020 season, paving the way for his move to Poland. Along with his National Team experience, as he played 2 games back in 2017 and 2018, he is expected to be a veteran figure for this U23 team, making him a possible captain candidate along with Cornelius. 

He can play both wings, and is more of a creative figure, so he could be a good partner for Buchanan on the opposing flank, giving Canada a different look up front. Given that Biello was able to scoop him up despite him regularly featuring in Jagiellonia’s squad this season, he’ll likely play big minutes, so expect to see a lot of him in Mexico, as he looks to help Canada qualify. 

Plus, with this being his first National Team opportunity in years, this will be a big opportunity to get back on Herdman’s radar, placing his name back into a crowded senior team forward depth chart. 

#13- FB- Marcus Godinho | GER / FSV Zwickau


Rounding off the full backs is a familiar name for Canadian fans, even though it’s probably for the wrong reasons in the case of most, as Godinho’s last game in the Canada shirt came in the Gold Cup in 2019 against Haiti, where he played a central role in Canada’s 3-2 loss in a game they once led 2-0. 

But while that game left a sour note in the mouths of many, Godinho is more than deserving of a slot at this tournament, having played well in Germany’s third division for Zwickau ever since his move shortly after that Gold Cup. With Germany’s third tier often being regarded as good as most other countries second tiers, given that their first and second divisions only have 18 teams each, it’s been a good level for Godinho to play in, and he’s done well with the opportunity.

He played 19 times in 2019/2020, adding 3 assists, and while his minutes have dwindled in 2020/2021, only playing 3 times, that’s mostly down to a couple of injuries that have held him back. 

Either way, as an attacking full back, he’ll be in a good battle with Bassong to get in the starting 11, and he arguably has the upper edge in that situation, given that he comes to this tournament as one of the handful of players currently in-season, something that the North American players can’t relate to. 

Plus, like a couple of other players on the roster, Godinho is returning to the fold after a lengthy absence, instead of testing the waters for the first time, so this is a big chance for him to push his way back up the depth chart, returning him to the cusp of the senior team conversation. 

#14- M- Ryan Raposo | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC


Up next on the list is the third of five Whitecaps players, Raposo, who is one of only a few Canadian players making their first appearance at any level for Canada this tournament, making it a special one for him. After a trying first professional season for the ‘Caps 2020 4th overall Super Draft pick, one where he only played 375 minutes across 15 appearances (2 starts), this is going to be a good chance for him to pick up some match sharpness ahead of the 2021 season. 

Having dealt with a few injury knocks in his rookie year, he’ll want to put all of that behind him, and no better way to do that than at this camp, where he’ll have every chance to battle for a spot in the lineup. 

A tricky, creative player, he can play both on the wing and as a #10, giving Biello a few different looks at both positions, which could give him a good chance at being able to claw into the lineup, either as a starter or as a substitute. Most importantly, he has a really strong compete level, which often sees him shine during opportunities like this, giving him a good chance to make a difference. 

So while it was quite surprising to see him get a nod, Canada will be getting someone who will battle every single minute that he’s on the pitch, making him valuable in a tournament like this, as he’ll help keep the other 19 players on their toes over the next few weeks. 

#15- F- Theo Bair | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC


And rounding off the forwards is the 4th Whitecaps player on this list, Bair, who will be a very interesting name to watch down in Mexico. Having played 30 games across two seasons for the Whitecaps, where he’s scored some very nice goals, he is an early favourite to start at the #9 position this tournament, having already earned senior call-ups to back-to-back January camps in both 2020 and 2021. 

Despite his big frame, he is a very skilled player, one who can play in any of the three forward positions, but he’s best deployed at striker. To play there this tournament, he’ll have to battle with Brym over the next week and a half, which is going to be one of the more intriguing positional matchups to watch unfold here.

Having gotten fewer minutes than he probably would’ve wanted for Vancouver last year, as his time on the field was nearly halved compared to his 2019 numbers, he’ll enter this camp with a chip on his shoulder. Fresh off of scoring the first goal of the January camp intra-squad scrimmages, as well as the first goal of the first day of Whitecaps training camp, he’ll surely look to try and add the first goal of this Olympic tournament to that list, as well. 

Theo Bair in action for Canada at their January Camp earlier this year (Canada Soccer)

#16- CB- Callum Montgomery | USA / Minnesota United FC


Moving back to the defenders one last time, there is Montgomery, who is an intriguing yet exciting pick at centre back, one who could be a sneaky good piece at the back for Canada. The 4th overall Super Draft pick back in 2019, Montgomery is coming off of 2 years in Dallas where he spent most of his time on loan, playing 31 games across 2 seasons of USL Championship and League One action. 

But now, having signed in Minnesota, he’s hoping that move offers him more of a chance to play at the MLS level, of which many expected him to play at much earlier than this based on his high draft pick. Still only 23 years of age, however, he’s still got plenty to give, though, especially at a position where players tend to bloom later. 

So in this tournament, expect him to battle for a spot alongside Cornelius with Meilleur-Giguère, of whom he’ll have likely have the upper hand over in terms of form given the lack of minutes that the Pacific defender has played recently. A tall centre back, he could give Canada a bit of size and snarl at the position, but don’t be completely fooled by his height, as he is also good at playing the ball out of the back both calmly and assuredly. 

Heading into a big year for Minnesota, he’ll be another one of many Canadian players looking to use this camp as a springboard towards a strong 2021 season. 

#17- M- Patrick Metcalfe | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC


Shifting our attention back to the midfield, Metcalfe is the final of the 5 ‘Caps going to Mexico, and he’s probably the most intriguing, as he only played 6 games in MLS last year, yet brings a much-needed skillset to this team. 

Much like the inclusion of Norman Jr, Metcalfe was brought in to give Canada solidity at the #6, especially once it was revealed that the likes of Liam Fraser and Noble Okello of Toronto FC wouldn’t be able to be called up to their team’s COVID situation. A stout midfielder, Metcalfe is good at breaking up attacks and progressing the ball forward, making up for his smaller frame with sneaky strength and some good defensive instincts. 

So while he was a bit of a surprising inclusion, he was brought in to fill a specific need, one he should do a pretty good job at helping fill. More importantly, his presence as a depth player shows Canada’s progression over the past few years, as in Olympic qualifiers past, someone with a handful of professional minutes would be a centre-piece player, not a depth one, as is the case for Metcalfe at the moment.  

And seeing that he’s well-positioned to earn a starting stop at the #6 position, keep an eye on him this tournament, as he was solid in the minutes that he played for the Whitecaps in 2020. 

#18- GK- Matthew Nogueira | POR / CS Maritimo


Sliding back to the goalkeepers once again, Nogueira is one of two very interesting options for Canada in goal (more on the other in a quick second), as he currently plies his trade on Portuguese first division side Maritimo’s U23 team. He’s been in tough for minutes there, only earning 1 appearance so far in the 2020-2021 season, but that can often be a reality that goalkeepers have to deal with in top European leagues, as it’s tough to break into starting roles there. 

So for the 22-year-old Portuguese dual-national, this camp will be a good chance for him to try and battle for some minutes in what is shaping up to be a competitive battle for the #1 goalkeeping spot, while also showing to Canada that he could be a name worth keeping an eye on in the long-term. With there being so many good goalkeepers in Canada’s system now, it’ll be tough for him to slide his way into the fold, but it’s always good to have competition, of which Nogueira will certainly provide. 

And much like the inclusion of the next two names, as well as the continued integration of Bassong and Brym, it shows Canada’s continued success at recruiting dual-nationals under Herdman, which has been a big plus for a program that used to struggle massively in that area. 

It’s not yet sure where Nogueira stands in the pecking order, so it’s hard to know what he could bring to Canada this tournament, but at the very least he’ll come into this camp hungry to play, having struggled for minutes at the club level. 

#19- GK- Sebastian Breza | ITA / FC Bologna


And to finish off the goalkeepers, we have arguably the most interesting name of the 3, Breza, who is a very surprising but pleasant inclusion into this squad. Currently at Bologna in Serie A, he’s been locked in a very interesting battle for their backup spot with Frederico Ravaglia and Angelo de Costa, having made their squad in Serie A on 7 occasions now, even though he’s yet to play a minute for them this season. 

But that’s far from a bad thing for the 22-year-old, who is showing a lot of promise to even be in this discussion at this age, giving you an idea how highly Bologna rates him. Again, at a position where older players tend to blossom, it’s good to see him regularly competing for a squad in the squad, and hopefully he can soon turn that into first-team minutes. 

So for Canada to get him into the fold for this tournament is huge, as he’d be a solid get for the National Team if he starts playing at Bologna. A Norweigan dual-national, it also shows that Canada currently has the advantage in that battle, so hopefully this is the start of a prosperous National Team career. 

As for this tournament itself, he’s going to be the early favourite to fight for minutes against Pantemis, but considering his experience at battling Serie A goalkeepers in training each week, you’d have to give him the upper edge despite Pantemis’s strong 2020 season. Plus, when you factor in that Breza’s in-season at the moment, whereas Pantemis is coming off of a ~4-month offseason, all signs point towards him being the likelier day 1 starter against El Salvador, but that battle will be close either way, so don’t close the door on Pantemis on Nogueira yet, either. 

#20- AM- Lucas Dias | POR / Sporting CP U-23


Lastly, but definitely not least, is the 2003-born Dias, Canada’s youngest player this tournament by a mile, but one who will look to try and turn heads on the pitch. With Dias having only recently turned 18, Baldisimo is the closest in age as a 20-year-old with a 2000 birthday, with everyone else on the squad being 1999 birthday’s or earlier, showing how green Dias is. 

Just to give you an idea of how young Dias is, he’s still eligible to play in the 2026 Olympic qualifiers, so for him to even be at this camp is a huge bonus for the Sporting CP youngster. 

A creative midfielder, it’ll be interesting to see how he fares in the battle for the #10 spot with Daniels and Raposo, as the Portuguese dual-national will want to show that he can compete with the two older, more established professionals. At the very least, on a team that will want to provide a steady stream of chances to their strikers, he should get some cameos off of the bench as a substitute, allowing him to run at tired defenders. 

And for those wondering how an 18-year-old is even in the conversation of starting, it’s worth noting how he got here. There’s a reason why he’s played 16 games this season for Sporting’s U23’s this year, despite still being eligible for the U19’s, and that’s because he’s a special talent. There are even rumours that he might get a chance to try and push for minutes in the first team soon, which considering Sporting is currently 9 points adrift in first place in the Primeira Liga, is very exciting news for Dias. 

So for Canada, this could be a big coup, both for this tournament and for the long-term. Obviously, they brought him in with an eye of qualifying for the Olympics, of which he should help do, but given that Portugal is hot on his heels, having called him up for U16 action in the past, getting him in for these games shows him their intention of putting him in their plans long-term. 

Given Canada’s recent success with dual-nationals, as mentioned earlier, they’ll hope that they can find similar glory in Dias’s case, adding yet another talented young attacker to the fold. 

On the cusp: 

Usually, we’d use this section to look at some names that just missed out on making the squad, but given that teams weren’t obligated to release players for this tournament, it’s impossible to know who is absent because of club duties versus those who didn’t earn call-ups, period. 

Plus, as seen with the Toronto FC situation, that threw an additional wrench into Canada’s plans, given that there were surely a few youngsters that Biello would’ve liked to secure the services of for this tournament. 

So with this competition, it’ll be important to focus on who’s there instead of who isn’t, given that we don’t know what prevented the call-ups of some players. 

Looking Forward:

And if we focus on those players, there are plenty of intriguing names to keep an eye on over the next few weeks, as we’ve seen here. 

With a veteran-heavy team, one filled with 22, 23 and 24-year-olds, Canada will be looking to use that experience to their advantage in these games, knowing how valuable that can be in tournament settings. 

It’s too early to tell how viable that strategy will end up being, but if you compare this team to teams of Olympic qualifying past, this is one of the more experienced and promising groups that Canada has called up, so hopefully that results in Canada breaking their lengthy drought. 

If they’re to do that, a stiff challenge awaits them on the road there, but they’ll be ready to undertake it, which is why they made sure to bring in some battle-tested players to help lead them through battle. 

As part of a busy year for the Canadian Men’s National Team, it’s going to be very interesting to see how they fare here, as they look to put history behind them and make some magic down in Mexico. 

Cover photo via: Canada Soccer

Up Next: Canada vs El Salvador, Friday, March 19th, 2021, 15:00 PST/18:00 EST (Guadalajara, Mexico)

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