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Canadian women’s soccer kicks off a busy stretch for club and country

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The Canadian women’s soccer team is kicking up its Olympic prep

This summer in Tokyo, the team will play for its third consecutive Olympic medal after winning the bronze matches in 2012 and ’16. On April 21 — exactly three months from the start of the tournament — Canada will learn its path to another podium when the draw to assign teams their opponents for the group stage is held.

In the meantime, many of Canada’s players are kicking off a busy stretch for both club and country. Here’s what happening:

Club

The U.S.-based National Women’s Soccer League returns today with the second installment of the Challenge Cup. The month-long tournament was born last summer as an alternative to trying to pull off a conventional regular season and playoffs during a pandemic. It went well enough that the NWSL decided to keep the Challenge Cup and use it to kick off the 2021 season. The tournament runs through May 8 and will be followed by a 24-match (for each team) regular season from May 15-Oct. 30. The NWSL playoffs open Nov. 6 and culminate with the championship game on Nov. 20.

A few things are different about this year’s Challenge Cup. It won’t be played in a bubble, like last year’s in Salt Lake City. Matches will take place in teams’ home stadiums, with some fans in attendance where allowed. There are 10 teams this time, not eight. The Orlando Pride are back after missing the 2020 tournament because of an outbreak, while Racing Louisville FC joins as an expansion team. Also, New Jersey-based Sky Blue FC was rebranded as NJ/NY Gotham FC.

More than a dozen Canadians play in the NWSL, including four on the defending Challenge Cup champion Houston Dash. Canadian national-team captain and all-time international goals leader Christine Sinclair is still with Portland Thorns FC. Get a full breakdown of the Challenge Cup — including details on each team and their key players — by reading this piece by CBC Sports’ Signa Butler.

While the top women’s pro soccer league in North America is just kicking off, Europe’s top club competition is nearing an end. Three of the four spots in the UEFA Women’s Champions League semifinals are filled, and the last will be decided April 18. That’s when French powerhouse Lyon, which is going for its sixth consecutive title, plays the second leg of its quarter-final matchup vs. Paris Saint-Germain. Lyon won the opener 1-0 on the road before the second leg was postponed due to a COVID-19 outbreak on the team.

Canadian defender Kadeisha Buchanan plays for Lyon, and fellow national-team members Jordyn Huitema and Ashley Lawrence are on PSG. There’s one Canadian on the three teams who have already made the semis: Chelsea midfielder Jessie Fleming.

Country

The Canadian women’s national team played its first match since February’s SheBelieves Cup tournament today in Wales. Canada, ranked eighth in the world, won the friendly 3-0 over the 31st-ranked Welsh. There was some bad news, though, as Sinclair left in the first half with an apparent foot or ankle injury. The extent of the injury was unclear at our publish time. Next up is a friendly vs. No. 6 England on Tuesday.

Buchanan was left off Canada’s roster for the friendlies as her club deals with its outbreak, and veteran midfielder Diana Matheson was also among the players listed as out for “medical reasons.” But just about every other key player is there in the UK as rookie coach Bev Priestman ramps up preparations for the Olympics. Sinclair and several other NWSL players are missing the start of the Challenge Cup for these matches. For more on the pair of friendlies and why they’re important for Canada, read this story by Signa Butler.

Deanne Rose opened the scoring in the first half, as Canada went on to beat Wales 3-0 in an international friendly in Cardiff in the United Kingdom. 1:07

Quickly…

Canada scraped into the playoffs at the men’s curling world championship. Last night’s clutch 6-4 win over Norway clinched a spot in the six-team playoffs and also guaranteed Canada an entry in the 2022 Olympic men’s tournament. Both were in doubt after Brendan Bottcher’s rink lost back-to-back tough matchups vs. Russia and defending champion Sweden on Wednesday. The pressure is off a bit now, but the Canadians are still in a tough spot. After beating Germany today to finish the round robin with a 9-4 record, they’re going to wind up either third or fourth in the standings. That means having to win an elimination game tonight at 9 p.m. ET in order to join Russia, Sweden and the winner of the other elimination game in the semifinals. At our publish time, Canada’s opponent was still unknown. But you can follow CBC Sports curling reporter Devin Heroux’s Twitter feed for up-to-the-second updates. You can also join Devin and Colleen Jones for That Curling Show tonight at 7:30 p.m. ET on the CBC Sports YouTube channel. They’ll be setting up Canada’s game and the rest of the playoffs.

Justin Rose stayed atop the Masters. The 2016 Olympic gold medallist shot a 7-under first round yesterday to open up a four-shot lead. Some of that evaporated today as Rose meandered to an even-par second round, but he still led by two strokes at our publish time. Canadian Mackenzie Hughes will easily make the cut after shooting a pair of even-par rounds, and Corey Conners is looking good too. Just before our publish time, he eagled the par-5 13th to move to 2-under. Former champ Mike Weir, who’s no longer a serious contender, shot 1-under today but will miss the cut as he’s still 5-over for the tournament. See the updated leaderboard here.

Chris Boucher had the night of his life. Making just the seventh start of his NBA career, the 28-year-old big man from Montreal put up career highs in points (38) and rebounds (19) in last night’s 122-113 Raptors loss to Chicago. With Toronto down to eight available players due to injuries, health-and-safety protocol and a suspension, Boucher also played a career-high 36 minutes. Read more about the game and watch Boucher’s highlights here.

This weekend on CBC Sports

Olympic Games Replay: The theme of this week’s show is “jaw-dropping Winter Olympic moments.” It includes the wild women’s snowboard cross final from the 2006 Games in Turin, the exciting men’s slopestyle events from 2014 and ’18, and of course the classic 2014 women’s hockey final that Canada rallied to win over the U.S. Watch the show Saturday from 3-6 p.m. ET on the CBC TV network, CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app.

Women’s hockey: The latest stop on the Dream Gap Tour is in St. Louis, in partnership with the Blues. Watch Sunday’s game live at 6 p.m. ET on CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app.

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CBC | Soccer News

MLS, NWSL to test concussion substitutes in soccer matches

Major League Soccer, the National Women’s Soccer League and U.S. Soccer, are joining a trial program that will allow teams two additional substitutes for suspected concussions in each match.

The International Football Association Board, which sets the rules for the game, approved the trial for concussion substitutes last December. It is expected to run through August 2022.

U.S. Soccer is working with the top men’s and women’s leagues, as well as the United Soccer League and the National Independent Soccer Association, to implement the pilot program protocol across the sport in the United States.

“We do think it’s incredibly important for players and player safety, and it speaks to our role of being a leader in this area and prioritizing health and safety above really anything else that we do as a league,” said Jeff Agoos, vice-president of competition for MLS.

2 substitutions for suspected concussions

Starting this season, teams can make two substitutions for suspected concussions. That’s in addition to the five substitutions already allowed because of the coronavirus. Normally teams are allowed three total substitutions.

Concussion substitutions can be made even if a player has returned to the field to play. If teams sub out a player because of concussion, the opposing team gets an additional sub — addressing competitive balance concerns.

“It was critical to come together as a sport with our professional leagues and proceed in this pilot program, prioritizing the well-being of our players above all,” Dr. George Chiampas, U.S. Soccer’s chief medical officer, said in a statement. “We’ve worked hard to raise awareness of head injuries in soccer over the last several years, and this change should go a long way in protecting players suspected of suffering a concussion.”

Olympics also eyeing 

The concussion rule was in force during the SheBeleives Cup in February. FIFA is considering whether it will be used at the Tokyo Olympics this summer.

The English Premier League has allowed use of concussion substitutes since early February. West Ham United’s Issa Diop became the first player subbed out because of a suspected concussion in an FA Cup match against Manchester United on Feb. 9.

In MLS, Agoos there will be additional resources to determine is a concussion substitute is needed.

“If a player is injured, obviously the medical staff will be called on to the field for an evaluation,” Agoos told The Associated Press. “If it’s a head injury, the venue medical director may come on and evaluate the player. In parallel, we have an independent group of people [spotters], similar to some of the other sports, that are reviewing the video of that play and then can send that video to the fourth official’s table where the venue medical director, the VMD, is located for further evaluation.”

Additionally, different cards will be used by officials during MLS matches to indicate the kind of substitution being made: White for a normal sub, pink for a concussion sub and blue for an additional sub.

MLS opens its regular season on April 16; the NWSL’s preseason Challenge Cup tournament starts Friday.

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CBC | Soccer News

Canadian teenager Corbeanu impressing early in World Cup soccer qualifier

After missing out on Canada’s January camp, teenage winger Theo Corbeanu wasted little time showing what he can do in World Cup soccer qualifying.

The 18-year-old from Hamilton scored off the bench in his debut in Canada’s 5-1 win over Bermuda last Thursday, prompting his phone to light up like a Christmas tree.

“It was crazy. I’ve never got that many messages before. It was amazing.” he said.

Coach John Herdman then gave Corbeanu the start in Monday’s record 11-0 romp over the Cayman Islands in Bradenton, Fla.

WATCH | Canadian men’s team breaks national record in 11-0 victory over Cayman Islands:

Substitute Lucas Cavallini scored a second-half hat trick and Canada set a new national men’s record with an 11-0 win over the Cayman Islands in their World Cup qualifying match. 0:55

Corbeanu plays for the Wolves under-23 side in England. While manager Nuno Espirito Santo has had him dress eight or nine times for the Premier League squad’s first team in both league and cup action, he has yet to be called on. But it seems only a matter of time.

Where it all started

He is no stranger to turning heads — or making the most of debuts.

In December, the Birmingham Mail marked his inclusion in Wolves’ matchday squad for the first time with an article under the headline “Who is Theo Corbeanu? The ‘outstanding’ wonderkid in the Wolves squad for Burnley.”

Both his parents were born in Romania, coming to Canada in 1999 with his older brother who was seven at the time. Theo, who came on the scene three years later, says all his relatives are in Romania.

“I’m really the only one in the family tree who’s fully Canadian,” said Corbeanu, who speaks fluent Romanian.

Corbeanu has represented Romania at the youth level, scoring in his debut for its under-16 side against Ireland.

“It was a great experience but at the end of the day I’m Canadian. I’ve always wanted to play for Canada,” he said.

“I have both [nationalities] in me but I’m very proud to wear the Canadian shirt,” added Corbeanu, who has since switched his international allegiance to Canada.

‘More excited about the future’

He’s loving every minute of it.

“I’m excited right now and I’m even more excited about the future,” he said.

Herdman called him into his January camp in Florida but Corbeanu didn’t travel because of pandemic-related travel restrictions. He made it for the World Cup qualifiers, stopping first in Mexico for a few days training with the Canadian Olympic squad.

After replacing Junior Hoilett in the 77th minute with Canada leading Bermuda 4-1 in Orlando, Corbeanu stationed himself on the right flank and prepared to do some damage.

That took just four minutes with the debutant finishing off a six-pass move that started with goalkeeper Milan Borjan. Captain Atiba Hutchinson picked out Liam Millar on the left flank and the 21-year-old forward, on loan to Charlton Athletic from Liverpool, cut the ball back for Corbeanu, making a diagonal run between defenders off his wing, to square into the goal from the edge of the six-yard box.

After the game, Herdman shared what he told Corbeanu before sending him on.

“‘Just as he was taking the field, I said to him ‘Son, you’ve got 15 minutes. Sometimes these moments don’t come back. Go make an impact. Goal and an assist,”‘ said Herdman.

“And his bloody first touch was a goal,” the coach added. “Sometimes you say that stuff as a coach and think it’s going in one ear and out the other. I’m proud of him.”

Corbeanu, an imposing figure at six foot two, says football firsts like his Canadian debut don’t faze him.

“I’d say I’m very composed when it comes to stuff like this. For me, this is just another game. I just took it as another game, as if I was playing on the street with my friends. So no nerves.”

Canadian midfielder Samuel Piette was impressed by what he saw from the teen in training.

“First time I saw him on the pitch, I couldn’t tell you if he was left-footed or right-footed, which is an amazing skill. I’m not even sure he knows as well, to be fair,” said the CF Montreal veteran.

“He’s really mature for his age, outside the pitch but on the pitch as well,” he added.

Growing up, Corbeanu was a goalkeeper until he was seven or eight, switching to striker when his team was down a few bodies. A fan of players like Robinho and Cristiano Ronaldo, he enjoys taking players on.

“That’s my game. I’m a one-v-one player. I like to be brave on the ball and I really like to enjoy myself in games. Play free.”

That includes looking to befuddle defenders with stepovers.

Playing career

Growing up, Corbeanu played for the Mount Hamilton Youth Soccer Club, Hamilton Sparta and Saltfleet Soccer Club. He often followed coach Ron Davidson, whom he says played a “vital role” in his development.

Corbeanu spent two years with the Toronto FC academy, joining in late 2016 when he was 14 after spending time earlier on in its pre-academy camps.

“I was very used to the drive to that training centre from Hamilton, I absolutely loved TFC,” said Corbeanu, who still has close friends from his Toronto academy days.

But he always wanted to test himself in England. And in the summer of 2018, his agent set up a trial at Leicester City, which went well and drew the attention of Wolves.

He visited the club and liked what he saw.

“No disrespect to Leicester. That was a brilliant club as well. But I just felt like Wolves was a better fit for me.”

In 2019, he toured China on a pre-season tour with Wolves.

Formed as St. Luke’s FC in 1877, Wolverhampton Wanderers FC has spent 66 seasons at England’s highest level.

The storied club has been home to the likes of Billy Wright, Derek Dougan, Bert Williams, Phil Parkes, Paul Ince, Robbie Keane, Denis Irwin, Steve Bull and former Whitecaps manager Carl Robinson.

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CBC | Soccer News

Canadian Olympic men’s soccer hopes dashed by Mexico in Tokyo qualifier

Canada has fallen short in its bid for its first Olympic men’s soccer berth in 37 years.

Uriel Antuna and Johan Vasquez scored to lift mighty Mexico to a 2-0 victory over Canada in the do-or-die semifinals of the CONCACAF Men’s Olympic Qualifying Championship Sunday.

The Mexicans, who won Olympic gold in 2012, clinched their 12th Olympic berth with the victory. The Canadian men, which haven’t played on the Olympic stage since 1984, are forced to wait another three years.

The Canadians knew they faced a mammoth battle against a CONCACAF giant that has never lost to Canada in a competitive match on its home soil. Canada came into the game 0-4-2 against Mexico at the under-23 level in CONCACAF Olympic qualifying since 1992.

WATCH | Canada loses in semis to Mexico:

Canada fell short of a spot at the Tokyo Olympics after losing 2-0 to Mexico at the CONCACAF Men’s Olympic Qualifying Championship. 1:23

Canada’s defence was excellent in keeping Mexico off the scoreboard through 57 minutes before Mexico capitalized on a risky pass up the middle by goalie James Pantemis that went straight to the opponent.

Antuna, who’s scored eight goals in 16 appearances for Mexico’s full national side, was open just inside the box and one-timed a pass past Pantemis, who was otherwise solid all night.

Mexico delivered more heartbreak in the 64th minute when Vasquez out leapt Canadian defenders to get his head on a free kick.

The Mexicans outshot Canada 19-3, and 6-1 on target.


Canada had an early chance scuttled when Tajon Buchanan was taken down just outside Mexico’s box. Buchanan raised his arms in frustration when no foul was called.

Mexico outshot Canada 7-2 in the first half, including three on target, their first chance coming from a header off a corner kick in the 19th minute that sailed just wide of the net.

There were some scary moments midway through the first half when Pantemis appeared to hurt his right shoulder when he dove to deflect a shot from Antuna. Pantemis, a 24-year-old who plays for CF Montreal in Major League Soccer, grimaced in pain on the pitch for a couple of minutes but stayed in the game.

He was forced into action less than a minute later, diving to smother another attack from Antuna.

The half ended in a shoving match that brought Mexico’s substitutes off the bench.

Lucas Dias was a bright spot on the night in his first start for Canada. The 18-year-old displayed his skill early on, dribbling through three Mexicans in the midfield before being fouled. Dias, who plays in Lisbon for Sporting CP’s U23 squad, replaced previous team captain Derek Cornelius, who twisted a knee against Honduras and surely had a tough night watching from the bench.

Mexico remains undefeated

Canada finished second in Group B behind Honduras on goal difference after the teams played to a 1-1 draw on Thursday. Mexico went undefeated to win Group A.

Canada’s senior squad, meanwhile, watched the game from Bradenton, Fla., and sent a good luck message via video. The Canadians were slated to play the Cayman Islands on Sunday, but the game was delayed a day due to issues with pre-match COVID-19 tests taken by the Cayman Islands delegation, which did not meet FIFA requirements.

Canada’s women, the two-time reigning Olympic bronze medallists, have already clinched their Tokyo berth.

Mexico will play Honduras in the tournament final. The Americans will miss their third consecutive Olympics after a 2-1 loss to Honduras in the other semifinal Sunday.

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Canada’s soccer World Cup qualifier postponed after Cayman Islands misses COVID-19 tests

The complexities of executing sporting events in a global pandemic were illustrated Sunday when Canada’s World Cup qualifier against the Cayman Islands was pushed back a day to Monday.

At issue were the pre-match COVID-19 tests taken by the Cayman Islands delegation, which did not meet FIFA requirements.

It appears the Caymans delegation did its best but was foiled by a tumultuous plane ride as it tried to get to Florida from Suriname, where it lost 3-0 on Wednesday in the capital of Paramaribo.

Alfredo Whittaker, president of the Cayman Islands Football Association, said his team missed its scheduled testing upon arrival because of travel issues.

The team’s charter was originally scheduled to arrive at a private airport in Sarasota, Fla., only to be turned away by U.S. Customs. The plane was diverted to Miami but, as it was about to descend, the pilot was told he could not land because it was not a scheduled flight. The plane eventually landed in Tampa with the team not getting to its hotel until 1:30 a.m. local time Friday.

The delegation underwent a rapid antigen test, which detects protein fragments specific to COVID-19. While the rapid test can deliver results in as quick as 15 minutes, the results are not always accurate as polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.

Canada hopefully to play Monday

FIFA requires a PCR test, which is considered the gold standard in testing for the virus. It involves a lab testing a sample typically collected using a swab inserted into a person’s nose or throat. Turnaround time for the PCR test is longer.

“We did a rapid test because there was no lab around the area that would give us results until Monday or Tuesday,” Whittaker said. “But miraculously we managed to get that lab that was originally closed on Saturday and Sunday to open for us [Sunday].”

The results are expected to be ready between 2 and 3 p.m. ET Monday, ahead of the 6 p.m. kickoff at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

News of the one-day postponement came out Sunday in brief releases from Canada Soccer and FIFA in the hour before the scheduled 4 p.m. kickoff. The decision to delay the match was made “to ensure the safety of all participants in the match,” according to FIFA.


Whittaker said Canada Soccer had been “very understanding.”

“We’re living in difficult times. These are requirements and we respect requirements,” he added.

Whittaker noted the Caymans have been pretty much COVID-free.

According to the Cayman Islands government website, the country had 487 confirmed cases of COVID and two deaths as of Friday. The four most recent cases were tourists, who tested positive following routine screening.

As of Friday, 28,861 (44 per cent of the estimated population) had received at least one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, with 26 per cent having completed the two-dose course.

WATCH | Larin hat trick leads Canada past Bermuda:

Canada dominates Bermuda 5-1 as they start World Cup qualifying in the CONCACAF region. 3:19

The Canadian team was still at its hotel in nearby Sarasota when it got news of the problem Sunday. Canada coach John Herdman said his squad took news of the postponement in stride, after some initial “disappointment, shock.”

“I think we’re used to the many ups and downs that this world keeps throwing at us,” Herdman said in a video posted by Canada Soccer.

“If anything we’ll look at the positives which are more recovery, more regen time for those players that played on Thursday,” he added.

Herdman said he pulled his team’s leadership group together in wake of the news. The decision was made to go ahead and hold a “light, bright” training session Sunday.

“We just turn the page and [Monday] will be the big day for us.”

Canada Soccer said teams are required to provide FIFA with negative COVID-19 PCR test results for all players and staff taken no earlier than 72 hours before accessing the venue. Without the test results, teams can’t access the stadium.


Canada Soccer said it had “engaged a laboratory to be on-site with the team to conduct its testing” and that all of its players and staff had received negative testing before arriving and while in camp in Florida.

Sunday’s game was officially a home game for the Caymans. But the three-island group has the same 14-day quarantine as Canada so opted to shift the site to Bradenton.

The current FIFA international window runs through Tuesday for CONCACAF teams. But the delay in the Caymans game means extending whatever quarantines are in place at the other end when player return home.

Canada captain Atiba Hutchinson left Friday to return to his club team Besiktas in Turkey as part of an apparent prearranged deal.

The Canadian men are ranked 73rd in the world, 120 places above the Cayman part-timers.

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Denmark latest European soccer side to call for workers’ rights in World Cup host Qatar

Denmark became the latest European soccer team on Sunday to use World Cup qualifying games to direct attention to workers’ rights in Qatar, which hosts the 2022 tournament.

Denmark players wore red T-shirts with the slogan “Football supports change” for the team photo before kickoff against Moldova. The Danes won 8-0 to extend a strong start in Group F.

The Danish soccer federation said the shirts will be signed and auctioned to raise money for projects with Amnesty International that help migrant workers in Qatar.

Denmark followed the Netherlands team on Saturday which wore T-shirts with the same slogan.

Players from Norway and Germany also wore T-shirts during their respective pre-games to draw attention to human rights issues in Qatar. The Norwegian national team made a point about rights again ahead of its game against Turkey on Saturday.

Germany’s players made a more subtle gesture in the team photo Sunday in Romania. They wore shirts reversed with each name and number facing the front in a photo published on official social media accounts with the message “We are for 30” and the hashtag “HUMANRIGHTS.”

Qatar facing renewed scrutiny

Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer confirmed to German broadcaster RTL it was reference to the 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“We are all in favour of fair play, both on the field and off the field too, and we stand for these 30 articles,” Neuer said.

Since winning the World Cup hosting vote in 2010, Qatar has faced scrutiny for living and working conditions of migrant workers helping to build stadiums, transport and other construction projects ahead of the tournament, which starts next November.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino defended Qatar this month, saying that becoming the World Cup host had accelerated social progress in the emirate.

Although FIFA’s disciplinary code states players and federations can face disciplinary action in cases of “using a sports event for demonstrations of a non-sporting nature,” it said after the first Norway protest that no investigation would be opened.

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Canada frustrated by tough Haitian defence in Olympic men’s soccer qualifying

Two games into the CONCACAF Men’s Olympic Qualifying Championship and Canada has yet to concede a goal.

But after defeating El Salvador 2-0 in its opening match, its offence stalled Monday in a 0-0 tie with Haiti. The young Canadians dominated possession in the first half but lost their way in the second half as the Haitians came alive.

Canada (1-0-1) needed a strong second-half performance from goalkeeper James Pantemis, who did not have to make a save in the first 45 minutes.

“The first half we were able to control the tempo of the game. We created some good opportunities,” said Canada coach Mauro Biello. “We didn’t take our chances in the first half.

WATCH | Canada’s James Pantemis makes a spectacular save against Haiti:

James Pantemis made a big save in the 72nd minute, as Canada and Haiti played to a goalless draw at the CONCACAF men’s Olympic qualifying championship in Guadalajara, Mexico. 0:36

“In the second half we got a little too loose and in different moments they caught us in transition. We needed to be tighter, better.”

El Salvador (0-1-1) did Canada a favour later Monday, rallying for a 1-1 tie against Honduras (1-0-1).

All-important Honduran clash 

Canada faces Honduras on Thursday with the winner taking first place in Group B. A tie would send both teams into the semifinals.

While the two teams are currently both on four points, Honduras has the edge over Canada in goal difference (plus-three compared to plus-two).

The eight-country CONCACAF tournament, originally scheduled for last March but postponed due to the pandemic, will determine which two teams will represent North and Central America and the Caribbean at this summer’s Tokyo Olympics.

The top two in each group advance to the semifinals, crossing over with No. 1 playing No. 2 in the other group and vice versa. The semifinal winners book their ticket to Tokyo.

Canada fails to take advantage

The U.S. and Mexico both improved to 2-0-0 with wins Sunday in Group A play, ensuring they qualify for the semifinals. The two meet Wednesday to decide who tops the group.

Honduras, which blanked Haiti 3-0 in its opener, has made it to the last two Olympics. The Canadian men have not taken part since the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.

The Hondurans (1-0-0) played El Salvador (0-1-0) in the late game Monday.

“We’re at four points right now,” said Biello. “For sure we could be disappointed not to take the three [points] but at the same time we’ve got to learn and we’ve got to continue to grow from here.”

The Canadians pressed as the clock wound down and had several set pieces but failed to take advantage. Haiti goalkeeper Alan Jerome made a game-saving save with his foot on substitute Ballou Tabla on a Canadian counter-attack sparked by speedy winger Tajon Buchanan in stoppage time.


It was 30 degree Celsius for the 4 p.m. local time kickoff at an empty Estado Akron, which hosted the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2011 Pan American Games.

Haiti (0-1-1) showed its hand early, often stacking 11 men behind the ball in its own half in a defensive block. The Canadians penned the Haitians in their own end early and Jerome used his body to deny Buchanan from in-close in the 13th minute after a fine feed by fullback Zachary Brault-Guillard.

Haiti offered little the few times it did venture into Canadian territory with the ball.

Canada captain Derek Cornelius’ header off a corner was off-target in the 30th minute, his aim no doubt hampered by the Haiti defender clutching a handful of his jersey.

WATCH | Canada’s path to Tokyo:

Signa Butler is joined by John Molinaro of CPL.ca and Joshua Kloke of The Athletic to talk about Canada’s roster challenges, strengths and what they need to do to grab one of two spots for Tokyo 6:43

Canada started looking to put balls behind the Haiti defence, with a pair of attacks denied by the offside flag late in the first half. At the other end, Pantemis did not have to make a save in the first 45 minutes.

A Buchanan free kick from a dangerous position just outside the penalty box went high in the 49th minute.

Haiti had a brief spurt of offence and Pantemis, finally called into action, had to be sharp to deny Dutherson Clerveaux in the 56th minute.

Jerome stopped Buchanan’s header in the 62nd minute off a dangerous free kick from Michael Baldisimo. At the other end, Pantemis was almost caught out by Eliader Dorlus’s swerving shot from long range.

Haiti came close again in the 71st minute after a poor touch defensively but the shot went straight at Pantemis. The Canadian ‘keeper made his best save of the game a minute later to stop Clerveaux’s diving header.

Buchanan scored both goals in Friday’s win over El Salvador.

WATCH | Canada shuts out El Salvador:

Tajon Buchanan made an impressive international debut, scoring twice as Canada opened play at the CONCACAF men’s Olympic qualifying championship in Guadalajara, Mexico with a 2-0 win over El Salvador. 3:14

Haiti had a more chaotic start to the tournament in a 3-0 loss to Honduras the same day. It was forced to kick off with just 10 men on the pitch including an outfield player in goal after part of its delegation arrived late in Guadalajara, delaying some COVID-19 protocols. The team was able to get to full strength in the second half after tests came back negative.

Haiti had just five players on its bench Monday, with no backup ‘keepers.

Biello made two changes to his starting lineup with David Norman Jr., and Theo Bair coming in for Callum Montgomery and Tabla. Montgomery was injured in the first game against El Salvador and was replaced by Norman at halftime.

The tournament is open to players born after Jan. 1, 1997. Teams that make it to the Olympics can field up to three overage players.

CONCACAF reported prior to Monday’s game that two members of its officials pool had tested positive for COVID-19 and were self-isolating. Costa Rica’s Juan Gabriel Calderon took charge of Canada’s match.

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Canadian men open Olympic soccer qualifier with win over El Salvador

Sparked by Tajon Buchanan’s two early goals, Canada opened play at the CONCACAF Men’s Olympic Qualifying Championship with an impressive 2-0 win over El Salvador on Friday.

While there were a few shaky moments at the back, the Canadian under-24 side looked good against a physical El Salvador side. Canada moved the ball quickly and showed teeth in attack.

The performance was all the more commendable given eight of Canada’s starters are with MLS clubs and so just starting their pre-season.

“I’m happy with the results,” said Canada coach Mauro Biello. “It was tough for the boys in terms of the fitness of this group. But I’m very proud of the way they fought, the way they were able to hurt the other team in moments, and closed out the game.

“What I said to them is we’re going to grow throughout this tournament. It’s normal. Some players had met for the first time.”

WATCH | Canada shuts out El Salvador:

Tajon Buchanan made an impressive international debut, scoring twice as Canada opened play at the CONCACAF men’s Olympic qualifying championship in Guadalajara, Mexico with a 2-0 win over El Salvador. 3:14

The eight-country tournament will decide which two teams represent the region, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean, at the Tokyo Olympics. The qualifier was originally scheduled for last March but was postponed due to the pandemic.

The Canadian men last made it to the Olympics in 1984 in Los Angeles where they lost to Brazil in a penalty shootout in the quarter-finals.

Canada continues Group B play against Haiti on Monday and Honduras next Wednesday. Group A opened play Thursday with the U.S. defeating Costa Rica 1-0 and Mexico beating the Dominican Republic 4-1.

The top two in each group advance to the semifinals with the winners booking their tickets to Tokyo.

Buchanan, who is entering his third season with the New England Revolution, made his presence felt early. A live wire blessed with pace and a deep bag of tricks, he turned heads in MLS last year when he led all Canadians with 23 regular-season appearances — some at fullback.

“Everybody will see the two goals but coaches will look at the work that he does,” said Biello. “The way he tracked back in the 90th minute, for me, was quite impressive.

“He’s a player that’s just growing. He had a good season last year in New England, came into camp with the men’s [senior] team in January [and] showed his qualities. And now today he was focused to show what he could do and he was able to get those two great goals. And again the work that he puts in for the team is excellent.”

WATCH | Canada’s path to Tokyo:

Signa Butler is joined by John Molinaro of CPL.ca and Joshua Kloke of The Athletic to talk about Canada’s roster challenges, strengths and what they need to do to grab one of two spots for Tokyo 6:43

The 22-year-old winger from Brampton, Ont., opened the scoring in the 17th minute, capping a rapid-fire attack that saw Ballou Tabla find Buchanan in space near the edge of the El Salvador penalty box. The speedy Buchanan beat defender Kevin Menjivar and slotted his left-footed shot from a tight angle through goalkeeper Mario Gonzalez’s legs.

Buchanan scored again four minutes later, this time with a rocket of a shot through traffic. A Canadian free kick landed at the feet of Derek Cornelius in the El Salvador penalty box and the Canada captain calmly laid the ball back to Buchanan, who hammered it home with his right foot from just outside the box.

Buchanan, named Canada Soccer’s Youth International Player of the Year in 2020, celebrated with an equally impressive double-somersault. A kneeling Cornelius then mimed giving him a shoeshine.

Buchanan is the 12th Canadian to score twice in a CONCACAF men’s Olympic qualifier — and the first since Tosaint Ricketts in 2008.

Buchanan played provider in the 51st minute, beating a defender down the flank and the bending a perfect ball to Tabla in front of goal. But Gonzalez got his body in front of the shot.

It was 30 degrees Celsius at kickoff at the 55,000-capacity Jalisco Stadium, which was empty due to the pandemic. The Canadians also had to deal with the altitude (1,550 metres).

Honduras blanked Haiti in the earlier game. Haiti started with 10 men and an outfield player in goal because part of its delegation arrived in Guadalajara late, impacting the timing of COVID-19 testing. The team got reinforcements during the match, including a goalkeeper, after tests came back negative.

Adding to Haiti’s woes, defender Djimy Alexis was sent off in stoppage time for a second yellow card.

Biello’s starting 11 included five players who had seen action with the senior side: goalkeeper James Pantemis, defenders Zachary Brault-Guillard, Marcus Godinho and Cornelius and forwards Charles-Andreas Brym and Tabla.

The 23-year-old Cornelius has the most senior caps at 13. Pantemis and Buchanan are uncapped but have both spent time with the senior team.

Pantemis has a good game, equal to everything thrown at him. Biello called his team’s defensive efforts “a hell of a shift.”

8 MLS players in starting XI

Canada’s starting 11 featured the eight MLS players — three each from Montreal and Vancouver and one apiece from Minnesota and New England. Of the other three, one was from the USL and two from Europe.

There were six yellow cards in the game, three apiece.

Only players born in 1997 or later are eligible for Olympic qualifying (the same age limit was kept despite the qualifying tournament’s one-year delay). Countries that make it to the Olympics are allowed up to three overage players.

Canada made two late changes to its roster Friday morning.

Citing medical reasons, Canada replaced defender Thomas Meilleur-Giguere (Pacific FC, CPL) and forward Kris Twardek (Jagiellonia, Poland) with Cavalry FC defender/winger Mo Farsi and York United FC defender Diyaeddine Abzi.

While Canada Soccer did not specify the medical issues, Meilleur-Giguere said he had torn his medial collateral ligament the day before the match.

“Life is so unfair sometimes, worked so hard for that moment and boom,” he wrote in a social media post.

The departures leave Canada short at centre back, a problem that was exacerbated when Callum Montgomery left the game with an injury.

Farsi, named Best Canadian U-21 Player of the Year in the CPL in 2020, came off the bench in the 85th minute.

Mexico, which has won the last two CONCACAF qualifiers, and Honduras represented the region at the last two Olympics. Honduras was fourth at the 2016 Rio Games while Mexico defeated Brazil 2-1 to win gold in 2012 in London.

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Canadian men’s soccer team battling more than tough opposition at Olympic qualifier

Canada will be battling more than El Salvador on Friday when it opens play at the CONCACAF Men’s Olympic Qualifying Championship in Guadalajara.

Heat (the forecast for the 4 p.m. local time kickoff calls for a temperature of 29 C), altitude (1,550 metres), inactivity (14 of Canada’s 20-man roster play in North America and so are coming from out of season) and unfamiliarity (the Mexico tournament marks the first exclusive get-together for this under-23 team) will likely all come into play at Jalisco Stadium.

But for Canada Soccer and men’s supremo John Herdman, who has tasked the Olympic team to assistant Mauro Biello while he looks after the senior side in World Cup qualifying, it’s a chance to test Canada’s depth and processes.

Since taking over the men’s national team in January 2018, Herdman has brought plenty of young talent into camp to ensure everyone is on the same page.

Canada looking to end Olympic dearth 

“This is an opportunity for a lot of young players here to showcase themselves but at the same time, in terms of the program, everything’s aligned from the men’s national team all the way to our U-15 program,” Biello told a virtual news conference Thursday.

“So a lot of these players that have had some experience graduating through the youth teams and now into the U-23s in our environments are now ready.”

Ten of Canada’s 20 players have national team experience.

Derek Cornelius (13 caps), Marcus Godinho (5), Zachary Brault-Guillard (4), Charles-Andreas Brym (3), Theo Bair (2), Zorhan Bassong (2), Ballou Tabla (2) and Kris Twardek (1) have all played for the senior side while the uncapped Tajon Buchanan and James Pantemis have been called into at least one senior camp.

Herdman and Biello joined forces in guiding a young Canadian side that turned heads at the prestigious Toulon youth tournament in France in May-June 2018.

Cornelius, Pantemis, Aidan Daniels and forward Theo Bair were on that Toulon team.

Now they are looking to help the Canadian men return to the Olympics for the first time since the 1984 Games in Los Angeles, where Canada lost to Brazil in a penalty shootout in the quarter-finals.

Finding the ‘rhythm’

“We’re sure that the quality is there. We’re sure that we have the talent,” said Cornelius, a 23-year-old defender with the Vancouver Whitecaps. “And it’s just about getting the small things right so that we can really show it on the pitch.”

The eight-team Olympic qualifier was originally scheduled for last March but was postponed due to the pandemic. It will send two teams from the region, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean, to the Summer Olympics.

Only players born in 1997 or later are eligible for Olympic qualifying (the same age limit was kept despite the qualifying tournament’s one-year delay). Countries that make it to the Olympics are allowed up to three overage players.

After facing El Salvador, Canada continues Group B play against Haiti on Monday and Honduras next Wednesday. Group A, which opened the tournament Thursday, consists of Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and the U.S.

The top two in each group advance to the semifinals with the winners booking their tickets to Tokyo.

Mexico, which has won the last two CONCACAF qualifiers, and Honduras represented the region at the last two Olympics. Honduras was fourth at the 2016 Rio Games while Mexico defeated Brazil 2-1 to win gold in 2012 in London.

Biello calls El Salvador a possession-based technical team that is organized defensively. It’s also a team that has been together three times already, he noted.

“Obviously my main concern is getting that rhythm,” Biello said of his squad. “A lot of these players haven’t played, whether it’s off-season, whether it’s pre-season.”

Plenty to play for

“This is not going to happen perfectly on the first go,” added Cornelius. “I’m just looking to improve and get the team to be better and better as we go along in the tournament.”

With World Cup qualifiers and the Gold Cup on deck this year, the Canadian men have plenty to play for.

Canada and El Salvador tied 0-0 when they met at the 2012 Olympic qualifying tournament. Canada won 4-2 in 1996.

Biello was unable to summon Toronto FC young talent after the MLS team went into a training camp lockdown earlier this month due to an outbreak of COVID-19.

El Salvador forwards Joshua Perez and Enrico Hernandez are both based in Europe, with Spain’s UD Ibiza Spain and the Netherlands’ Vitesse, respectively.

Canada Olympic Team

Goalkeepers: Sebastian Breza, Bologna (Italy); Matthew Nogueira, CS Maritimo (Portugal); James Pantemis, CF Montreal (MLS).

Defenders: Zorhan Bassong, CF Montreal (MLS); Zachary Brault-Guillard, CF Montreal (MLS); Derek Cornelius, Vancouver Whitecaps (MLS); Marcus Godinho, FSV Zwickau (Germany); Thomas Meilleur-Giguere, Pacific FC (CPL); Callum Montgomery, Minnesota United FC (MLS).

Midfielders: Michael Baldisimo, Vancouver Whitecaps (MLS); Aidan Daniels, Oklahoma City Energy FC (USL Championship); Lucas Dias, Sporting Lisbon (Portugal); Patrick Metcalfe, Vancouver Whitecaps (MLS); David Norman, Cavalry FC (CPL) Ryan Raposo, Vancouver Whitecaps (MLS).

Forwards: Theo Bair, Vancouver Whitecaps (MLS); Charles-Andreas Brym, Royal Excel Mouscron (Belgium); Tajon Buchanan, New England Revolution (MLS); Ballou Tabla, CF Montreal (MLS); Kris Twardek, Jagiellonia (Poland).

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