As the Canadian under-23 men’s team departs Mexico and the Concacaf Olympic qualifying tournament, coach Mauro Biello and the senior men’s team coaching staff will have a lot to chew on. Canada bowed out of the tournament on Sunday, losing to Mexico 2-0 in a do-or-die semifinal at Estadio Jalisco in Guadalajara. Mexico will join Honduras, winner of the other semifinal, at this summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo. It was Canada’s fourth-straight Olympic qualifying tournament that ended at the semifinal stage, and third edition in a row facing Mexico in the deciding game. Still, it was a positive tournament for the Canadians assembled hastily in a world still ruled by COVID-19 restrictions and protocols. Players such as Tajon Buchanan, Cavalry FC’s David Norman Jr., James Pantemis, and Michael Baldisimo gained valuable experience in Canada kits, showing why they deserve a chance for more in the future. Here’s what we learned from Canada’s Olympic qualifying tournament.

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Tajon Buchanan is ready for CanMNT​

Could a 22-year-old Tajon Buchanan force his way into the Canadian senior team's most impressive and deepest position? Buchanan brought swagger to the Canadian red-and-white – starting with a brace against El Salvador – despite having never played for the national team before at any level. Even against Honduras and Mexico, Buchanan forced himself forward and into difficult positions and looked to lead a sometimes flat attack. It was a brilliant performance from the New England Revolution fullback who adopted to a winger role to great effect and should give John Herdman some pause for the next senior national team camp in June. Perhaps Buchanan could relieve Junior Hoilett up the right wing, with Alphonso Davies occupying the left? Buchanan offers similar versatility to Davies, too, being capable of sliding up and down from winger to fullback with ease.

Derek Cornelius is underrated​

My lone prediction for Canada’s Olympic qualifying campaign, as heard on the Newsroom podcast, was Derek Cornelius would come away with a higher stock. The 23-year-old Ajax, Ont., native sported 13 caps with the senior side going to Mexico – and that experience shined with Canada's younger squad. Cornelius carried a quiet confidence, rarely put a foot wrong, and formed a solid partnership with Cavalry FC’s David Norman Jr. Oh, and he scored a goal against Honduras and produced the side’s only shots of that game, with a fitness issue leaving him out of the semifinal tilt with Mexico. While Canada held its own in the semis, you can't help but wonder what difference Cornelius could have made in that five-at-the-back system, likely replacing Marcus Godinho on the left side.

Every chance counts... Especially in Concacaf​

Yes, it’s tournament football and it’s Concacaf, so this may seem obvious, but the margins are awfully thin in these competitions. Canada faced the mighty Mexico side after finishing a goal behind Honduras, Group B winners, who played a less-impressive United States side in the other semifinal (spoiler alert: Honduras won). Had Biello’s side finished top of their group, they’d face an American side much more on their level. The difference between first and second was Canada’s second game against Haiti when there were a fair number of chances that could have been converted – especially in the first half – which could have given them three points. Of course Honduras had a bit of fortune themselves – starting against an severely undermanned Haitian side in their group stage opener -- Haiti was missing nearly half their squad due to COVID-19 protocols and was forced to play an outfield player in goal, which allowed for a comfortable 3-0 win. This is all to say the margins were slim and Canada was competitive enough to make it so.

Canada is much deeper than expected​

Mauro Biello’s side went into halftime scoreless against Mexico on Sunday against all odds. Defenders such as Callum Montgomery and Norman Jr. shined under the pressure. So did midfielders Michael Baldisimo and Patrick Metcalfe (who has only a dozen professional games to his name). Lucas Diaz, the attack-minded midfielder that sat further up the pitch, is an 18-year-old with Sporting in Portugal and no previous experience with Canada’s youth national team. Despite the loss, Sunday’s result was a stark reminder to Canadian soccer fans that this Olympic qualifying group is the first batch of depth pieces for the senior side.

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