The Canadian women’s team already booked its ticket to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, but can the men’s under-23 side do the same? Canada is set to play in the 2020 Concacaf Men's Olympic Qualifying Championship after being drawn with El Salvador, Haiti, and Honduras. Canada's provisional 50-man squad, which was released last week, will be pared down to 20 players on Wednesday. Les Rouges begin group stage play at the Concacaf tournament on March 21 in Guadalajara, Mexico. A top-two finish in the group would pit Canada against, in all likelihood, Mexico or the United States in the semifinals with a spot in this summer’s Tokyo Games at stake – only the two finalists of the Concacaf competition earn Olympic berths. Players must be born on or after Jan. 1, 1997 to be eligible for this crucial tournament, which could see Canada return to the Olympic stage for the first time since 1984. A total of nine current CPLers made coach Mauro Biello's provisional list of 50 squad players. Here's a breakdown of each player and their chances of representing Canada at the Olympic qualifiers. RELATED READING: Canadian men’s team to face Honduras in Concacaf Olympic qualifiers
Diyaeddine Abzi, Left Fullback (York9 FC)

Let’s start with the surest of sure choices. Abzi, 20, excelled in a tough position – and in a tough environment – with the Nine Stripes in 2019. The Best Under-21 Player of the Year nominee was a key cog that kept the motor running for Y9 through it all, providing much-needed width for the midfield, excellent balls into the forwards and standout defensive performances as a fullback. The Quebecer was in the top 10 per cent of CPL defenders in just about every "per 90 minutes" passing and defending category, including key passes, line-breaking passes, interceptions, blocked shots, and successful passes. Abzi’s potential could very well exceed many on this list, too, as a technical fullback with speed and great defensive ability, something Biello is sure to recognize come the cutoff later this month.
Terran Campbell, Striker (Pacific FC)

Campbell, another Best Under-21 Player nominee, shares a similar story to Abzi: an outsider in the Canadian soccer wilderness before the season, to being a virtual lock for an Olympic qualifying campaign. The 21-year-old also offers a promising option for Biello to use. A barrel-chested-yet-versatile striker, he played more than 80 minutes in 16 of 18 games in 2019, and collected a staggering 2,436 minutes as an under-21 player (the most of any CPLer in that age bracket). Campbell was a workhorse, and his 11 goals show it. Using his strength and positional awareness, the Burnaby native was one of the hardest attackers to mark in a league designed to give young players a platform.
Easton Ongaro, Striker (FC Edmonton)

Let’s toss another physically impressive striker in there, shall we? The 21-year-old has all the physical acumen you could want in a young striker, who put together an impressive return of 10 goals in 21 appearances last season. His six-foot-six frame is waiting to be shaped into whatever Biello wants. Ongaro, despite an unbelievable return as a young player, wouldn’t be a starter on this Olympics qualifying team. He falls down the depth chart on reputation alone – that’s no question. But would Biello and senior team coach John Herdman see this tournament as a chance to get to know one of Canada’s most promising young strikers? RELATED READING: How do Canada’s men qualify for 2020 Tokyo Olympics? Here’s a 5-step plan
Yohan Le Bourhis, Defender (Valour FC)

Le Bourhis will turn 20 on March 9 and, while he's not the youngest on this list, he is the most inexperienced. A product of the Montreal Impact academy, he only has a few appearances for A.S. Blainville and Valour to his credit. The athletic centre-back does have a handful of appearances with Canadian youth teams, but it still seems like a stretch to go with a youngster with such limited experience, especially with other centre-back options knocking at the door.
Thomas Meilleur-Giguère, Defender (Pacific FC)

Meilleur-Giguère earned his preliminary roster spot thanks to his time with the Ottawa Fury last season, starting all but four of the club's 38 matches. Impressive physically, with veteran consistency to boot, he signed with Pacific in the off-season. Consider Meilleur-Giguère a certain choice among a group of underwhelming centre-back prospects. The extensive professional experience could make him a starter, too.
Daniel Kinumbe, Left Fullback (Halifax Wanderers)

Those paying attention this off-season will identify Kinumbe as Halifax’s Montreal Impact-trained young fullback. With just a handful of professional appearances to his name, the 20-year-old’s resume is stacked with previous youth international experience – starting at age 15. Kinumbe has been involved in seven youth camps, including one with Herdman in the summer of 2018, the last time Canada’s under-23s convened. He has the experience and he’s arriving at just the right time, going from fringe Impact squad option to starting fullback with HFX. As a quick fullback, he certainly has a decent shot. Does he start at left-back or does Abzi?
Kadin Chung, Right Fullback (Pacific FC)

Alright, enough with the left fullbacks. Let’s shift to the right. Chung, 21, was Pacific FC’s first-ever signing last Fall when he joined from German side FC Kaiserslautern II. Biello had all of last season to watch one of the country's top young defenders ply his trade, and the results were promising. Chung featured 24 times, with one goal as a quick right-back for the Tridents – good on the overlap, and more than capable of snuffing out attacks that drifted to his side. His only concern is Montreal Impact’s Zachary Brault-Guillard, another top right fullback who just recently turned 21. Could ZBG and Chung both make this team?
Noah Verhoeven, Midfielder (Pacific FC)

Verhoeven arrives after accumulating 1,850 minutes as a 21-year-old in the Vancouver Island’s club’s first year. Same as Kinumbe, the midfielder has a relationship with Herdman and Biello after attending the same 2018 camp, and he also earned a training invite with the Gold Cup squad last summer. Verhoeven’s stars are aligning as he made the provisional cutoff. Now two full professional seasons into a career (after representing USL’s Fresno FC), his abilities have grown at light speed – especially on the defensive end.
James Pantemis, Goalkeeper (Valour FC)

The most recent CPL addition on this list, Pantemis joined Valour on loan from Montreal Impact a week ago. He's one of five goalkeepers on the 50-man provisional roster, and it's hard to see him not being part of the final squad. He's the only one of the five to have attended a senior men's national team camp (which he's done five times), and so he's probably the frontrunner to be this team's starting keeper. He may have competition from Sebastian Breza, currently playing in Italy's Serie C for Potenza, as well as Minnesota United's recent seventh overall MLS SuperDraft pick, Dayne St. Clair. Still, Pantemis' familiarity with Canada Soccer and his additional experience (he's the oldest of the group, too) means he's a lock to at least make the squad, and probably to start in goal.

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