Official supplier to the U20 squad - The Province


Seven of 20 players named to team have links to Vancouver program

BY MARC WEBER

Toronto beat Vancouver to Major League Soccer, but the Whitecaps are winning the player development battle hands down.

Soccer Canada announced Monday the 20-man roster for next month's CONCACAF U20 championship in Trinidad and Tobago where four berths into the 2009 FIFA U20 World Cup in Egypt are on the line.

Seven of the 20 players in Tony Fonseca's side have a connection to the Whitecaps, while two come from Toronto FC.

"I think everyone within the organization should feel good about the representation," said Caps president Bob Lenarduzzi. "Certainly there are other factors -- some of those kids would have been there regardless -- but they certainly feel like this has helped them get to where they are."

It didn't take much prodding to glean positive residency reviews from practice Monday, where four of the Caps' youngsters were training with the senior squad.

"I'm not going to lie," said midfielder Philippe Davies of Longueil, Que. "After the U17s [two years ago] I didn't think I'd see the national team again, but coming to the residency, it helped me a lot."

Added Cochrane, Alta., midfielder Ethan Gage, who started the USL-1 championship final last season: "No, I don't think I'd be on the U20s if I didn't come here."

Thomas Niendorf's residency program produced early dividends last season when German Bundesliga side FC Energie Cottbus took three of his players on loan for their under-19 squad.

Two of them -- defender Adam Straith of Victoria, and forward Kyle Porter of Mississauga, Ont. -- were named to the U20 side, as were Caps' forwards Randy Edwini-Bonsu of Edmonton and Marcus Haber of Vancouver, and goalkeeper Julien Latendresse-Lévesque of Chambly, Que.

Haber was recently signed to the Caps' senior team, while the rest have come through the residency program.

Midfielder Brandon Bonifacio, a Vancouverite playing in the Netherlands, is the other local connection to the U20 squad.

Players leave Wednesday for Sunrise, Fla., where Fonseca -- a former Whitecaps' head coach -- will hold his final camp, preparing for the intense heat of Trinidad and playing friendlies against Jamaica (Feb. 27) and the U.S. (March 1). Caps forward Dever Orgill is part of the Jamaican side.

Canada's first game at the CONCACAF tournament is March 7 against the hosts. Costa Rica and Mexico are also in Group B, with the top two teams in each group advancing to the semifinals and also qualifying for the U20 World Cup.

"We have great aspirations and we're confident," said Fonseca. "We're taking 20 players and they're all starters -- they've all shown a lot of desire and passion.

"Our strength is our technical ability but it's useless if we don't combine that with great physicality. In the previous camps we've shown a little weakness in that aspect and hopefully the players have gone back to do the work necessary."

Haber is one of the holdovers from the last U20 World Cup, where Canada went scoreless on home soil. The country's best performance was a quarterfinal appearance in 2003.

"We have the sour taste of last time, especially being at home," Haber said. "It was embarrassing, disappointing, but we're all trying to learn from that and take the experience into qualifying.

"We've got a good group and I feel like we're all close and all peaking at the right time."

mweber@theprovince.com

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