Canada's Under-20 World Cup dream is over.
Felled 3-0 by mighty Mexico in a CONCACAF U-30 Championship quarterfinal match Tuesday night, Canada will not be one of four regional representatives in the upcoming FIFA U-20 World Cup in Colombia.
The young Canucks simply could not handle the superior Mexican possession game, trying fruitlessly to play a counter-attack style that invited Mexico to attack in waves for much of the match.
The Canadians made their intentions clear from the outset, lining up in a deep-lying defensive formation. Canada were content with conceding possession to their opponent, allowing the Mexicans to knock the ball around with ease in the middle third of the pitch. Canada's starting XI included Vancouver Whitecaps FC winger Russell Teibert, Whitecaps FC Residency defender Derrick Bassi, and Residency graduate Ethan Gage.
For the first quarter-hour, Canada kept Mexico from registering any real chances on former Residency goalkeeper Julien Latendresse-Lévesque. The Canuck netminder was first tested in the 18th minute, when a Mexican attacker got behind the Canadian defense and tried to slide a low shot into the goal. Latendresse-Lévesque was equal to the task, making a sliding save to keep the match scoreless.
Two minutes later, the Canadian ‘keeper would be called upon again, this time making a fine one-handed save to keep a driven header out of the top corner of his net. Latendresse-Lévesque was the busiest man on the pitch in the first half of play, picking off multiple Mexican crosses and shots with authority.
Despite how commanding the Canadian goalkeeper had played for the opening half hour, it was his error that saw Mexico finally grab the opening goal of the match. In the 33rd minute of play, Mexican right back Kristian Álvarez carried the ball a few steps across the center line and sent a searching cross into the Canadian penalty area. Expecting the cross to curl towards the onrushing Mexican attackers, Latendresse-Lévesque took a couple of steps forward, leaving him in no man’s land when the ball simply floated over his head and into the wide-open net.
Mexico could only convert once in the first 45 minutes, however, leaving the door open for a Canadian comeback that ultimately never happened.
Canada started the second half in a bit more of an offensive stance, looking to take advantage of the fact that they were only a goal down after having given up the lion’s share of possession and chances.
The game got more physical as the Canadians tried to push forward, with referee Mark Geiger letting a lot of hard tackles go uncalled. The Canucks started to be more cohesive in the middle of the park, especially after Jonathan Osorio entered the match just before the hour mark.
With the game opening up, Canada looked to even the score, throwing numbers forward at every opportunity. Despite their newfound confidence in possession, the Canucks could not break through in the final third, and in the 72nd minute a Mexican counterattack sealed the victory for El Tri.
Diego de Buen doubled the lead with a highlight-reel goal, volleying a Canadian clearance into Latendresse-Lévesque's net from 35 yards out. Toronto FC’s Matt Stinson had lobbed the ball out of the Canadian penalty area, which de Buen latched on to in full stride, firing a screamer into the goal.
Even with the Mexicans up by two, Canada continued to push forward to no avail. With the game out of reach and in injury time, Mexico rubbed salt in the Canadian wounds through substitute Jorge Mora, who fired the third goal to Latendresse-Lévesque’s right.
The result sees Mexico through to the semifinals and, more importantly, through to the U-20 World Cup. For Canada, the result is a bitter pill to swallow for a program that is seemingly on the upswing, especially in light of the Canadian U-17's having advanced to their World Cup a few weeks ago.