‘New Guard’ of Canada lead men’s national soccer team to Copa América

Mar 27, 2024 | Sports

Canada’s men’s national team qualified for its first-ever Copa América off the backs of their new age of talent.

Les Rouges defeated a stingy Trinidad and Tobago side 2-0, with a goal from striker Cyle Larin early in the second half before a late thunderbolt from young winger Jacob Shaffelburg sealed the victory.

Interim head coach Mauro Biello chose a young squad for the game, leaving out veterans like goalkeeper Milan Borjan, defender Steven Vitoria and attacker Junior Hoilett.

Indeed, after midfielder Jonathan Osorio had to pull out of the squad due to injury, there was not a single player among the Canadians over 29.

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Biello, who had been an assistant coach with the men’s national team since 2018 before taking the interim role with John Herdman’s departure to Toronto FC, said before the match that he felt a lack of hunger in the program.

This lack of hunger was felt in the CONCACAF Nations League quarter-final second leg against Jamaica, where Canada let a two-goal lead on aggregate slip in 15 minutes.

That loss knocked the men’s national team out of the Nations League. It forced them into a one-game playoff for Copa América qualification, which they would’ve received automatically as Nations League semi-finalists.

Biello said after picking the squad he felt the newer faces had stepped up and deserved the call over the veterans, even ones like Borjan who have given decades of effort to the program.

“I think the idea behind this selection is to put the best possible squad in place to get the performance we want,” he said.

Without the old leadership, the captain’s armband was handed to FC Porto midfielder Stephen Eustaquio, who was all business leading up to the game.

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“There’s no room for disappointment,” Eustaquio said in a media conference before the game. “There’s just room for improvement, and we’re going to qualify tomorrow.”

And qualify they did.

The 27-year-old captain compared the mindset heading into Saturday’s game to the attitude the team had during its 2022 World Cup qualification run.

“That’s the way we made it to the World Cup,” Eustaquio said. “We always had that desire to be first, and I think we lacked that in the last game.”

Biello said the group was ready for Trinidad and Tobago to sit back and play the way they did but was happy with his team’s perseverance to break them down.

“We knew that they were gonna close space, they were gonna sit in a low block, they were gonna make it difficult,” he said. “What I was most proud of is that we stayed on task.

“In the end, we were able to break them down and score the first one, and then get the second one to close it off,” Biello said.

Canada will face reigning World Cup and Copa América champions Argentina, Peru and Chile in the group stage at the Copa América in June.

The team will also travel to Rotterdam to play the Netherlands in a friendly before the tournament.

Shaffelburg said the feeling of being able to go to Copa América is “unbelievable.”


“We’re beyond excited, I think,” the Nova Scotian winger said after the game. “I haven’t been with the team a lot, but just the feels that I’ve got from this week, we’re buzzed to be going there and it’s gonna be a lot of fun.”

Larin said the group is excited to face tough competition at a big tournament like Copa América.

“We’re very excited to play against top-level teams, top-level guys, it’s only gonna make us better,” he said. “We’re going to have to step our level up against these great players and great teams.”