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Canada's men's soccer face Mexico; one victory away from Rio Olympics

October 08, 2015 - 3:05 PM

Canada's under-22 men's soccer team is one victory away from the Rio Summer Games, and of erasing 31 years of Olympic futility.

There are bound to be butterflies.

"For sure we're nervous. . .we're 90 minutes away from qualifying for the Olympics, which is one of the greatest achievements for an athlete that can happen," said Canada's captain Samuel Piette. "If you're not nervous, I don't think it's normal.

"But the coaching staff has prepared well for this game, and when the referee blows the whistle to start the game, we just have to do what we have to do and whatever happens on the pitch we can't really control, we have to do our best."

The Canadians face mighty Mexico on Saturday in Salt Lake City, in the semifinals of the Olympic qualifying tournament, while the United States meets Honduras in the earlier semifinal. The winners of each earn automatic berths for Rio.

The two losing teams will have another shot at Rio. They'll meet in the third-place match on Tuesday, and the winner moves on to face Colombia in a home and away series.

"We're excited, also nervous," said Michael Petrasso. "I think it's more nerves because it is one of our biggest games (of our careers), the qualifier for the Olympics, but I think we're focused, I think we've shown we've played well in some games, the coaching staff has talked to us and calmed us down.

"It's good to have a little bit of nerves, it's good to have excited nerves. The boys are excited for the next game."

Canada hasn't played Olympic men's soccer since the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. The Canadians were one win away of making it to the 2012 Olympics, but their dream died in a 3-1 loss to eventual Olympic gold medallist Mexico in the CONCACAF semifinals.

They face a mammoth task in toppling Mexico, which sports a perfect 3-0-0 record at this tournament. Mexico has won all four CONCACAF youth tournaments since the London Olympics — with U20 and U17 victories in both 2013 and 2015.

Canada has a win, loss and a tie, opening the tournament with a 3-1 loss to the United States, before rebounding to defeat Panama 3-1 and then tying Cuba 2-2.

"In 90 minutes anything can happen," Petrasso said. "Our team, we're strong enough and we'll fight enough to hopefully get a result."

The tournament has had a gruelling schedule that has seen Canada travel from Kansas City to Denver to Salt Lake.

"It's a pretty tough tournament for everybody here, the first two games were in three days, then travel, so you lose a day of preparation," said Piette. "It's pretty tough to be honest because these are pretty intense games, physical games, so it's tough on our bodies, and we have to give it 100 per cent every game."

Saturday's game could be the toughest of all, because of the altitude. Salt Lake sits a lung-busting 4.450 feet above sea level.

"That's a disadvantage for us, because we know Mexico, they play at altitude every day," Piette said. "So that's pretty tough for us for sure."

Teams are missing key players because of the duration of the Oct. 1-13 tournament. The Canadians are without Orlando SC star rookie Cyle Larin. Manjrekar James, who plays his club soccer in Hungary, as well at Vancouver's Kianz Froese and Sam Adekugbe were also unavailable to Canada because of club commitments.

Piette is one of Canada's most experienced players in Salt Lake, with 19 caps for the Canadian senior men's team. Others on the roster with senior caps are Vancouver's Caleb Clarke (two) and Jackson Farmer (one), Toronto FC's Chris Mannella (three) and Quillan Roberts (one), and Montreal's Jeremy Gagnon-Lapare (five games).

News from © The Canadian Press, 2015
The Canadian Press

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