March 1st, 2024

Canada Soccer calls up 15-year-old defender for CONCACAF U-20 men’s qualifiers

By Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press on February 12, 2024.

Centre back Lazar Stefanovic is shown in action for Toronto FC 2 on Sept. 15, 2023, in MLS Next Pro play against New York City FC 2 in Jamaica, N.Y. The 17-year-old has been named to Canada’s under-20 team for CONCACAF Under-20 Championship Qualifiers later this month in Trinidad and Tobago. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Canada Soccer-Lucas Kschischang **MANDATORY CREDIT**

Just 15, defender Sergei Kozlovskiy is already making a mark.

Kozlovskiy represented Canada at the CONCACAF U-15 Boys Championship last August in the Dominican Republic and took part in a Canadian under-17 camp in September in Indonesia.

A member of CF Montreal’s U-17 side, Kozlovskiy was invited to the first team’s camp in Tucson, Ariz., and started Montreal’s first pre-season game at centre back against Minnesota United on Jan. 27.

Now Kozlovskiy, who turns 16 in June, has been called up by Canada for CONCACAF Under-20 Championship Qualifiers later this month in Trinidad and Tobago.

“He’s always been ahead of the curve in his age group,” said Andrew Olivieri, Canada Soccer’s men’s national youth Excel director and under-20 coach. “He did quite well for the under-15s. His maturity, his resilience is excellent, which is why we’re very comfortable bringing him in with an older group.

“I’d say if he’s made that additional jump to this squad it’s because of how he’s done over the last month. He’s gone into pre-season with CF Montreal’s first team, did quite well, got some good minutes there.”

CONCACAF U-20 qualifying runs Feb. 23 to March 2, across five venues in Central America and the Caribbean. Twenty-seven teams have been split into three groups of five and three groups of four with the group winners advancing to the main CONCACAF tournament this summer.

Canada has been drawn in Group D with Dominica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago, playing games at Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad.

The Canadian roster also includes centre back Lazar Stefanovic, who has already appeared for the Toronto FC first team, and midfielder Alessandro Biello, son of interim Canadian national team coach Mauro Biello.

Olivieri also called up Colorado Rapids rookie forward Kimani Stewart-Baynes, the fourth overall pick in the 2024 MLS SuperDraft. The 19-year-old from Toronto was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year after recording three goals and seven assists in his only season at the University of Maryland.

The Canada roster includes players with clubs in Croatia, England, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico and the Netherlands as well as Canada and the U.S.

Stefanovic is one of four players in the Toronto FC organization. There are three players from the CF Montreal system and one from the Vancouver Whitecaps reserve team.

Midfielder Jesse Costa, who is in VFL Wolfsburg’s system in Germany, has chosen to play for Canada over Portugal.

The Canadian Premier League is represented by Forge FC’s Kevaughn Tavernier and Vancouver FC’s James Cameron.

Olivieri said he elected not to call up NCAA players and left some players off the roster because they were out of season. Cameron was an exception after playing “so many significant minutes” for Vancouver last year, he added.

“There is quite a deep, wider squad with this group,” said Olivieri.

Some were unavailable with the games not falling during a FIFA international window. Luc de Fougerolles, an 18-year-old defender who has already won one senior cap for Canada, is eligible for the U20 team but is part of Fulham’s first team squad.

The Canadians, who arrive in Trinidad on Friday, open Feb. 23 against Dominica before facing St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Feb. 25 and Trinidad and Tobago on Feb. 27.

The U.S., Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic have received byes into the CONCACAF main tournament. The four semifinalists qualify for the 2025 FIFA Men’s U-20 World Cup in Chile.

Olivieri says having to qualify for the main CONCACAF U20 tournament is a challenge in that each game is virtually a must-win situation. But it also gives the Canada squad time together, something the teams they will be facing have already had.

And he pointed to Trinidad as perhaps the toughest test in qualifying.

“They’re right around the same ranking as us, at the under-20 level. We’re playing at their home, in their country, under their environment so that’s an additional challenge.”

Canada has taken part in 24 of the 28 CONCACAF U-20 Championships to date, winning the tournament in 1986 and 1996. In 2022 in Honduras, the Canadians made it to the round of 16 where they lost to Guatemala in a penalty shootout.

But Canada has not taken part in the FIFA U-20 World Cup since 2007 when it hosted the event. Canada failed to advance to the knockout stage after losing all three group games.

Canada Roster

Goalkeeper: Nathaniel Abraham, Toronto FC II (MLS Next Pro); Ivan Pavela, NK Lokomotiva Zagreb (Croatia); Gregoire Swiderski, Girondins Bordeaux (France).

Defenders: James Cameron, Vancouver FC (CPL); Christian Greco-Taylor, unattached; Sergei Kozlovskiy, CF Montreal academy; Adam Pearlman, Toronto FC II (MLS Next Pro); Theo Rigopoulos, Toronto FC academy; Ethan Schilte-Brown, Kilmarnock (Scotland); Lazar Stefanovic, Toronto FC II (MLS Next Pro).

Midfielders: Jeevan Badwal, Whitecaps FC2 (MLS Next Pro); Alessandro Biello, CF Montreal academy; Tiago Codinha, Twente Enschede (Netherlands); Jesse Costa, VFL Wolfsburg (Germany); Myles Morgan, unattached; Matteo Schiavoni, CF Montreal academy.

Forwards: Oumar Diallo, Inter Milan (Italy); Kimani Stewart-Baynes, Colorado Rapids (MLS); Kevaughn Tavernier, Forge FC (CPL); Tavio Ciccarelli, Sheffield United (England); Santiago Lopez, Pumas UNAM (Mexico).

Head Coach: Andrew Olivieri.

Follow @NeilMDavidson on X platform, formerly known as Twitter

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 12, 2024

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