TORONTO — Canada soccer coach John Herdman will get a firsthand look at the future of the men’s program later this month when he and assistant coach Mauro Biello take charge of a young Canadian side at the Festival International Espoirs in France.
Better known as the Toulon Tournament, the competition has seen the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Cristiano Ronaldo, Thierry Henry, Jean-Pierre Papin, Cafu, Alan Shearer and Frank Lampard since its inception in 1967.
This year’s tournament, which runs May 26 to June 9, marks Canada’s first participation.
“This is one of the top youth tournaments internationally,” Herdman said in an interview.
“For the young players, this is exactly what international football should be about — these tough opportunities to test yourself but also to have a springboard, an opportunity to stand out in a tournament against some big teams,” he added,
The Canadians, a mixture of players born from 1997 to 2000, are in Group C with Portugal, Turkey and Japan.
Other countries competing are England, China, Mexico and Qatar in Group A and France, South Korea, Scotland and Togo in Group B.
The Canadian players born in 1999 or later, will be eligible for the next CONCACAF Under-20 Championship, which serves as qualifiers for the FIFA U-20 World Cup Poland 2019. All 20 players are also eligible for Olympic qualifying for Tokyo 2020.
The Canadian roster includes newcomer Alessandro Busti, a 17-year old goalkeeper in the Juventus system.
Born in Toronto to Canadian parents, Busti moved to Italy at a young age.
“Not many Canadians can actually say they’ve been at Juventus, trained at Juventus and been part of their ‘Primavera,’ which is pretty much their reserve team, their U19s,” said Herdman. “He’s trained with the first team, when there have been injuries, so he’s been around the likes of (goalkeeper Gianluigi) Buffon and some of the greats that are currently there.”
Busti will work with goalkeeping coach Paul Dolan at Toulon. Herdman and Biello, the former Montreal Impact coach, will serve as co-coaches at the tournament.
Forward Liam Millar, who is part of Liverpool’s under-23 team, made his senior debut in Herdman’s first game at the men’s helm — a 1-0 win over New Zealand in March. Midfielder Kris Twardek, who is with England’s Millwall, won his first cap last October in a friendly against El Salvador.
Defender Derek Cornelius and goalkeeper James Pantemis had their first call-ups in the past year.
Busti is one of eight players on the roster attached to professional clubs in six different European countries.
Twelve players are attached to the three Canadian MLS clubs.
Theo Bair, David Norman, Jr., and Jake Ruby are with Vancouver, Aidan Daniels, Julian Dunn, and Noble Okello are with Toronto, and Pantemis, Clement Bayiha, Mathieu Choiniere and Daniel Kinumbe with Montreal.
Vancouver’s Noah Verhoeven is currently on loan to Fresno FC while Montreal’s Shamit Shome is with Ottawa Fury FC.
Goalkeepers: James Pantemis, Montreal Impact; Alessandro Busti, Juventus (Italy).
Defenders: Jake Ruby, Vancouver Whitecaps FC Residency; Daniel Kinumbe, Montreal Impact academy; Kosovar Sadiki, NK Lokomotiva Zagreb (Croatia); Derek Cornelius, FK Javor Ivanjica (Serbia); Julian Dunn, Toronto FC 2; Clement Bayiha, Montreal Impact academy; Emile Legault, AJ Auxerre (France).
Midfielders: Matthew Roberts, Swansea U-18 (Wales/England); Kris Twardek, Millwall FC (England); Mathieu Choiniere, Montreal Impact academy; Aidan Daniels, Toronto FC 2; David Norman, Vancouver Whitecaps; Noah Verhoeven, Fresno FC (USL); Noble Okello, Toronto FC 2; Shamit Shome, Montreal Impact.
Forwards: Jonathan David, KAA Gent II (Belgium); Liam Millar, Liverpool (England); Theo Bair, Vancouver Whitecaps FC Residency.