Veteran Ian Bennett, named MVP of the Major Arena Soccer League this season, leads Canada’s roster for the CONCACAF Futsal Championship next month in Guatemala.
The 14-country tournament, postponed from last year due to the pandemic, runs May 3-9 in Guatemala City. The top four teams will represent North and Central America and the Caribbean at the FIFA Futsal World Cup in Lithuania in September.
Canada, under head coach Kyt Selaidopoulos, has been drawn in Group B with reigning CONCACAF champion Costa Rica and Haiti.
“We have a committed group of players that have been focused on this opportunity to wear the red and white and represent their country with the goal of qualifying for Lithuania,” Selaidopoulos said in a statement.
“Despite the challenges of the pandemic, the players have committed to their training, to staying connected with the group, and to leaving it all on the floor in Guatemala.”
The 37-year-old Bennett is a longtime member of the Milwaukee Wave. But he switched to the Florida Tropics when Milwaukee elected not to take part in the MASL season.
Appearing in 13 regular-season games, the Hamilton native led the league in points (27) and goals (19).
Selaidopoulos, who doubles as an assistant coach with CPL champion Forge FC, represented Canada in futsal from 2003 to 2012 and at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in 2006.
Canada came close to making the 2016 FIFA Futsal World Cup, denied by a 7-4 loss to Cuba in the CONCACAF qualifier. The Canadians lost to Costa Rica 3-2 and beat Curacao 7-4 before falling to Cuba.
Costa Rica, Cuba, Panama and Guatemala represented CONCACAF at the 2016 World Cup.
Brazil has dominated the world futsal scene, winning five of the eight FIFA World Cups. Spain has won twice and finished runner-up to Brazil three times. Argentina is the defending champion.
Canada has not qualified for the Futsal World Cup since the inaugural event in 1989 in the Netherlands, where it failed to advance from the first round after beating Japan and losing to Argentina and Belgium.
The Canadian men last played in January 2020 in a two-game series with Costa Rica. Canada won the first game 2-1 on goals by Nazim Belguendouz and Mo Farsi, both winners of the Canadian Futsal Player of the Year Award. The Canadians drew the second match 2-2.
Belguendouz is part of the roster for the Guatemala qualifier.
Angola, Argentina, Brazil, Czech Republic, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Paraguay, Portugal, Russia, Serbia, Solomon Islands, Spain and Venezuela have already qualified for the 2021 World Cup along with host Lithuania.
Asia’s qualifier was also called off due to COVID-19. The Asian confederation has nominated Iran, Japan and Uzbekistan with a playoff scheduled between Iraq, Lebanon, Thailand and Vietnam to determine the region’s last two spots.
The indoor game is five-a-side with two 20-minute halves. The clock stops whenever the ball goes out of play or there is a break in play. Each team starts with one goalkeeper and four outfield players on the pitch, with unlimited substitutions.
The futsal international playing surface can be a maximum of 42 metres long (minimum is 38 metres) and 25 metres wide (minimum 20 metres). The goals measure three metres wide and two metres high.
Canada roster (x- denotes alternates)
Goalkeepers: Joshua Lemos, Milwaukee Wave (U.S.); Louis-Philippe Simard, Spartiates Sports Club.
Defenders: Daniel Chamale, Milwaukee Wave (U.S.); Bila Dicko-Raynauld, Sporting Quebec FC; Eduardo Jauregui, Toronto Idolo Futsal; Maxime Leconte, Spartiates Sports Club; Nazim Belguendouz, Spartiates Sports Club.
Midfielders: Ian Bennett, Milwaukee Wave (U.S.); Nico Gonzales, Calgary Villains; x-Safwan Mlah, Sporting Montreal; Robert Renaud, Milwaukee Wave (U.S.); x-Luis Rocha, Toronto Idolo Futsal; Marco Rodriguez, Toronto Idolo Futsal.
Target: Damian Graham, Toronto Idolo Futsal; Frederico Moojen, Dallas Sidekicks; Jason Quezada, Miami
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 23, 2021
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press