PREVIEW: CanWNT U-20 at Concacaf Under-20 Women’s Championships (+ 5 players to watch)
The first leg of the journey is complete. Now? The fun part begins!
Having cruised through qualifiers for the Concacaf Under-20 Women’s Championships – winning four out of four games by a combined score of 39-1 – the Canadian U-20 women’s side is set to play in the tournament proper down in the Dominican Republic later next week.
There, the goal is simple: Qualify for the 2024 FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup.
Canada is chasing a second-straight qualification to that tournament, having made it in 2022 after missing out in 2018 (and seeing the 2020 tournament postponed). Having not won the Concacaf U-20 Championships since 2008, this is also a chance for the CanW20 to snap a 13-year trophy drought, a span in which they’ve only made two finals in their challenge of a United States and Mexico-dominated region.
A clear path to the World Cup
The last World Cup cycle may have only ended less than 10 months ago, but despite that, changes have been afoot for this 2024 cycle.
First, there’s been a change to the World Cup itself, as it’s been expanded from 16 to 24 teams for this next tournament, a reflection of the overall growth of the women’s game globally.
Then, there’s been a big tweak to the U20 Concacaf Championships, which has gone from a 20-team tournament to an eight-team outfit. Instead, Concacaf chose to expand qualifiers, in which 32 teams were split into six groups (two groups of six, four groups of five), with each group winner joining the US and Mexico (who had byes) in the tournament proper.
That’s why Canada had to begin their journey this year in qualifiers, instead of qualifying straight to the tournament as they usually do, as Concacaf continues to look for ways to get more countries involved in games at the youth level.
Beyond that, however, not much has changed for Canada at these Concacaf Championships. Much like last year, the mission has remained the same - finish in the top three, and qualify for the World Cup, with a trophy on the line if you’re able to win it all.
The difference, however, is that Canada must undergo far less of a gauntlet to do that, as this new format has seen the eight teams drawn into two groups of four, where they’ll look to finish top two in the group to make the semi-finals, where it’ll be a straight knockout with a final and third-place match to determine the top three.
For Canada, they’ve been drawn into Group A with the US, Jamaica and Panama, and will play Jamaica on May 24th, Panama on May 26th, and the US on May 28th.
From there, should they finish in the top two, they’d either face the first or second-place finisher in Group B, which consists of Mexico, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
Ultimately, it’s about as straightforward as can be, making it far less complicated than the last tournament, clearly setting out the path for Canada as they try to make it back to the World Cup.
Younger group looking to build off positive steps
If Canada are to make it back to the World Cup, however, it’s worth noting that they’ll do so off the back of a much younger group than the one that made it to last year’s tournament.
There, just three of their 21 players were born in 2004 or later, Olivia Smith, Florianne Jourde and Coralie Lallier, making them also eligible for the 2024 World Cup.
That’s not that surprising for a youth tournament, as teams typically rely on older players in most typical cohorts, but that just means that Canada has needed to turn to new faces to help them on their latest quest.
The good news, however, is that they’ve called up a good group of players who played at the U17 World Cup last fall (13 of them, to be exact) giving them some players who will have had some familiarity with each other.
Canada Soccer announces squad for the 2023 Concacaf Women’s U-20 Championship 🍁#canw20 has been drawn into Group A with the United States, Jamaica, and Panama for the Group Stage of the competition that will be played in the Dominican Republic from 24 May - 3 June.#WeCAN— Canada Soccer (@CanadaSoccerEN) May 17, 2023
Plus, more interestingly, they’ve got six players who are already eligible for the next cycle in Rosa Maalouf, Jadea Collin, Jaime Perrault, Jeneva Hernandez Gray, Noelle Henning and Annabelle Chukwu, meaning that this team is already slightly younger than the one that was at last year’s World Cup.
Not only that, but of those who will age out after this cycle (born in 2005 or 2004), Canada has called up way more 2005s than 2004s (11-4 ), which is worth noting as most of those 2005s were at that U17 World Cup (the 2004s were too old).
So not only is this Canadian team quite young, but they’ve got that familiarity with each other, too, which is a big bonus.
Especially after a frustrating U17 World Cup, where Canada finished with two draws and one loss, just missing out on qualification by a goal in their last game versus Tanzania, they’ll head into this tournament hungry to build off that.
Therefore, it’s going to be intriguing to see how these youngsters will do. They’ll be in tough given that some of their opponents are already playing professionally, but some of those U17 players have been playing against university-aged players for a couple of seasons now, so that’ll help them immensely.
Along with the value of familiarity, something that the 2022 World Cup team were just not able to get due to the pandemic, they’ll hope that gives them the edge that was lacking for that side.
5 rising CanWNT talents to watch
Speaking of this new team, here are some players to keep an eye on at these U20 Championships.
Amanda Allen (FW)
The lone Canadian with professional experience on this team, the 18-year-old Allen will be expected to be a huge leader for this side, as she’s quickly found her feet as a professional with the Orlando Pride after signing there earlier this year.
Having pushed into the senior national team fold, as well, she’ll look to prove she can crack their World Cup squad for this summer, which a strong performance here for the U20s would help her do.
A quick winger who can score goals, as proven in her time with the U17s (4G in 11 games) and so far with the U20s (2G in 3 games), she’ll need to be a key leader on this Canadian offence in the big games.
After a 1st professional appearance for 18 y/o Amanda Allen with the Orlando Pride, she gets her 1st start today in Challenge Cup action— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) May 10, 2023
Big day for her, as she continues her push to win a World Cup spot#CanWNT/#CanXNT https://t.co/PsLK4qDYTm
Rosa Maalouf (FW)
The good news for Allen, however, is that she’ll have a lot of support, and one of those names is one of the youngest on this team - the 17-year-old Rosa Maalouf.
Don’t be fooled by her age, however - she’s lethal in front of goal. She showed that last year at the Concacaf U17 Championships, where she led in scoring with 12 goals, before scoring 10 goals in 14 games against University-level opposition in last year’s League 1 Ontario season for NDC Ontario, including a goal in the final in which her side eventually won.
Unfortunately, she had to miss the U17 World Cup with an injury, and was sorely missed as a result, but back healthy, she’ll look to build off the three goals she scored in U20 qualifiers earlier this year.
Olivia Smith (FW)
One of the three returnees from last year’s U20 team, Smith is expected to be a key leader on this year’s side, and for good reason.
Despite being just 18, she made her senior debut at 15 back in 2019, and was one of just two Canadians who were able to score at last year’s U20 World Cup, after scoring seven goals at the Concacaf U20 Championships.
Now playing at Penn State, she had a quieter first season of NCAA action than hoped, scoring just one goal and one assist in 16 games, but reminded many of her scoring ability when she scored eight goals in qualifiers for this tournament.
Eager for a strong second season with Penn State, look for her to have a strong tournament this year, and will look to dominate the 2024 U20 World Cup after having had a taste of that level last year.
Jeneva Hernandez Gray (MF)
The third-youngest player on this team at 16, Hernandez Gray is going to be a key piece for this Canadian side, especially in the attack.
As she showed last year for the Vancouver Whitecaps in League 1 BC, where they won the league despite being the youngest team by a good amount, she was very influential for her team on the ball, playing as a tempo-setting midfielder. Plus, she showed she has the flair for the dramatic, too, even scoring the winning goal late in the L1BC final off a rocket from outside of the box.
Those scoring exploits have carried over to the U20s, as she had two goals in qualifiers, and will look to help her talented forwards get on the ball in dangerous positions. Not bad for someone who is still eligible for the 2026 U20 World Cup, as well.
Clare Logan (CB)
With so many attacking players highlighted here, it’d feel wrong to not highlight someone playing at another position, and there’s no better name to look at than the 17-year-old Clare Logan.
A centre back, she was a huge leader on the U17 team last year, especially in qualifiers. After a strong season in League 1 BC with the Whitecaps, where she was a rock for them defensively, she’ll look to carry that form over to 2023.
Calm on the ball, but also eager to get stuck into a tackle, Canada will need her to be a leader in the back, a role she showed she was comfortable with in qualifiers earlier this year, and will need to build on that heading into this tournament.
Class on the pitch & in the classroom 📚⚽️— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) October 28, 2022
This @wfcelite (a part of the @BMO academy system) centre back has proven to be an outstanding all-round student & athlete.
Congrats to your 2022 Most Promising Female Player & BMO RESP Academy Female Player recipient Clare Logan 👏 pic.twitter.com/z2t4tyPjk6