10 Apr 2012
The Canadian men’s U23 team recently shocked the soccer world and gained international notoriety in CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying by beating the Americans in a stunning 2 – 0 victory on US soil and reaching the semi-finals of the tournament.
Three former OSC players, Evan James, Russell Teibert and Kyle Bekker were playing for their nation on the pitch, but the Club also had a fourth representative at the tournament, offering his expertise from the sidelines. Rafael Carbajal, OSC’s Coach Development Manager, was named goalkeeper coach and assistant coach by Head Coach Tony Fonseca prior to the team’s training camp.
Although the end result wasn’t ideal, Carbajal says the team can draw a lot of positives from the experience, especially considering that Canada was the youngest team in the tournament and only practiced together for one week prior to their first match.
“We didn’t qualify but the performance was very good,” he said. “We beat the home team. We beat the US in their country. Out of four games, we only lost one to Mexico who ended up being champions.”
Carbajal worked with the team at their training camp in Florida, travelled to Nashville for their game against El Salvador, which ended in a scoreless tie, and was with them all the way to the semi-finals against Mexico in Kansas City.
Carbajal calls the atmosphere in the locker room following the 2-0 victory against the US “amazing” but admits that the win came at a cost.
“The energy we used in that game, it ended up costing us against Cuba (which resulted in a 1-1 tie),” he said. “We played three games in five days. That’s very difficult.”
Canada could only manage a draw against Cuba, which placed them second in their division and sent them to a tough semi-final against a strong Mexican side that won 3-1. A win against Cuba would have meant a much more manageable semi-final against Honduras, as the Mexicans were older and had a host of professional players on their roster.
One major benefit of having such a young team, according to Carbajal, is the fact that a number of players will actually be eligible for the next round of Olympic qualifiers, something that many other countries will not have working in their favour.
Some Canadian players could end up seeing international action sooner rather than later as men’s national team head coach Stephen Hart could include some of the young talent for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers. Hart was present for the tournament and able to witness the team’s performance firsthand.
On a personal level for Carbajal, the experience was very positive as it was his first working alongside Hart and Fonseca. Carbajal has previous experience coaching in the Canadian men’s national youth soccer system, but his latest experience was his first working with a senior level team.
“All this experience at the national level is very beneficial because I can share that knowledge with my fellow coaches at OSC,” he said. “The more experience I acquire, the more I grow as a coach, and the easier my job as Coach Development Manager becomes.”
Additionally, having a variety of connections at the national level proves beneficial when recommending OSC talent for the national programs. Carbajal recently recommended an OSC player to the U17 national team, but only after watching his progress for nearly a year.
Carbajal has some advice for those players looking to one day represent their country at the international level and says discipline, dedication and passion are the most important things.
“They need to be serious about it,” he said. “If they’re just doing it because their parents are pushing them or because they want a glamorous lifestyle, they won’t succeed. Only one per cent of players in the world live that kind of life.”
Carbajal is looking forward to his next opportunity to coach in the national system but says he hopes to see more OSC representation at the national level in the future.
“I look forward to finding more players that I can send over to the national program,” he said. “That’s one of our goals going forward at OSC.”