Canadian men learn schedule for Olympic soccer qualifier in Mexico

Canada midfielder Samuel Piette (6) tries to fend off United States midfielder Cristian Roldan (15) and forward Jordan Morris (11) during first half of CONCACAF Nations League soccer action in Toronto, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019. (Cole Burston/CP)

Canada will open against El Salvador at the CONCACAF Men’s Olympic Qualifying Championship before facing Haiti and Honduras.

The tournament draw was held Jan. 9 but the schedule for the men’s under-23 tournament, which will run March 20 to April 1 in Guadalajara, Mexico, wasn’t confirmed until Monday by CONCACAF.

Canada will play in Group B. Group A features Mexico, the U.S., Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic.

Canada plays El Salvador on March 21, Haiti on March 24 and Honduras on March 27.

After round-robin play, the first- and second-place finishers in the two groups will advance to the crossover semifinals. The semifinal winners will book their ticket for Tokyo.

Canada, coached by Mauro Biello, may not get access to all its top talent.

While the CONCACAF tournament falls in a March 23-31 FIFA international window, the Canadian senior team will likely also be playing as it looks to collect valuable FIFA ranking points in its bid to crack the top six in CONCACAF and make the Hex, the easiest World Cup qualifying group in the region.

Star players like Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David are eligible for the Olympic team but are firmly ensconced in the senior side.

The CONCACAF qualifier will complete the men’s Olympic field.

Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Egypt, France, Germany, the Ivory Coast, New Zealand, Romania, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea and Spain have already qualified and will join host Japan at the Games.

The Canadian women qualified for Tokyo by virtue of beating Costa Rica in the semifinal of their Olympic qualifier last Friday in California.

Canada has taken part in just two of the 24 Olympic men’s soccer competitions and has failed to qualify for the last eight Olympics. Its last participation came in 1984 in Los Angeles when CONCACAF, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean, was granted three spots instead of two with the U.S. an automatic participant as host.

Canada received an automatic berth as host in 1976.

Canada made it to the final eight of the ’84 Games, losing to eventual runner-up Brazil in a penalty shootout. In ’76, Canada failed to survive the round-robin phase.

Canada did compete at the 1904 Olympics but it was only a three-team tournament with two from the U.S. and a side from Galt (now Cambridge), Ont. The Canadian men won, defeating American opponents Christian Brothers College and St. Rose School by a combined score of 11-0.

Olympic men’s soccer qualifying has been an under-23 competition since 1992. Beginning in 1996, teams that qualified for the Olympics were allowed to field three players 23 over the age limit.

Mexico and Honduras represented CONCACAF at the 2016 Games in Rio, with Honduras finishing fourth. Host Brazil won Olympic gold with Germany runner-up.

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