U-23 cutdown day was bittersweet for Impact midfielder Evan James

Evan James

When Canadian U-23 coach Tony Fonseca announced his 20-man roster for the upcoming Olympic qualifiers, it was a bittersweet moment for midfielder Evan James.

James, the kid who was cut from the National Training Centre program, a guy who beat the odds by coming out of the Supplemental Draft and making the Montreal Impact roster, had made the team.

But, his best friend was one of the four cuts made by Fonseca.

James will be with the Canadian side when it begins its CONCACAF Olympic qualifying campaign Thursday in Nashville against El Salvador. But James admits it wasn’t easy watching Kyle Porter, the FC Edmonton forward who he grew up with in Mississauga, leave camp.

“He’s my best friend from back home, and it was hard to see him go,” said James, who missed the Impact opener with a high ankle sprain before being called to Canada’s camp. “It’s the coach’s decision. I can’t do anything about it. I just have to do what I can to help us qualify, and hopefully he will be added to the roster before we go to the Olympics.”

Porter, like James, was carrying an injury coming into camp and it hampered his chances.

James scored in Canada’s friendly against Trinidad and Tobago and said he is ready to go Thursday, even though El Salvador is a mystery to him and his teammates.

“I have been trying to rest it, but I am ready to go,” he said. “I attack every day with confidence, and I am trying to help get us to the Olympics.

“But I don’t really know too much about them (the opposition) other than that they are from El Salvador. But it’s not like we are flying blind. It will just be a matter of adjusting through the first five or 10 minutes.”

Even though James had to miss the Impact’s home opener in front of 58,912 fans at Olympic Stadium, the experience of playing for the national team will have an effect that will last a career.

“For me, this is a chance to gain some great experience,” said James. “It is something I can do for my country — it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

While James became a favourite for Canadian soccer fans after he came out of the University of North Carolina Charlotte and then impressed at the pre-draft combine, he never took the idea that he would have an MLS deal for granted. Even though he was taken at the top of the Supplemental Draft, those rounds rarely see players realize deals.

“First, the transition from college to MLS is very difficult,” he said. “The speed, strength and physicality of the game is a lot different. It’s a lot faster. And when you get up to that level, and see the names of the players you are playing against, it can be intimidating. But I had a lot of teammates who helped me feel comfortable… and when I was told that I had an MLS contract, it was a giant pressure off my shoulders.

“Montreal is a great place to play,” he added. “It’s great to be back, playing in Canada again. Now I just need to work on my French.”

RELATED:
Canadian U-23 coach Fonseca cuts older players, goes with youth for Olympic qualifiers (CLICK)

Edwini-Bonsu sacrificed men’s senior team call-up so he could play for U-23s (CLICK)

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About Steven Sandor

I'm currently the colour commentator for FC Edmonton broadcasts on Sportsnet, NASL.com and TEAM 1260. I've covered the Toronto FC beat for four years, worked for the Edmonton Aviators of the USL for a season, covered the Edmonton Drillers of the NPSL and started covering Canadian World Cup qualifiers in 1996. I've covered the CONCACAF Champions League and the U-20 World Cup. I'm passionate about soccer in North America.