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Coach Gale tries to ease the pressure on his U-20 players

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You couldn’t shake the feeling that Rob Gale, the coach of the Canadian U-20 men’s team, was trying to keep the focus off the high-profile players on his roster. After all, Cyle Larin is expected to go No. 1 in the MLS SuperDraft. In Hanson Boakai, he has an attacking midfielder who made a national splash when he outplayed guys 10 years his senior in the 2014 Amway Canadian Championship.

But, when Gale spoke the media Friday, ahead of the CONCACAF U-20 Championship, he talked about rotating and managing his squad. He talked about all of his individual players as parts of the greater whole. And he warned off the media when it came to putting too much onto the shoulders of players like Larin and Boakai. Gale said that, with the games coming fast and furious in Jamaica — beginning Jan. 10 when Canada faces Haiti — plans have been made to rotate the squad. He said plans have been made two or three games ahead of time to ensure that the players are as fresh as they can be.

“The players won’t be able to last that many games.”

For example, two days after Canada faces Haiti, it will face Mexico, in a group-stage match that will go a long way to determining if Canada qualifies for the U-20 World Cup in New Zealand or not. And even though this Canadian team went undefeated on a recent European tour, games in CONCACAF have a way of getting, well, out of hand.

Gale said that, with the heavy game load, both keepers — Vancouver Whitecap Marco Carducci and Oregon State University’s Nolan Wirth — will see time. And he was clear that Canadians have to understand that, despite the recent successes of the U-20 team in friendlies, there are only one or two players who have seen regular first-team minutes anywhere.

And while the coming integration of USL-PRO teams into Toronto FC, the Whitecaps and Impact will be “vital for the under-20 program,” this crop of players hasn’t had the benefit of that deal.

He also warned against putting too much on Larin.

“He’s a very level-headed kid,” Gale said of Larin. “We had a great conversation about the hype, the expectations and the pressure. But he is only one of 20 [players].” Gale said there is no denying Larin’s talent, “but he has yet to face the test of professional football.”

As for Boakai, Gale said the challenge is to get the FC Edmonton fielder back to game shape. Boakai was injured in December. Gale said he was concerned that, late in the season, Boakai “wasn’t cracking the first team” in Edmonton. And, while Boakai impressed and got a lot of minutes in the Canadian Championship, Gale reminded reporters that the ACC happened last spring and summer — a coach needs a player to be in first-team shape in the weeks leading up to a national-team call.

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