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Uruguayans overwhelm cautious Canadians at U-17 World Cup

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The Canadian U-17 team is looking to go where no Canadian U-17 team has gone before. Uruguay is undergoing a footballing renaissance, and its U-17 side is headed by one of the most-talked about teenage prospects on the planet, Juan Mascia.

They clashed Sunday in their U-17 World Cup Group C opener in the heat and altitude of Pachuca, Mexico. Uruguay, far more accustomed to the rareified air than the Canadians, was frustrated through the first half. But Mascia, who has been linked with a move to Chelsea, opened the scoring in a disastrous second half which saw Canada make numerous defensive errors, concede a penalty and lose goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau to a knee injury.

When the dust settled, Canada had fallen 3-0.

Canada has never won a game at the U-17 World Cup. And the aggregate score? Well, it’s exponential on the negative side. But, as much as the pundits like to link past teams to the current crew, those results have no relevance. The U-17 World Cup is a generational tournament. There are no returning players.

Yet, despite that, it’s clear that Canada carries the emotional baggage. Even though Canada finished second in CONCACAF qualifying, coach Sean Fleming began the game with a counterattack strategy, calling for his troops to fall back and simply try to limit the Urugayan attack led by Mascia and Juan Manuel San Martin, who plays his club football for Penarol. It is something Canadian fans see far too often; an admission by a national team that it isn’t good enough to do anything other than grind it out. And, so, history repeats itself — with a new cast of characters.

By choosing to play defensively at altitude, Canada would be chasing the ball and ceding possession to the team that was more accustomed to playing thousands of metres above sea level. It was a recipe for disaster.

Canada only created a couple of half-chances in the first half. Michael Petrasso twice found himself in the Uruguayan penalty area with the ball at his feet, but saw one effort blocked and then swung and missed a volley attempt on the other.

Meanwhile, Crepeau was called upon to make some outstanding saves, diving to rob San Martin on a near-post drive, and then flying to tip away a screamer of the free kick from Elbio Alvarez.

But, as the second half began, Canada’s defending became more scattered. And, after right back Luca Gasparotto left a ball to roll into touch, thinking he was going to get a goal kick when in fact the ball clearly struck him last, Uruguay capitalized on the corner.

Canadian U-17 player of the year Bryce Alderson deflected the cross, just moving the ball enough that teammate Daniel Stanese had to throw out his leg and hope to flick it away with his heel. The second deflection put the ball right into Mascia’s path, who slammed the ball into the roof of the net.

After the goal, Canada pushed players forward in an effort to change the game. Ironically, it gave the team about a 15-minute spell when it held the advantage. Uruguayan keeper Jonathan Cubero had to make two excellent saves: He palmed a headed effort from Gasparotto over the bar, after he had come forward to latch onto a long ball launched into the area. And, later, he denied Keven Aleman, who hammered a left-footed volley towards goal after a scramble in the box.

Aleman, according to the FIFA broadcasters, will head to the Vancouver Whitecaps Residency if he doesn’t latch on with a European club.

But, Uruguay put the game away with five minutes left to go in regulation time. Crepeau robbed Guillermo Mendez after the Uruguayan sub headed an effort towards goal. But the rebound came back to Mendez, who was hauled down by defender Adam Polakiewicz, who was added to the Canadian roster Saturday to replace the injured Tyler Pasher.

And, if it wasn’t bad enoug, Crepeau went off with a knee injury after he collided with Mascia. And, reserve keeper Quillan Roberts made a mistake in trying to come off his line and get to a ball before Alvarez charged in on it from the right flank. Roberts was way late, and Alvarez got the third by simply chipping over the charging keeper.

If Crepeau is out for the tourney — Canada loses its most important player. And it increases Canada’s chances of going winless in Mexico, and history repeating itself.

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