High hopes for the Ibrox Canucks

Luca Gasparotto, courtesy of Ben Hoskins (Getty Images)

The Canadian national team has a real opportunity to do something special in the next four years.  Canada’s lone appearance in the World Cup happened back in 1986.  Given that four teams have the chance to qualify from the CONCACAF region, Canada is banking on a youthful approach to the next few years to cultivate serious contenders for a ticket to Russia 2018.  The template has been set in the region – Mexico, the United States & Costa Rica are the locks, while nations like Honduras, Trinidad & Tobago, Honduras, Panama, & the Canadians compete for the chance to play a ‘win & you’re in’ series of matches with an Oceanian team.

That being said, the Canadian U20’s three game stretch bodes well for their chances.  Victories over the US & Russia, coupled with a draw with England has those who closely follow Canadian soccer thinking that this World Cup dream may actually become a reality.

Luca Gasparotto – behind the goalie v. USA, courtesy of US Soccer

Luca Gasparotto, who has failed to get a break with Rangers, was a prominent figure in Canada’s defence for the U20s against the United States & England.

Daniel Squizzato, who writes for Canadian Soccer News, recently spoke to Rangers Report about Gasparotto’s place in the national team picture.  “Gasparotto has been a big part of Canada’s youth setup for years now and was at training camp with the senior side recently, so I would expect that as the Canadian team continues its transitional process, he could certainly be in the mix for a spot in the years to come.”

Of course, given the likelihood the Canadian is farther than ever from Rangers starting eleven, you have to wonder if the 19-year old will look elsewhere to continue his development.

Currently on loan with Airdrieonians – Gasparotto’s contract expires at the end of the season & unless his situation changes drastically with Rangers, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him explore his options this summer.

There were whispers of a move to MLS last summer & it wouldn’t be a surprise to see one of the league’s three Canadian teams reach out to sign the defender.

For what it’s worth, Squizzato says that Canada’s national team boss, Benito Floro, would prefer that his players are playing regularly at the club level.  “Like any national team manager, Floro wants his players to be playing first-team minutes, wherever they are.”

“That being said, Canada routinely calls up players that are unattached, so a lack of playing time is not necessarily a deal-breaker.”

Fraser Aird

One player that has been an enigma to Canadian fans has been Fraser Aird.  First team playing time has not been an issue for Aird, who is one of the few youngsters that Ally McCoist has trusted to play on a regular basis.  However, Aird has been reluctant to commit his national team future to Canada.

Squizzato explained, “As for Aird, it’s more difficult.  A lot depends on where he feels his loyalties and priorities lie.”

“He accepted a call-up to Canada’s under-20 squad earlier this year, but isn’t with the team at its current camp in England and Spain.”

“He has played for Scotland’s youth setup as well, and remains eligible for both teams.  The Canada U20’s have their World Cup qualifying in January, so his presence or absence at that tournament may be a key indicator of where he stands.”

“All of that being said, Aird definitely is on Canada’s radar & surely looks like a player that, if he continues developing at this pace, could be very helpful to the Canadian squad.”

Aird made headlines on both sides of the Atlantic last spring, when his comments were interpreted to indicate that he had decided to pledge his future with Canada.  But his recent injury adds to the mystery.  Would he have joined the U20s this past week, if healthy?  It’s difficult to truly know until Aird is officially cap-tied to Canada.

Gasparotto (#6) & Canadian U20s, courtesy of Denis Murphy

In a story for MLS’ official website, Squizzato wrote:

The crucial next step for all of these players is to find their way into stable professional environments where their development can continue.  Establishing that first foothold is key; the global footballing market has been – and continues to be – profoundly cruel to untold numbers of young players with big dreams, year over year.

Is MLS the answer? Is Europe the answer? Is a Canadian pro league the answer? The answer is – there is no one-size-fits-all solution. No country in the world has found the perfect way to produce professional soccer players (though Germany seems to be getting pretty close).

But what Canada seemingly has found is a way to finally get out of its own way, to allow its brightest young stars to shine in the right sorts of environments for their skills.  

No doubt about it, this Canadian U-20 side is a good team. And if you add in the likes of Cyle Larin & Fraser Aird it’s looking even better.

It should be an interesting few months for Aird & Gasparotto, as they both must make commitments that will shape their place in a transcendent moment for Canadian soccer history.


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