The seventeenth edition of the Pan American Games kicked off last Friday night in Toronto. With 36 sports being contested until July 26, men's soccer will be held in Hamilton and will be an under 22 event. Montreal Impact midfielder Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé and goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau were amongst the eighteen young Canucks named to the squad by Antonio Floro, the son of the senior team's manager.
Entering the tournament, the mountain was always going to be a steep one for Canada. Having not participated in the Pan American Games soccer tournament in sixteen years, they drew the four-time winners Brazil in their first match up. Not to mention, Brazil's senior side FIFA world ranking of 6, versus Canada's ranking of 103.
Crépeau would bear the brunt of this unbalanced game. Within the first minutes, it was clear Canada would be mainly on the back foot. Led by the consistent attacking of the Brazilian and Inter Milan player Dodo, Crépeau and the Canadian back line saw a lot of the ball. The Greenfield Park, QC native faced twelve shots, compared to his counterpart's two. Although he was beaten four times, much of the blame could be directed at the shaky defense and poor marking. He made several key saves, including a spectacular one midway through the first half.
Gagnon-Laparé played feisty in his midfield role, adding a physical presence to his side. Making several well-timed tackles, the Sherbrooke, QC product was also admirably quick to rush to a teammates side when things began to get chippy. He played alongside FC Montreal player Louis Béland-Goyette, creating a Quebecois contingent in the midfield. Gagnon-Laparé received a cautioning in the 62' minute before being subbed off eight minutes later.
Recently signed FC Montreal defender Jonathan Grant is also a member of the team, although he saw no minutes in the opener.
The match finished with a 4-1 scoreline in favour of Brazil.
However, no matter the results of the tournament, Crépeau and Gagnon-Laparé will benefit tremendously from playing international soccer. With the former having been perviously capped for the junior side and the latter recieving five caps already for the senior side, adding the Pan American Games to their resume will help both going forward. Eventually when they reach consistent playing time with the Impact's first team, any and all international experience comes in handy when playing and travelling for a club side.
Canada Looks Ahead
Despite the lopsided scoreline, Canada had their moments. After going down early and with possession being dominated by the Brazilians, Les Rouges began to create opportunities via several counter attacks. Molham Babouli hit the post in the 22' minute as a helpless Brazilian goalkeeper looked on. A cross from the left side was begging for a touch towards goal ten minutes later, but ultimately passed harmlessly through the Brazilian area. Both chances could have levelled the game, but Brazil would soon score at the end of the first half, and again right after the break to put the game out of reach.
Not all is lost for the hosts going forward. Babouli netted one in the 58' minute, proving Canada's danger on the counter. In the 82' minute, a controversial no-call in the penalty area left Floro scratching his head on the bench. If the referee had pointed to the spot and the conversion was successful, it would have been a one goal game with ample time left for a third. When the final whistle blew, Canada had pulled down Brazil's possession from nearly 70% in the first half to 56%.
Canada will play Panama on July 16 and then close out group play versus Peru on the 20th. With large, raucous crowds awaiting the next two group games, Canada will try to use its home field advantage against two seemingly lesser sides.
Canada's record best finish at the Pan American Games is fourth, something they achieved twice. Both fourth place finishes occurred while hosting the tournament.