Kyler Vojvodic scored twice as Canada hung on to defeat Trinidad and Tobago 3-2 in its opening match Saturday at the CONCACAF men's Under-17 championship.
The Canadians dominated play, with six corners in the first half alone but went into the break only up 1-0 despite Trinidad going down a man in the 19th minute. They led 2-0 and 3-1 in the second half only to see the stubborn Soca Warriors battle back each time.
Chimere Omeze also scored for Canada, which improved to 5-2-2 against Trinidad in CONCACAF men's under-17 play.
The 20-team tournament, which runs through Feb. 26, will send four teams to the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Peru in November. The world championship was originally slated for 2021 but was postponed because of the pandemic.
Canada has been to seven of the past 18 men's U-17 World Cups, hosting the event in 1987. It has never advanced past the group stage including last time out in Brazil in 2019 when it went 0-3-0.
Mexico won the CONCACAF U-17 Championship in 2019, defeating the U.S. 2-1 after extra time in the final at Bradenton, Fla. It was the Mexicans' eighth title at this age level. The Canadians lost 4-0 to the Americans in the 2019 semifinal.
The Canadians, coached by Andrew Olivieri, continue Group F play Monday against Barbados and Wednesday against the U.S. Barbados and the U.S. played later Saturday in the second half of the doubleheader at Estadio Pensativo.
The three top teams in each of the four opening-round groups advance to the knockout phase. They will join Bermuda, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic in the round of 16. Those four teams advanced directly from CONCACAF men's U-17 qualifying play.
Trinidad went down a man early when Rio Cardines was red-carded for a hand ball, throwing his arm up to keep a Canadian header out of the goal. But goalkeeper Ailan Panton, guessing correctly, dove to his left to stop the ensuing penalty from Vojvodic.
Vojvodic, a 16-year-old from Port Coquitlam, B.C., who is with the Vancouver Whitecaps academy, redeemed himself in the 27th minute, tapping a low cross past Panton after a nice dummy run by Lucas Ozimec for a 1-0 lead.
Panton made a fine diving save off an Omeze shot in the 59th minute but was beaten two minutes later when, after a short corner, Gael de Montigny found an unmarked Omeze in front of goal and the Toronto FC academy forward headed the ball home.
Panton's mother, Wendy Fitzwilliam, was crowned Miss Universe in 1998.
Substitute Malachi Webb answered for Trinidad in the 67th minute, beating the offside trap for a breakaway before dribbling around onrushing goalkeeper Nathaniel Abraham. Webb's angled shot just beat a chasing Canadian defender into the goal.
Vojvodic roofed a shot from just inside the penalty box one minute later to restore Canada's two-goal lead.
Lindell Sween made it interesting in the 80th minute, curling a beautiful free kick from outside the penalty box over the Canadian wall and past a diving Abraham.
The Canadian starting 11 included midfielder Alessandro Biello, son of Mauro Biello who doubles as an assistant coach with the Canadian senior men's team and director of Canada Soccer's under-18 to under-23 program. Mauro Biello won four caps for Canada as a player.
Alessandro Biello, who is part of the CF Montreal academy, is also the nephew of former Canadian international Nick De Santis.
Head Coach Cooper later credited his side for their gutsy showing.
“It was a great response from the boys after going a man down,” Cooper told TTFA Media.
“We showed resilience and played for a result nevertheless. I think we started off very nervous especially when playing out of the back. I have seen us do it much better. There were too many mis-directed passes.
“I think the sending off of Rio affect the team’s confidence especially being double penalized for still a questionable handball. Several officials at the game thought it was to close to call especially in real time. We looked back at it and frame by frame photos showed Rio’s hand in the air but Panton’s hand played the ball in front of Rio’s hand.
“We just paid the price for his hand position and we have to move on from it. I think the lack of experience to settle after that incident showed for a while and the first goal came shortly after.
Can’t ask for more from the boys
“As a coach you can’t ask for more from the boys after the first half. They played with good spirit and after a tactical change at the half we fought to get back into the game. We pulled a goal back but immediately lost concentration after scoring which I think went down as a lack of experience, knowing you are must vulnerable when you have just scored.
“The plus is we played 70 plus minutes and never gave up. I think we should all commend the boys for that effort. They won the hearts of the spectators who were present by the ovation they got after the game. This was not the best game I have seen them play but the effort was second to none, which shows the character within the squad.
Next Game will be interesting
The next game will be another interesting one seeing how matured the US looked against Barbados. They really controlled the game effortlessly and Barbados is not a bad team by the look of things especially in the first half. This was just a well prepared US team they came up against. We will have to be much more clinical in our passing and movement off the ball against this well experienced and organized US team to get a positive result.
Trinidad and Tobago (4-2-3-1): 1.Ailan Panton (GK); 7.Rio Cardines [Red card 19], 3.Joshua Figaro, 2.Jaden Williams (6.Aydon Caruth 46), 4.Lyshaun Morris; 15.Armani Rowe, 8.Josiah Ochoa (captain) (19.Tyrell Moore 90); 11.Derrel Garcia (13.Vaughn Clement 68), 12.Jeremiah Cateau (14.Tau Lamsee 68), 18.Dominic Wilson (17.Malachi Webb 46); 9.Lindell Sween.
Unused substitutes: 20.Jaden Ottley (GK), 5.Samuel Duncan, 10.Michael Chaves, 16.Jeremiah Niles.
Coach: Shawn Cooper
Canada (3-1-4-2): 1.Nathaniel Abraham (GK); 5.Chimere Omeze, 6.Lazar Stefanovic (captain), 13.Richard Chukwu; 4.Alessandro Biello; 2.Theo Rigopoulos (12.Aidan Fong 72), 10.Antoine N’diaye (20.Andrei Dumitru 46), 8.Jeevan Badwal, 3.Gael De Montigay (15.Victor Fung 72); 19.Kyler Vojvodic (7.Ibrahim Higazy 84), 11.Lucas Ozimec (9.Erik Pop 72).
Unused substitutes: 18.Alexander O’Brien (GK), 14.Ruben De Sa, 16.Etienne Godin, 17.Liam MacKenzie.
Coach: Andrew Olivieri
Referee: José Fuentes
2023 Concacaf U-17 results (Sat 11 February)
Canada 3 (Kyler Vojvodic 27, 68, Chimere Omeze 61), Trinidad and Tobago 2 (Malachi Webb 67, Lindell Sween 80)
United States 5 (Cruz Medina 25, 43, 90+3, Keyrol Figueroa 86, Taha Habroune 89), Barbados 0
Mexico 9 (Gael Álvarez 2, Isaac Martínez 14, Fidel Barajas 17, Stephano Carrillo 23, 45, Álex Valencia 72, Joaquín Moxica 86, José Urias 89, José Arroyo 90+2), Curaçao 0
Panama 1 (Kevin Walder 16), Guatemala 0
SOURCE: The Canadian Press