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Goal spoke with all three of Canada's MLS academy directors to inquire as to why the academies are struggling to develop forwards as opposed to players in other positions.

It’s no mystery that Canadian soccer suffers from a scarcity of quality players. When the time comes for head coach Benito Floro to pick his roster for the men’s national team, he doesn’t have much more than 100 professional players to choose from, most of whom are playing in substandard leagues or not given much in the way of regular playing time.

Where Canada struggles to produce players the most is in the attacking third. Historically, that’s always been the case. Dwayne De Rosario is Canada’s all-time leading scorer with 20 goals.

Today’s national team suffers from these same lingering problems. In their last ten games, the Reds have only managed two goals - they haven’t scored in over 570 minutes of play. On Sunday in Valencia, Canada played to a 0-0 draw with Mauritania.

There is some hope, however, that perhaps Canada’s MLS academies in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal can help produce the forwards that the national team is in desperate need of. But the reality is that these academies are also struggling in this department.

             Active Academy Players           

Toronto FC

Doneil Henry (Defender)

– Toronto FC

Oscar Cordon (Midfielder)

 – Deportivo Iztapa

Keith Makubuya (Forward)

– Niagara United

Ashtone Morgan (Defender)

– Toronto FC

Quillan Roberts (Goalkeeper)

 – Toronto FC

Jonathan Osorio (Midfielder)

 – Toronto FC

Manny Aparicio (Midfielder)

– Toronto FC

Nicolas Lindsay (Midfielder/Forward)

Burlington SC

Keven Aleman (Midfielder)

– Real Valladolid

Josh Janniere (Midfielder)

- Unattached

Dylan Carreiro (Midfielder)

 – Queens Park Rangers

Michael Petrasso  (Midfielder)

– Queens Park Rangers

Stefan Vukovic (Forward)

FC STK 1914 Šamorín


Vancouver Whitecaps

 

Russell Teibert (Midfielder)

– Vancouver Whitecaps

Sam Adekugbe (Defender)

– Vancouver Whitecaps

Simon Thomas (Goalkeeper)

 – Vancouver Whitecaps

Bryce Alderson (Midfielder)

– Loaned to Charleston Battery

Caleb Clarke (Forward)

- Loaned to FC Augsburg II

Brian Sylvestre (Goalkeeper)

 - Harrisburg City Islanders

Adam Straith (Defender)

- SV Wehen Wiesbaden

Randy Edwini-Bonsu (Forward) 

- Unattached

Gagan Dosanjh (Forward)

FC Edmonton

Daniel Stanese (Defender)

– FC Augsburg

Ethan Gage (Defender)

– Nykopings BIS

Julien Latendresse Levesque (Goalkeeper)

 – FC Energie Cottbus

Ben Fisk (midfielder)

– Loaned to Charleston Battery

 Montreal Impact

Maxim Tissot (Defender)

 – Montreal Impact

Wandrille Lefevre (Midfielder)

 – Montreal Impact

Maxim Crepeau (Goalkeeper)

 – Montreal Impact

Karl Ouimette (Defender)

 – Montreal Impact              

Zakaria Messoudi (Midfielder)

 – Montreal Impact

Alessandro Riggi (Midfielder)

– CFR Cluj

Marco Lapenna (Defender)

 - FC Erzgebirge Aue

Toronto FC brought up two forwards to the first team, Keith Makubuya and Nicolas Lindsay, but both never lasted long and now play in the Canadian Soccer League. The only other forward, Stefan Vukovic, spent six months at the Impact academy after being released from TFC, and now plays with FC Samorin in the Slovakian second division.  

In a phone conversation with Goal, TFC academy director Thomas Rongen, who joined the club at the beginning of last year, acknowledged the difficulty in producing attacking players.

“There is a lack of forwards and I think that really goes back to a lack of vision and methodological approach of long term player development in specific positions,” Rongen said.  “When I look at games here [in Canada] the emphasis is more on organization, defending, discipline, low pressure and it seems like we’ve somehow forgotten in Canada how to train forwards”.

“First it’s all about identifying players at a young age that have special qualities going forward. Then it’s a matter of our club recruiting them and training them so they can eventually develop into forwards”.

Despite the challenges of developing forward players, Rongen is convinced that a much stronger emphasis on technical and attacking play will eventually lead to forwards and attack-minded players coming through the academy and making a difference with the first team and national setup.

“Let’s be real honest - that’s the hardest position on the field, that’s why people pay so much money for the exceptional forward,” Rongen explained.  “It’s not going to be in a year or two; it’s going to be more down the line, but we feel that we can eventually produce players that can help us and hopefully help the respective Canadian national youth teams and eventually senior national teams if it’s done right in terms of long term player development - creating an environment where we allow creativity and finishing to be a primary focus.”

Vancouver Whitecaps’ manager of coaching development, Gordon Forrest, who joined the Whitecaps last year after spending nearly ten years working in player development in the Scottish and New Zealand soccer federations, explained that he’s optimistic about players that are coming through the academy in Vancouver.

“Maybe it looks like there aren’t many forwards just now, but we’re very hopeful for the players in our program,” Forrest said. “We’ve had Caleb Clarke who’s on loan at FC Augsburg. Underneath that we have Brody Huitema who was the top scorer in the USSDA last season and now he’s at Duke University and obviously we still have a connection with him.

“We have Ben Fisk loaned to Charleston [Battery] and then there’s Russell Teibert in the first team, maybe not number 9’s or center-forwards, but more attacking players.”

Forward Randy Edwini-Bonsu is also a product of the Whitecaps academy and most recently plied his trade in Germany with Eintracht Braunschweig in the German second division. He was called up for the national team on a few occasions, but never really impressed.

The Impact academy, which only got off the ground in 2011, has yet to produce a forward. Academy director and first team assistant coach, Philippe Eullaffroy, explained that the difficulty surrounding the development of forwards and attacking midfielders simply comes down to the fact that these positions are considerably more demanding than others. 

“It’s much more difficult to develop creativity, than to develop automatism. Defensive players are easier to develop because they're much more linked to a reflection on the game, to reacting to situations and placement; so it’s something more theoretical and thus easier to teach than the attacking side,” Eullaffroy said in French. “The attacking side is more based on creativity, and developing that side of a player is a lot more difficult.

“Also, forwards are, more often than not, placed in situations of numerical disadvantage, whereas a defender is often in a position of numerical advantage – they’re rarely outnumbered. So the technical ability required for attacking players is a lot more demanding than for a more defensive player.”

Eullaffroy also spoke of a new trend in professional academies where young forwards are now being mentored by specialized attacking coaches, not only through individualized training exercises, but also in off field mental exercises to help develop their personality. 

“The personality required for a forward or attacking player is very different from the kind of personality you want in a defender,” Eullaffroy insisted.

The French coach also noted that the vast majority of the youth who tryout for the Impact eagerly claim to be forwards or attacking midfielders, but little do they know about just how demanding those positions really are.

Unfortunately for the Canadian national team, the young Canadian MLS academies probably aren’t yet ready to produce the players it needs the most. 

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