The Canadian football pipeline is continuing to improve as Toronto FC II players take steps toward national team stardom.
It’s an exciting time for football fans in Canada with the men’s national team on the verge of qualifying to the World Cup for the first time since 1986.
TFC II midfielder Steffen Yeates – who grew up playing with national team players such as Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David – thinks it’s inspiring for young players to witness that level of national success.
“It’s amazing for Canada soccer,” said the Torontonian, in an interview last week at the BMO Training Ground. “Especially for young players growing up to see that their nation is actually in the World Cup.”
Toronto FC II is now part of the MLS Next Pro’s inaugural season in what could be an important development for Canadian football.
Next Pro is the U23 branch of North America’s premiere football league, and this new system is set to give younger players on each team a chance to develop their game.
TFC II midfielder Antonio Carlini is looking forward to the opportunity and sees the new competition as one that has a chance to get the most out of prospects.
“It’s the best of the best of the young kids,” said the 21-year-old. “It’s a perfect league for everyone trying to get to the MLS. I’m super excited to be in this league and to play in it.”
New identity for Canadian footballers at Toronto FC II
Canadian football is developing its own identity with a strong, dynamic style of play.
With other countries such as Brazil, Argentina, and Spain having already formed their own national identities within the sport, Canada has never been perceived to have one until now.
Toronto FC II midfielder Steffen Yeates spoke about how his team is changing and the type of players they have to help that change come into fruition.
“We’ve been growing into our own identity as of recent years,” said Yeates. “I feel like with our type of players that we have here in Canada, you know, we’re very athletic, very dynamic.”
Yeates and the rest of the team are looking to bring this style of play forward and create a new image for football in Canada.
New head coach Gianni Cimini has been a part of that development, having spent 10 years with the TFC Academy, the club’s youth program where he helped develop players like Carlini and Yeates, as well as national team players Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty and Ayo Akinola.
The first-year head coach attributes Canada’s continued success, and its ever-improving pipeline, to a more collaborative infrastructure at the youth football level.
“The work that we do in partnerships with the Ontario Soccer Association in terms of identifying talent and helping that process go through, I think those are key pieces for us in terms of how we have an immediate impact.”
The 38-year-old called MLS Next Pro the “final stage” in development for young Canadian footballers.
The last step from the Academy to TFC II can sometimes be hard on players who are still trying to figure it out on and off the field.
“When you get to this level, the improvements become much more difficult,” said Cimini, highlighting the mental side of the game. “It’s different in the sense that the stakes are higher, the players are under a little bit more pressure.”
Add to that an increasing interest level by Canadians in the sport and you have a tough position for a manager to step in, but the former Aurora FC coach is prepared to face it head on.
“Dealing with those types of challenges for young individuals is going to be something that is new for me and our staff, but we’re up for it,” Cimini said.
Now that the men’s national team has made the World Cup, the future seeds of Canadian football have already been planted.
The inaugural season for TFC II may be a measuring point for how much these young Canadians can grow.