Canada defeats Trinidad and Tobago 3-2 in CONCACAF men’s U-17 tournament opener

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GUATEMALA CITY — 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.

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