Twenty-four years ago, Paul Stalteri represented Canada at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Japan. Now the 39-year-old is looking to coach Canada back to the world championship.
Stalteri and the young Canadians open play Saturday against Costa Rica at the CONCACAF Men’s Under-17 Championship which runs through May 7 in Panama.
The 12-nation tournament will send four teams from North and Central America and the Caribbean to the FIFA U-17 World Cup in India this October.
Stalteri’s team includes 16 players from Canadian MLS team academies: 11 from Toronto, four from Vancouver and one from Montreal.
“We’ve got a great group of players, we believe … It’s a group I like,” said Stalteri, who has been in charge of the under-17 team since February 2016.
After Costa Rica, Canada plays Cuba on April 25 and Suriname on April 28. The top two teams from the group advance to the second round.
“At this level there are no easy games,” warned Stalteri.
Canada last qualified for the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2013. It finished sixth at the 2015 CONCACAF qualifying event.
In all, Canada has qualified for six of the 16 FIFA U-17 championships held to date, including serving as host in 1987. It has yet to win a game at the tournament, posting an 0-14-4 record while being outscored 53-8.
In 1993, Canada went 0-3-0 and was outscored 18-0 including an 8-0 loss to eventual tournament winner Nigeria. Stalteri was joined on the team by Jason Bent, Jim Brennan, Nevio Pizzolitto and Robbie Aristodemo.
“We went in with very little preparation,” Stalteri recalled. “I think the players here have gotten much more than we had. They know what they’re getting themselves into.”
That includes having gone to Panama to play in the same stadium that will host the tournament.
Stalteri went on to win 84 caps for Canada before retiring in March 2013. He played his cub football for Werder Bremen and Borussia Moenchengladbach in Germany and Tottenham and Fulham in England.
His coaching staff in Panama includes former Canada teammate Ante Jazic and goalkeeping coach Numo Santos. Canadian senior coach Octavio Zambrano will also be on hand.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press