Photo courtesy Martin Bazyl / Toronto FC II
Leading the side out in the Estadio Agustín Muquita Sánchez in Panama last month, a major sense of pride swept over Canada U20 Men’s National Team midfielder Luca Uccello.
Handed the captain’s armband for the contest against their Panamanian counterparts, the Toronto FC II standout embraced the opportunity to continue the leadership role he’s taken for the team in the build-up to the 2017 CONCACAF U20 Championship.
“It was probably one of the best experiences of my life,” said Uccello. “Anytime you can lead your country and push on with them, it’s great. I’m trying to be a leader as best I can with the U20s and being one of the most experienced guys on the team. It’s always good to be a leader, and I’ll be looking to push on the guys in the next couple of weeks.”
As one of the older members of the squad, Uccello’s leadership role with the Canada U20s has mirrored his position with Toronto FC II, for which he has made 42 regular-season appearances in the USL over the past two seasons. His 20 appearances this past season included three goals and two assists as he split his time between club and country duties.
The opportunity to compete in the USL has meant a lot to Uccello, and his TFC II teammates, four of whom are joining him in Costa Rica on the Canadian squad.
“Being with TFC II has helped me so much,” Uccello said. “Being in the USL, it’s a good league that is physical, and there are some smart players and great teams in there that can help you develop as a player. Being young still, obviously the goal is to make the first team, but the USL has helped me so much, and it’s helped a lot of people in Toronto FC II, and it’ll just keep going.”
Uccello has taken the armband for TFC II as well, which has helped foster his leadership skills for the young squad. The dedication he has shown on and off the field has made an impression on those around him.
“Luca, I look at him like an older brother,” said Canada and TFC II teammate Shaan Hundal. “He puts in a lot of work, has a lot of heart, and I’ve learned a lot of things from him on and off the field. He’s a great role model.”
Photo courtesy Martin Bazyl / Canada Soccer
That leadership will be crucial as Canada looks to reach the FIFA U20 World Cup for the first time since hosting the tournament in 2007. The side has been successful in its build-up, which has taken it to Panama, Mexico and its opening group stage opponent Honduras in recent months.
The Canadians were able to come away with a 2-1 win and a 0-0 draw on the road against the Hondurans last November, which has given them confidence for Friday’s tournament opener. The contest, which precedes meetings with Mexico and Antigua & Barbuda in the group stage, is likely to prove crucial in Canada’s hopes of advancing.
Uccello believes the side is well placed in its bid to reach South Korea in May.
“I think ultimately it’s just preparation and hard work,” said Uccello. “The coaches are all going to have a game plan that we’re all going to have to follow, and if we apply that correctly as we did against Honduras a couple of months ago when we got a couple of good results in Honduras, if we follow the game plan the coaches say, and ultimately if we perform to the level we’re capable of, anything is possible.
“I think all games are winnable games, and we’ll be looking to qualify for the World Cup following that game plan. We’re excited and ready to go.”