Canada has sat out the last five editions of the FIFA U-20 World Cup so coach Andrew Olivieri is under no illusions of the challenge that his team will have in getting there.
The young Canadians join 34 other teams in the newly expanded CONCACAF Men's Under-20 Championship this November in Florida, with four berths in the 2019 FIFA U20 World Cup in Poland next May on the line.
Canada has been drawn in a preliminary-round group with Panama, St. Kitts & Nevis, Guadeloupe, Dominica and Martinique.
Previously, the CONCACAF tournament included regional qualifiers in the Caribbean and Central America and one final championship.
Olivieri likes the questions the expanded tournament will pose to his players.
"It's a challenge but I guess it's a blessing in terms of development," said Olivieri, who was named Canadian men's under-20 program director in July.
The CONCACAF tournament, which runs Nov. 1-21 at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., will test the Canadians "under high levels of pressure."
The North and Central American and Caribbean countries have been sorted into five groups of six teams and one group of five teams. After round-robin play, the six group winners advance to the qualification stage, where they will be divided into two groups of three teams.
After a second round-robin play, the two group winners plus the second-place finishers will qualify for the FIFA U-20 World Cup. The two group winners will meet in the final to determine the regional champion.
Canada last featured in the FIFA U20 Championship in 2007, when it hosted the event. The last edition it qualified for was in 2005.
The Canadian entry exited after losing all three of its preliminary-grounds in 2007. It went 0-2-1 in 2005.
The 37-year-old Olivieri, a former Canadian under-23 goalkeeper, was part of the coaching staff at the prestigious Toulon youth tournament this summer in France where Canada finished sixth.
While 13 members of the Canadian team at Toulon are the right age for the CONCACAF U20 tournament, Olivieri will likely find the likes of Jonathan David and Liam Millar will be required by John Herdman's senior side, which has a CONCACAF Nations League game against St. Kitts & Nevis in November.
Olivieri joins Mauro Biello (senior team assistant coach and U23 program director) and Joey Lombardi (U-15 program director) as key members of Herdman's team.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press