Multicultural backgrounds good for game

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:34 AM ET

Will Johnson, Jonathan Beaulieu-Bourgault and Cristian Nunez come from different ethnic backgrounds.

Yet together, the trio make up a formidable midfield combination for Canada's Under-20 soccer team. Moulding players with different styles has always been one of the challenges for Canada's national teams.

"You can look at it as a disadvantage or you can look at it as an advantage," said Canadian head coach Dale Mitchell.

"If you look at world soccer at the club level, they don't have a problem bringing in guys from different parts of the world. You look at the top teams in world soccer and they've got players from all over the place.

VARIED BACKGROUNDS

"One of the advantages of being in Canada, it's a multi-cultural country with a lot of different ethnic groups and I think long-term that's a positive for us. We have kids with African backgrounds, kids with Caribbean backgrounds, kids with South American backgrounds, kids with European backgrounds and kids with Asian backgrounds. There are not many countries that can say that and it's just a matter of developing everybody and trying to get everybody to come together as a team."

Johnson, 20, was born in Toronto, but grew up in the United Kingdom before moving to the United States. His grandfather, Brian Birch, played professionally for Bolton in England.

Beaulieu-Bourgault, 18, was born in Montreal. He signed with FC St. Pauli in Germany.

Nunez, 18, was also born in Montreal, but his father is from Argentina and his mother is from Nicaragua.

Tonight the trio will make up the heart of the Canadian midfield against the Czech Republic (7 p.m.) at Commonwealth Stadium in their final tune-up game for the upcoming Under-20 World Cup.

"Jon and I have been playing for three years together, so we kind of know each other," Nunez said.

"Will is more of an offensive midfielder. Our job is to try and get the ball and pass it to him and he does what he's good at. We kind of know what are roles are."

Unlike previous versions of the Under-20 team, this year's edition is more patient with the ball. They're more comfortable on it and therefore play more of a possession game.

The three are key contributors to that ball-possession game and will have big roles at this year's Under-20 tournament which kicks off on June 30th.

"We look to play a bit of soccer," said Johnson. "I would definitely say that this team is more talented then the last team. It's good that we have guys that can play football and it's going to help against some of the teams that also want to play that kind of style against us."

The three have contrasting styles of play. Beaulieu-Bourgault is a defensive midfielder that provides the link between the defensive and offensive thirds of the field. Nunez is a ball-possession midfielder with good skills and the ability to play in tight quarters. Johnson is an attacking midfielder who likes to run at defenders and create offensive opportunities.

"I think we are good together because we've been playing together for a while," Beaulieu-Bourgault said. "We've known Will for a couple of years and he's a very good player. So it's good that we know each other and it's fun to play with them."

DIFFERENT STYLE OF PLAY

The transition to a ball possession team from a kick-and-chase side is one that Canada is trying to make.

They're able to do that by having players on the team that are more comfortable on the ball. But it's an ongoing process.

"We play that way when we can. We try to," Mitchell said. "At the international level it's tough. Teams are well organized and if they see that one or two players are not that comfortable they come after you. Teams can see if someone is shaky on the ball.

"We're trying to develop our possession game and we know there are times where we have to slow it down and be a team that can hold on to the ball. It's just doing it without risk really."


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