Callum Montgomery, Canada fall one step short of Tokyo Olympics

Callum Montgomery of Lantzville had an adventure Sunday as his first national team experience came to a sudden halt, one step short of the Tokyo Olympics.

Canada lost 2-0 to host Mexico in the CONCACAF qualifying semifinal in Guadalajara, on two second-half goals, and failed to qualify for the Olympics. The second goal at 64 minutes bounced off the post, and then Montgomery’s chest, back to the goal line for the Mexican tap-in. Montgomery had been key in anchoring a solid Canadian backline performance in the first half that held the heavily-favoured Mexicans at bay.

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The loss was tough to take but the lessons learned should hold the Canadian U-23 group in good stead for the future. The six-foot-three Montgomery, the former Victoria Highlanders captain looking to make his Major League Soccer debut this year with Minnesota United, is expected to be a big part of that group looking to move forward to the senior national team.

“We are very proud because it is a credit to this group that was put together and I think we saw some players have some good performances, especially defensively,” said Canadian head coach Mauro Biello, in a statement.

“At the end, it’s disappointing. But we laid a foundation for some of these players moving forward to the men’s national team.”

James Pantemis was outstanding in goal for Canada but his one mistake proved fatal as he took a pass back from Montgomery and kicked it directly out front to be intercepted by Mexico, leading to the winning goal at 57 minutes.

“The guys gave everything to try to take Mexico down, but we had to be perfect and we made a mistake, and they made us pay for it,” said Biello.

Montgomery, B.C. high school champion in 2014 with St. Michaels University School, made his Canadian debut at any level. The Islander started but was injured in the first group game of the qualifier against El Salvador. But this is a determined guy, with two titanium plates in the upper cheek, after a cleat to the head left him motionless on the Centennial Stadium pitch with a season-ending tripod fracture in a frightening moment during a 2017 game with the Highlanders in the amateur PDL. Montgomery rebounded from his knock earlier in the tournament to start Sunday and played 82 minutes of the semifinal before being replaced by attacker Diyaeddine Abzi as Canada desperately looked for the two goals it needed to tie.

Defender Thomas Meilleur-Giguère of Island-based Pacific FC of the Canadian Premier League was expected to start for Canada but missed the tournament when he went down with injury in the last practice before the first game. Former PFC defender David Norman Jr., now with Cavalry FC of the CPL, started for Canada.

Canada has not been to the Olympics since making the quarter-finals in the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

“We had belief across the group, we really thought this was going to be the year we pushed Canada to the next level, and we had full belief that was going to happen. So disappointed, for sure,” Norman Jr. told the Canadian Press.

Mexico meets Honduras, which beat the U.S. in the other semifinal, in today’s championship game. Mexico and Honduras will represent CONCACAF in the Tokyo Olympics this summer.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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