Olivia Smith, Jayden Nelson named Canada Soccer's Youth Players of the Year

TORONTO — Teenagers Olivia Smith and Jayden Nelson have been named Canada Soccer's Youth International Players of the Year.

The awards celebrate Canada's top youth footballers in recognition of their achievements with Canada youth teams. The Canadian Soccer Association will name its top male and female senior players Wednesday and Thursday.

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Smith, at 15 years three months, became the youngest to play for the senior women's team when she came off the bench Nov. 7 in the 86th minute of a 4-0 loss to Brazil at a tournament in China. The winger/forward from Whitby, Ont., won a second cap three days later when she was introduced in the 83rd minute of a 3-0 win over New Zealand.

"She's got something very special about her," Canada women's youth coach Rhian Wilkinson said after the tournament.

Kara Lang had been Canada's youngest international footballer prior to Smith. Jessie Fleming and Jordyn Huitema were also 15 when they made their senior debut.

Smith started playing soccer at five in Whitby, Ont. She was 12 when she made her debut in the Canadian youth program in 2017 and represented Canada at the 2018 CONCACAF Girls' Under-15 Championship under Wilkinson.

Smith also earned three call-ups to the under-17 team in 2019 and scored in back-to-back internationals against Mexico.

Excellent on the ball with good pace, she can beat defenders and feed teammates. Smith can also win the ball back.

"What excites me most is her wonderful leadership and character, qualities that make her impact on the field even more powerful," Wilkinson said in a statement Tuesday.

"She is just starting her soccer journey, but her attitude and willingness to avoid the noise around her and just get to work on getting better every day makes me unbelievably excited for her future and the future of soccer in Canada."

Nelson scored five goals — including a hat trick against Guatemala — at the CONCACAF Men's Under-17 Championship, helping Canada qualify for the FIFA U-17 World Cup for the first time in six years.

The 17-year-old forward was Canada's player of the match in the group stage finale Nov. 1 against New Zealand at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Brazil.

"Jayden Nelson can be proud of the year he has had wearing the Canadian shirt," said Andrew Olivieri, program director of Canada Soccer's Men's EXCEL program. "His talent is unmistakable and we can be excited that there are players like him coming through our system.

"He's still a young man trying to establish his career for club and country, but he can be a role model for the young players coming up behind him because he's that player that can impact a match across all four moments of the game and has the mindset and drive to get better at his craft every day."

Nelson, from Brampton, Ont., plays for Toronto FC 2. Smith is part of Canada Soccer's Ontario Super REX program in Markham, Ont.

Other men's nominees were Loic Cloutier, Gianfranco Facchineri, Kamron Habibullah, Marc Kouadio, Damiano Pecile, Jacen Russell-Rowe and Nathan-Dylan Saliba.

Other female finalists were Tanya Boychuk, Jessica De Filippo, Kaila Novak, Jade Rose, Caitlin Shaw, Nikayla Small and Julianne Vallerand.

The winners were chosen by Canada Soccer coaches.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 10, 2019.

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