Veteran Presence: Whitecaps forward Lucas Cavallini relishing leadership role at CanMNT January camp

Ahead of a busy year for the Canadian Men’s National Team, Canada has assembled down in Florida for a January camp, in which they’re hoping to prepare for what lies ahead. From that camp, striker Lucas Cavallini spoke with the media on Thursday, as he prepares for a big year for both he and his country. 

At the very least, it promises to be a busy year for the Canadian Men’s National Team. 

With a busy schedule on the horizon, Canada Soccer’s Men’s National Team could play upwards of 20 competitive games in 2021, as they get set to participate in World Cup qualifiers, the 2021 Gold Cup, Olympic qualifiers and maybe even the Olympics themselves. 

And while the Olympics is going to be an endeavour that purely relies on the success of U23 players, the World Cup qualifiers and Gold Cup are going to be competitions where Canada’s going to need some veterans to play big roles, working in tandem with their talented youngsters, such as Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David, among others. 

One such veteran to keep an eye on this year is Vancouver Whitecaps forward Lucas Cavallini, who at 28 years of age, is one of the older faces on the squad.  

With Canada currently hosting a January camp down in Florida, in which they’ve invited a ton of either young or out of season players (or both), due to it being outside of an official window, Cavallini is expected to play a big leadership role for Canada during the next few weeks, before looking to continue that task when Canada’s first team is all back together. 

While it’s not a role he’s usually played before, but as the second-eldest Canadian player in this camp, (his childhood friend Jonathan Osorio has him beat by 6 months for that claim), it’s one that he certainly hasn’t mind stepping into. 

“I mean, it’s good,” Cavallini told reporters on Thursday, when asked about being an older face at this younger camp. “It’s good that (I get asked) questions (about) a lot of my insights of advice I can give to the younger guys, like I have with Theo Bair.  We talk a lot, especially in the Whitecaps, he’s a young guy, he’s in this camp as well, and he’s in the process as well as to learn more and take advice from older guys such as my self.”

“I just always try to help motivate them, help make them better players and (share) things from my experience that I can help them with, so it’s honestly a good feeling sometimes.”

And when we say this camp is a young one, we really mean it. 17 out of 27 of the players called in are eligible to play on the U23 Olympic qualifying team, with some players, such as Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, Ralph Priso and Jayden Nelson, all young enough to be eligible for the 2024 U23 Olympic cycle. 

So for Cavallini, that means his presence as a veteran guy is immensely valuable at this camp, especially considering that he’ll probably be playing some sort of role when Canada kicks off World Cup qualifiers in March. 

Even though this window is more tailored to some of the newer faces to this Canada program, veterans like him can still play a big part, while also getting an early chance to audition for a spot in the starting lineup come March. While players like him already know what head coach John Herdman expects of them, both in terms of work ethic and tactics, there is never a bad time to get a chance to strut their stuff in front of him, much as the young guys are trying to do. 

“Obviously, it’s a big window for the newer guys, just to start to understand what he (Herdman) expects from the team,” Cavallini said. “For us veterans, or us guys who are usually on the team, it’s just a review for us, so (even though) I know the last time we’ve been together hasn’t been for a year and things are gonna get tough, but honestly, we usually get together and have zoom meets during the year just to touch base on where we left off.”

“We know our roles here on the national team, and all that’s missing is that we get the full team together and keep reviewing where we left off. I think it’s going to be a really big year for all of us, and obviously the European guys are going to help us a lot, because they’ve been in season, they haven’t stopped, and it’d be better for them to come into this camp, but again we have to be ready and be on our toes and stay competitive like there have been doing.”

And while Cavallini’s production for the first team has made him in an instant call-up in recent years, having scored 11 goals in 17 senior caps, he has had an interesting path to this point of his career, making him an interesting tale for the youngsters to learn from. 

As most players his age had to do, with their being next to no professional opportunities in Canada in the mid to late 2000s, he went abroad to get his first opportunities in the pro game, which came for him in South America. For young players looking to make that next step, that can be a scary proposition, one that could often deter top prospects from fulfilling their full potential. 

Luckily for youngsters now, there are more professional opportunities than ever in Canada, as there are now 3 Canadian Major League Soccer teams, as well as 8 professional sides in the Canadian Premier League, which is getting set to play its 3rd season in 2021. 

So while most of Canada’s best and brightest will continue to play abroad, Cavallini, who came to MLS last year to sign with the Whitecaps, admits that it’s a big game-changer for players to be able to start their pro careers close to home, before moving on when they’re ready to make the jump. 

“I mean, obviously it’s always better to learn abroad, Canada’s developing, it’s still developing, it’s a developing country with soccer,” Cavallini said. “Playing in MLS, things are getting better, it’s all in the process, right?”

“But I mean it’s good for the young players to have an opportunity to become professional footballers, I know my generation was different, we were forced to go abroad in order to pursue our dreams, make the best out of our careers. So, I’m happy that now there are more opportunities for young players and local players, they can stay close to home and try to chase their dreams.”

And now, Canada’s hoping to start to reap the benefits of the growth of the game in their country, as many of their players have either played or still play for an MLS or CPL team, which has made their player pool arguably as deep as it has ever been. 

Ahead of this busy year, in which Canada is going to need a lot of depth, that’s great news, as they look to show that they’re a new program, one worth keeping an eye on in CONCACAF. 

Led by the likes of Cavallini, the fiery striker who like many, once questioned the ability of Canada to make some noise, they’ll look to do just that this year, as they continue to try and break barriers this National Team hasn’t often broken. 

“Yeah, I mean, this year is crucial for us if we really want to make it to the big leagues,” Cavallini stressed. “If we really want to make it to the World Cup, if we want to win a Gold Cup, I mean, this is crucial for us. I think we’re going to be more present with our national team than we will (with our) clubs. I mean, it’s huge. Guys need to step up their games. There’s gonna be a lot of international games, and we have to be ready to be competitive, we have to be ready for each game.”

“Each game is going to be tough, but we are going to be together a lot, so it’s going to help us adapt quickly and be ready to compete with anybody.”

Cover photo via: Canada Soccer

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