Looking dapper in a dark suit among a group of Canadian Olympians and Paralympians dressed in their retro-inspired red podium track jackets didn’t faze Canada’s Under-20 Soccer Player of the Year, Doneil Henry.
As the only non-2012 London Games participant to be the recipient of a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal at a ceremony at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), Henry was quite honoured and inspired.
“Speaking to some of the athletes and hearing their stories, you get a sense of the hard work and the sacrifices they made just to get to these Games held once every four years,” said Henry. “I would certainly like to be an Olympian.”
Henry was a member of the national Under-23 team that lost to Mexico 3-1 last March in the regional Olympic qualifier in the United States. After starting the tournament with a goalless draw against El Salvador, Canada pulled off a huge upset, shutting out the United States 2-0 for its first win over the Americans since 1982 in the Confederation of North, Central American & Caribbean Associations of Soccer (CONCACAF) men’s Olympic qualifying tournament.
Canada has not qualified for the Olympics since 1984.
“That was a great experience for me and we were unlucky to fall just a game short of making it to London,” said Henry, who scored one of the goals against the U.S. “I learned quite a bit during that run and I am definitely going to do all I can to make sure we get over the hump and make it to the next Games in Rio.”
Just 19, Henry has one national senior team appearance – a friendly against Trinidad & Tobago last August in Florida – and 29 league games for Toronto FC under his belt. Toronto FC’s first academy graduate, the defender has been with the club team for the past four years.
Toronto FC has not made the playoffs since its Major League Soccer (MLS) entry in 2007 and its record in the last four years is a dismal 30 wins, 58 losses and 40 draws.
“We have definitely struggled,” said Henry. “I want to see us find success in the league. Our fans have been very supportive over the years and it’s about time we win more consistently for us and them and show that we can compete in the league. Getting to the playoffs is the first step and we have to start translating some of the success we have had in the club championship over to MLS.”
The reigning Canadian champions, having won the national Amway Cup series the last four years, Toronto FC reached the 2011-12 CONCACAF Champions League semifinals.
Henry attributes much of his success to former national senior team coach, Stephen Hart, who stepped down last October two days after Canada suffered a humiliating 8-1 road loss to Honduras to exit the World Cup soccer qualifiers.
“He has been there with me from my first Under-20 camp,” said Henry. “He was also the one that gave me my first senior team opportunity last year. He’s a good coach and I have a lot of respect for him.”
After the Christmas break, Henry will return to camp with the Under-20 squad that’s preparing for the CONCACAF championship in Mexico next month. The top four teams will advance to the International Soccer Federation (FIFA) tournament in Turkey from June 21 to July 13.
Canada has Cuba and Nicaragua in its group in the 12-team qualifier. Other contestants include host country Mexico, El Salvador and Curacao which are in Group “D”; Jamaica, Panama and Puerto Rico, which will compete in the first round in Group “C” and Group “A” contestants Haiti, Costa Rica and the U.S.
By RON FANFAIR