Some League 1 Ontario soccer veterans are trying to make their mark on the other side of the planet at the 28th annual World University Championships (FISU) after it kicked off this week in Gwangju, South Korea.
Defender Casey D'Mello and midfielder Jonathon Lao - standouts with a strong Vaughan Azzurri team - and forward/ midfielder Robbie Murphy, who hit the field for several matches last season for Kingston Clippers, will be counted on for Canada.
D'Mello and Lao have been teammates for the past two seasons with the Azzurri and have played together with a powerhouse York University team that won the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) 2014 men's soccer title. D'Mello was chosen first team all-Canadian, while Lao was a second team all-Canadian. In addition, Lao was the 2013 CIS rookie of the year.
VA: CASEY D'MELLO
Robbie Murphy was named the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) 2011 men's player-of-the-year, and was the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) men's rookie-of-the-year in 2009. This marks the third FISU squad for which Murphy has been selected.
The team landed in South Korea on June 22, and had 10 days to get acclimated to the time difference before kicking off in their opener.
"Being selected to play for Canada at the Universiade was really something special," said Lao. "It's always a pleasure to represent your country at any level whether it's pro or amateur. We are working really hard to show that even at the university level in Canada there are players who can make the jump into the pro environment, not just those from schools in the United States," said Lao.
He added that his time in South Korea so far has been, "a surreal experience. We are currently staying in the athlete's village in Gwangju and it's amazing. There are about 170 countries attending these games and it's amazing to see how diverse it is. Since we've been here the South Koreans have been super nice, they are nothing but welcoming and we have nothing bad to say about the facilities," added Lao.
Running until July 14, the International University Sports Federation (FISU) Soccer tournament features 16 teams in four pools, with Canada grouped together with hosts South Korea, Italy and Taiwan. Other groups include: France, Ukraine, Mexico and South Africa; Japan, Malaysia, Brazil and Iran; and Russia, Ireland, Uruguay and China. Schedule/ results are available here.
In the eight previous FISU events that Canada has played in since 1979, the best finish the country has attained is an impressive fourth place in 2007 in Bangkok, Thailand. The last time Canada played in the tournament, in Kazan, Russia two years ago, the country was seventh out of 15 teams.
Held every other year, the Universiade is a multi-sport university athletics competition featuring the best university athletes from around the globe. It is second only to the Olympic Games in number of athletes competing, and athletes must be between 17 and 28 years of age and full-time students at a post-secondary institution, or have graduated in the year preceding the event.
Unfortunately, Canada was thumped 5-2 by Italy in its opener on Thursday. Marco Visintin scored both goals for Canada who were down 4-0 by halftime. Canada's next game is Saturday at 11 a.m. against Taiwan. Canada's last round-robin game before the medal round is Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. against South Korea.
Feature events/ matches/ highlights from the Canada FISU teams are available here.
Note that all times are local to South Korea, which is 13 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time (EST).