In just a few days’ time, Canada Soccer’s Men’s National Team will kick off the November International Window with a pair of crucial CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers vs Costa Rica and Mexico. Here’s how they’re feeling ahead of then.
It continues to become more and more real.
In less than 72 hours, Canada Soccer’s Men’s National Team will take the field for a game against Costa Rica at Commonwealth Stadium on Friday evening, kicking off their 7th game of the ‘Octagonal’, the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers.
Donned in red, they will do so in weather that’ll sit just below the freezing level, but keeping them warm will be 45 000+ screaming Canadian fans, many of them wearing red and waving flags, giving them the energy in order to take a key step towards the 2022 World Cup.
Nearing the halfway mark of this 14 game Octo odyssey, a mark they’ll actually pass after this game, Canada finds itself in a decent position, sitting 3rd out of 8 teams, but with just 6 points separating 2nd and 7th in the Octo, they know that could quickly change with some poor results.
So that makes this clash with Costa Rica so key. Sitting just 4 points behind Canada, they can’t pass the Canadians with a victory here, but they can most definitely apply the pressure, getting them within 1 point of surpassing Les Rouges should they get a win.
With a Canadian victory, though, they can create a gap of 7 points behind them and Los Ticos, which with 7 games to go, could be too big of a chasm for their Central American foes, who themselves are looking to return to their 3rd consecutive World Cup.
For a Canadian team looking to return to the World Cup for the first time since 1986, having failed in their 8 attempts to get back since, that makes winning this game a must if they’re to continue their journey towards snapping that drought, of which they’re closer than ever to doing.
Knowing that the top 3 teams in the Octo will head straight to the World Cup, with the 4th heading to the intercontinental playoff, every win that Canada gets going forward will get them closer and closer to their goal, and they’re aware of that.
Heading into this double-match window, one where they’ll play Costa Rica and Mexico in Edmonton over the span of a week, two tough matches await them, though, offering them a stiff challenge on the road towards their goal.
But boosted by a tight-knit group, one filled with all sorts of talented players, these are the sort of games that Canada should win, and they’ve got a belief that they can do that, giving them energy heading into these games.
“Now that we’re here, the vibes are really high,” Canadian midfielder, Jonathan Osorio, said of this camp earlier this week. “We are itching to get going, and we’re happy to be together, and overall we’re all just very excited and happy for everything that’s going on.”
And make no mistake, there’s no reason why Canada can’t believe of being capable of winning these games.
Just this year alone, they’ve got massive victories over the likes of Costa Rica, Panama and El Salvador in their back pocket, which along with draws vs Mexico, USA, Jamaica and Honduras, shows that there should be no team that Canada should be scared of in the Octo right now.
So while these two Edmonton games against 2 of the 3 teams that represented CONCACAF at the 2018 World Cup might be scary, Canada isn’t worried about that, instead just focusing on doing their job.
Knowing that home victories are so key to success in the Octo, especially given how intimidating some away trips in this region can be, they’ve created a distinct home advantage of their own by heading to frosty Edmonton, and will look to use that to boost them to a massive 6 points on the road to Qatar.
Plus, in the only double match window of this Octo, they happen to be the only team that will play at home twice this month, only adding to the advantage that they hold here, knowing that they can set up shop in Edmonton and get used to the cities conditions.
So seeing that, they believe that they’ve got what it takes to get the 6 points on the table here, starting with this Costa Rica game, taking full advantage of the important opportunity that lies ahead of them this window.
“Yeah, they’re very important, I’ve always said that in these qualifiers, your home games are very important to take maximum points from,” Osorio said of these matches. “It’s been like that with the home games that we’ve had, and it’s going to be like that in our home games going forward.”
“So we know how important these two games are, we need to take advantage of being at home for these two games, there’s no real travel between games, which is a good advantage for us, there are only two games instead of three this window, so for all of those reasons, we feel good, and we want to take maximum points away from this window, and we believe that we will.”
But while a lot of the pre-game talk will be about how cold Edmonton is, and the distinct home-field advantage that playing in the city offers, make no mistake, this move isn’t being done because Canada can’t play, either.
As seen above, they’ve taken all sorts of strides forward this year, showing that they can hang with any given team on their day, no matter where the game is played.
Before, a move like this would be made just to give Canada a chance, but instead, it’s now being done to give an extra boost on top of what’s already there, ensuring that these nights won’t be fun at all for the guests.
Of course, it could’ve been pleasant for all involved if it was played, in say, Vancouver, instead, but as the saying goes, comfort often breeds complacency, and that’s the last thing that Canada wants at the stage of their journey.
Plus, with a chance to play in front of a locale that hasn’t had a chance to support this team in a while, (the last time Canada played there at all was in 2015 with the CanWNT, while the CanMNT hasn’t been back since 2013), Canada will also want to put on a show for the home fans, showing why interest in this team has been rising big-time as of late.
As shown in the last window, where Canada got their best-ever crowd in the city of Toronto (just over 24 000) in a win over Panama, interest in this team has never been greater, and the fact that both games this window have already sold over 45 000+ tickets each is just an example of that.
So right now, Canada is offering a simple message for those in attendance – they’ll do their best to commit to the cause on the field, so if you align with that idea, they want you to jump with that bandwagon.
“I keep saying to my players that we have to get our performance right,” Canadian head coach, John Herdman, said of what this game means for his team. “First, we have to bring our intensity, we have to look to own the ground that we’re on, and to do that is by playing our way, if we play our way, the fans come with us, if we show our commitment, the fans come with us.”
“Yeah, (we want fans) just to bring the energy, we’d love to see a lot of red in the stadium,” Canadian captain, Atiba Hutchinson, also added. “That’s the direction it’s going right now when we play our games in Canada, and we continue to need that home support, and to have that home feeling with a lot of energy, intensity, it’s been great to see.”
At the same time, though, while the focus during these games will be on the here-and-now, especially in terms of the results on the field, these games are important for the future, too.
With the World Cup set to come to Canada, US and Mexico in 2026, these games will coincide with FIFA’s official venue visit to Edmonton, who is one of Canada’s host cities for then, making this a key showcase event for the city.
Seen as a great chance to grow the game in the country, it’s an exciting occasion for Canada, who will get to participate in that no matter what happens, giving them a chance to showcase one of the world’s premier sporting events in their own backyard.
But just don’t tell this Canadian team that. While a lot of the players in this side will still be donning the red and white by then, for now, they just want to focus on making 2022, of which they’re so close to doing, so while a lot of the talk this window might be about 2026, they’re doing their best to plug their ears whenever that subject comes up.
“Yeah, people always ask me about the World Cup coming home,” Osorio admitted. “And I’ve always answered saying that I’m not even thinking about that, right now I’m thinking about Qatar, because for many reasons, (the main) one being that I want to be able to say that I was a part of a team that’s able to say that we qualified for a World Cup and not hosted one, we want to qualify, we want to earn our spot in a World Cup.”
But that’s not that surprising if you know this team.
Motivated as ever, they sense that this is their best shot to make a World Cup in a generation, something that seems to become more and more realistic by the game.
Led by players such as current World XI full back, Alphonso Davies, and Ligue 1’s top goalscorer, Jonathan David, surrounded by quality players such as Cyle Larin, Stephen Eustaquio, Tajon Buchanan, Richie Laryea, Milan Borjan and more, this is about a talented team that Canada has ever gotten to work with in their history.
That’s been shown with all of the records they’ve broken the past few years, as well as some of the results they’ve picked up along the way, as they continue to show their talent every time that they take the field.
Despite that, though, they’ve managed to remain down on earth, doing their best to stay humble, knowing that the job is nowhere near done.
At the same time, though, they sense how big of a deal it is for them to have gotten where they are now, especially given the journey it’s taken just to get here, having started World Cup qualifiers all the way back in March of this year, navigating a 6-game gauntlet just to get to the Octo to the first place.
But on a journey to not only make the World Cup, but change the narrative surrounding this sport in the country, that’s just been a part of the ride, one they’re all happy to be on, one that continues over in Edmonton later this week.
“Yeah definitely, I feel that this team is opening some people’s eyes that we can make it work, and I believe that,” Davies told reporters last week. “For us, when we first started our journey, we knew that the journey wasn’t going to be easy, especially when we made the (Octo) where we are right now. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. Every time we come into camp, you can see it on everybody’s faces that everyone’s excited, everyone’s hungry to be here, and I feel that some people when we came to the (Octo) underestimated how we would do.”
“We put it on ourselves to show people that we can play football, because a lot of people count us out as a footballing country, they prefer to say that Canada is a hockey country, but we want to change that, and that’s what we’re trying to do by making it to the 2022 World Cup.”
And seeing that, people are starting to believe, both inside and outside of the team.
Just take Atiba Hutchinson’s word for it.
The longest-tenured member on this Canadian roster, the 38-year-old enters this camp with 88 caps to his name, having made his debut for his country all the way back in 2003.
In his mind, he was supposed to have been retired after the last World Cup cycle back in 2018, which for Canada ended in 2016 where Hutchinson had just turned 33-years-old, an age where most players certainly start to think about hanging up the boots, something that he most definitely started doing.
But having bought into the belief that Herdman and the rest of this group had started to create off of the back of that elimination, Hutchinson decided to give it one last go for this cycle, committing himself to this team for this run.
Now, all of a sudden, he’s just 2 caps away from becoming the most-capped Canadian Men’s National Team player of all time, a mark that he’ll surpass this camp, something that he certainly never imagined that he’d do when retirement first crossed his mind a half-decade prior.
So if Hutchinson is going to continue to believe in this team, shuttling his body across the globe between Turkey, where he plays his club football with Besiktas, and North America, where he and his team must navigate through the various nations of CONCACAF, it’s hard to not believe alongside him.
Because of that, he’s going to continue to give his all as Canada continues their quest to get to the World Cup, doing his best to help his teammates push forward, and from there, they’ll look to make history, starting with this window.
“Yeah, there had been times where I thought maybe it was enough,” Hutchinson explained this week. “I remember after the last cycle, I sat down and said to myself that this was probably the end. I had a little time after where I wasn’t involved with the program, but then I had some talks with John after that, and we decided that it was the best thing to come back in again.”
“And yeah, it’s been a long road, a lot of ups and downs, but I definitely do feel happy and proud that I’m still involved in this program and seeing the level that it’s going to right now with all of the success that we’ve been having. So it’s been something very special to still be involved and I’ll continue to do as much as I can to try and be a part of it and push the limits.”
Up Next: Canada vs Costa Rica, Friday, November, 19:00 CST, 18:00 PST, 21:00 EST (Commonwealth Stadium, Edmonton)