Canada Soccer’s Men’s National Team are getting set to play a crucial World Cup qualifier vs Mexico in Edmonton on Tuesday. Ahead of then, here’s a look at how Canada’s preparations for this game have gone, one that’s seen them navigate plenty of talk about the weather, a MD-1 to remember, and a special visitor to training.
It promises to be quite the spectacle.
With over 50 000 tickets already sold, the match between Canada Soccer’s Men’s National Team and Mexico in Edmonton on Tuesday is looking to be one for the ages, for a multitude of reasons.
As the temperatures continue to drop, and the snow falls over the ‘City of Champions’, there is plenty at stake for both teams, who are getting set to jostle for positioning in the ‘Octagonal’, the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers.
Having just passed the halfway mark of the Octo, this game is going to be a massive battle for both Canada and Mexico, who currently sit 2nd and 3rd in the standings through 7 games, respectively, and will want to maintain those positions, (as well as push for the top), as they head into the back half of this final round.
So knowing that whoever wins on Tuesday will finish this November window in at least 2nd, and possibly even in 1st, is huge, especially considering that just 3 teams will qualify straight to the World Cup when the Octo is done, while the 4th will go to the intercontinental playoff.
And with just 3 points separating 1st and 4th place, as well as just 5 points separating 4th and 5th place, the last thing that Canada and Mexico will want to do is fall from an automatic qualifying spot back into a playoff spot, much less into the wilderness that are the spots beyond that.
So because of that, it’s made this a massive game for both teams.
On one side, you’ve got a Canadian team that is feeling pretty good about themselves, currently the only team undefeated in the Octo, where they’re tied for the lead or lead the 8 teams involved in this final round in goals for, goals against, goal difference, shut outs and home points. Plus, adding to their optimism, they’ve also become the first team to take points off of both the US and Mexico away in one cycle, showing their ability to just grind out points in games so far this Octo.
Then, on the other side, you’ve got a Mexican team that’s reeling after a tough 2-0 loss to the US in their last match out, which happened to be their 3rd loss against their rivals this year (2 of them being in finals), giving them all sorts of motivation ahead of this game.
So when you throw that all together, it should make for a game that could honestly be the biggest game of this window, if not the Octo as a whole, as a victory for either team will change everything for them heading into their last 6 games, and they’re well aware of that.
Despite that, though, Canada is trying to remain focused on the prize, knowing what’s at stake, but they also know that based on what they’ve shown already, as long as they keep doing what they’ve been doing, they should be in good hands for this game.
“I think we have a lot of good confidence going into this game,” Canadian defender, Sam Adekugbe, said on Monday. “We’ve had a good start to the campaign, we picked up a good result in a tough stadium, and we believe in our group, we believe in the quality that we have, and ultimately we’re searching for three points tomorrow.”
Seeing that, though, here’s a look at how things are shaping up over in Edmonton ahead of this game, as the storylines continue to rack up ahead of what should be a game to remember at Commonwealth Stadium on Tuesday.
Third time’s a charm?
And to start, one theme that really stood out from Canadian training this week is that while they recognize that Mexico is a giant of CONCACAF, Canada also knows that they’re not far off of joining them and the US as a top team in this region as well, having taken big strides towards doing so this year.
On paper, they aren’t far off of that mantle, as they currently sit in the top 3 with Mexico in the US in the Octo standings, and after their win against Costa Rica this past Friday, they also sit in the top 3 in CONCACAF alongside Mexico and the US in the live FIFA Rankings, which is a good start.
Plus, when you factor in that they finished 3rd among CONCACAF teams behind Mexico and the US at the Gold Cup this summer, and haven’t lost to anyone in CONCACAF not named the US or Mexico since the summer of 2019, it shows that Canada is currently pushing to join the big 2, making it a big 3.
But the last step before they do that?
Actually beating Mexico and the US, and doing so on a more consistent basis.
They’ve already done so once against the latter in the past 2.5 years, which is a start, but they haven’t beat the former since February of 2000, something that they’ll desperately want to change this camp.
So knowing that Mexico is reeling after that tough defeat to the States, Canada will want to catch them with their guard down, although they know that their opponents will also come out stronger as a consequence of that.
“Mexico’s a good team,” Alphonso Davies, Canada’s star player (and the only player in this squad that wasn’t alive when Canada last beat Mexico), said this week. “And we can’t take anything away from Mexico, both teams can win, but we know that they’re a good team.”
“For us, we’re trying to fight for a place in Qatar, we know that they’re coming in with their mindset that they lost to the US, but we can’t underestimate them, they’re a good team, and we’re also a good team coming in, and we’re going to give them a fight.”
And seeing how much of a fight that Canada has given Mexico in their last 2 matchups, which came at the Gold Cup this summer, and in Mexico in the Octo last month, there’s no reason why Canada can’t operate with the belief that they can win this game.
In the first game, Canada gave Mexico a good run for their money in an entertaining 2-1 Mexico win, putting up a valiant fight despite missing several key stars, before impressing in the second game, where Canada picked up a key point in a 1-1 draw at the famed Estadio Azteca, doing so for the first time since the 80s.
Plus, in both of those games, Canada didn’t just park the bus and hold on for dear life, but actually went out and played to the level of their opponents, which was something that really surprised onlookers.
Before, any time Canada played Mexico you just knew that it was going to be a wave of green trying to break down a group of red jerseys until they finally broke, but now, Canada is ensuring that they offer up an even fight now.
Just use that game in the Azteca as an example.
There, playing against a good Mexican team in one of the toughest stadiums in the world, not only did Canada pick up a draw, but they were arguably full value for a win, too, and that was best shown in the Expected Goals (xG) battle, which Canada won 1.65 to 0.85.
It’s not a be-all, end-all metric, of course, but that Canada were able to keep the Mexicans a lot quieter than they’re used to, while also putting in shots at the other end, was very positive, as it was a sight that many weren’t used to seeing from them.
So off of the back of that performance, Canada is feeling confident in their ability to not only repeat what they showed in that game, but grow off of that, too, potentially turning that draw into a win this time around.
“When you look at the stats, it was a 12-round boxing fight where no one got knocked out,” Canada’s head coach, John Herdman, said of that Azteca clash. “xG is usually the critical factor, and (in that game), that was the lowest defensive xG that Mexico’s seen, and the highest attacking xG, so on paper, we’re really happy with the performance, and we know that we can perform against this team.”
So knowing that, Canada is remaining focused on what they can do, instead of what Mexico might bring to the table, knowing that if they do that, they can take care of business in this game.
“To be honest, we’re focused on our mentality, on our coaches’ message,” Canadian co-captain, Steven Vitoria, said this week. “We’re going to do everything to achieve this win, respecting our opponents, but also respecting us, our country, the building and happy and excited with the moments, but we’re not comfortable, and want to keep growing and pushing in front.”
Weather a big talking point:
But while Canada and Mexico will want to come out swinging in this game, the Edmonton weather could be quite the obstacle towards their ability to do that, as Tuesday’s game promises to be played in some interesting conditions.
With the temperature expected to be anywhere from -5 to -10 degrees Celcius (which with windchill, could feel as low as -20 degrees) at kick-off, this game is going to be played in some very cold conditions, likely making it a tough night for both teams.
As a result, the weather also dominated the conversation at training this week, especially considering that the city has been hit with snowstorms that started on Sunday and should continue into Tuesday, although it’ll be expected to stop in time for the game later that day.
Clearly, though, this game is going to be played in some wintery conditions, no matter if it’s snowing or not, and that will have an impact on how this game is played.
And well aware of that, the reactions from the Canadian camp on what they expect from the weather were surprisingly mixed, because while they know that it won’t be comfortable for them, they also know that it won’t be so comfortable for their guests, either, especially considering that they didn’t grow up with this as many of them have.
“-10 is not easy on anybody,” Davies, an Edmontonian native, admitted when asked about the temperature. “So that’s going to be a little tough, but we’re Canadian, we’re built for this weather, and I don’t know what to say for the Mexicans, I hope they enjoy this weather, we know that it’s going to be a cold game for both sides, but whoever wants it more is going to show it on the pitch”
“We’re ready for whatever,” Canadian striker, Lucas Cavallini added. “If that means going through circumstances like this, even going away, we’ve played in tougher circumstances, so it is what it is, and the boys are ready for whatever.”
Plus, there are a few in the Canadian camp who are more than used to this kind of weather, too, which only adds to the home advantage that they’re looking to create here.
“-16, that’s a normal winter day in Montreal,” Canadian midfielder and Montreal native, Samuel Piette, said with a laugh while speaking in French. “We’ll welcome this with open arms, it could be a bit complicated for the Mexicans. Yes, the conditions will be tough for everyone, but we’re at home, we’re happy to have the support, we felt it against Costa Rica, so we’re ready.”
“We all grew up in this,” Vitoria added. “And we’re all talking (about it), we all joked around this week how this brings us back to our childhood, so we’re excited, we’re not going to find any excuses, we’re going to leave it all out there. Whether it’s sunny or snowy, we’re going to try and make our country proud.”
And heck, there are some on this team that are so comfortable with this sort of weather that they’re able to brave it in just a t-shirt, such as Canadian defender, Sam Adekugbe, who played Canada’s game against Costa Rica in Edmonton on Friday with bare arms and no gloves, despite the weather being a cool -1 degrees at kick-off.
“Yeah, players just wear what they’re comfortable wearing,” Adekugbe said of his unique outfit choice in that game. “I went out in a t-shirt, some guys just wore gloves, some guys wear long sleeves, and we just all do what we have to do in order to make ourselves comfortable on the pitch.”
Obviously, the weather on Tuesday is going to be a *bit* colder than it was on Friday, so it’s yet to be seen if Adekugbe will do the same in this game, but that sort of thing just shows that this Canadian team is welcoming this tough weather, and will look to use it to their advantage as much as possible.
And then when you throw in the fact that this game will be played in front of a very strong Canadian crowd, one consisting of 50 000+ (and counting) mostly Canadian fans, that will only add to that advantage, too, as we saw on Friday, when Canada was boosted on by just over 48 000 fans in their clash against Costa Rica.
So while this game certainly won’t be comfortable for Canada, they know that it’ll also bother their Mexican guests, too, which will only add to the motivation that this sort of game can offer up.
Playing in Edmonton for the first time since 2013, the CanMNT knew that the weather was cold (they came here for a reason), and when you factor in the boost that the crowd will bring on top of that, it makes their decision to come here worth in their eyes, and now they’re looking to give those Canadians who brave the elements to watch this game a due reward: 3 points for the home team.
“This is an absolute honour to play out West here in Edmonton,” Herdman said. “The fans are loving it, people are travelling from everywhere. The pitch is the same for Mexico, it’s the same for us, it’s going to neutralize some of their things, it’s going to neutralize some of ours, and it’s just going to be the war.”
A wild day:
And while the game is still just over 24 hours away as of writing, the CONCACAF shenanigans have begun already here in Edmonton, which made for quite the memorable Monday.
As is customary in CONCACAF, both teams were supposed to train at Commonwealth Stadium on Monday, helping mark MD-1 training.
But due to the snow, which just started to come down at around 12:00 local time, that meant that Canada, who were scheduled to train at the big stadium at 12:00, and Mexico, who were supposed to train there at 20:00, had to cancel those training sessions due to the weather, at the request of CONCACAF.
Usually, that sort of thing never happens, but with CONCACAF wanting to protect the turf for Tuesday, which will be played no matter what the weather looks like, they wanted to just let the field remain covered in tarps while the snow fell on Monday, forcing both sides to scramble for backup plans.
For Canada, that meant training at the Edmonton Soccer bubble just outside of the city, which they did about an hour after their original training time, but for Mexico, that change in plans really swayed things around.
Currently based in Indianapolis, where they’re currently en route to Edmonton from via plane as of writing, they actually trained in the snow in Indy this morning, as planned, before catching their flight north, which was ironically delayed due to snow.
Interestingly, though, it seems that Mexico, who were most likely going to use their session at Commonwealth to walk around and maybe do some light drills, wanted to still get that light session in despite their Monday morning training earlier in the day, but didn’t have a field to do so at.
This isn’t confirmed, but as per this report from CBC’s Chris Jones, they appeared to request to do that at the field where Canada trained earlier in the day, but given that field is occupied all evening by youth soccer players (Canada trained while those kids were in school) – it looks like they were denied a chance to do that by those who rent the field.
So not only did Mexico arrive late into Edmonton on Monday, they likely didn’t get another facility to train so in the city (unless something changed last-minute), only adding a roadblock to this road trip that they’re currently on.
To be fair to them, that doesn’t change much for them, as they don’t usually do much of a proper MD-1 venue training, anyways, as per Getting CONCACAFED’s Jon Arnold, but if there was a stadium that they really wanted to do one in, it would probably be in Edmonton, where the turf is unlike anything they’ve played on recently, and the weather will be especially cold, but now, they’re left with pretty much nothing.
It’s too early to tell if that’ll change anything, as this is most definitely not Mexico’s first rodeo in CONCACAF, but it’s less than ideal circumstances ahead of a big clash with an important rival, but that just gives you an idea of what the lead-up to this game has been like.
Yet, all of this was just another day in CONCACAF, only adding to the lore of what this game might provide.
The good news for everyone, though?
This game will be played no matter how bad the weather is, so while it provided a hitch for both teams on Monday, the reason that all of this even happened in the first place was to let the turf stay covered until the game happens, which for those who have ever shovelled snow off of turf will know, is probably the smart move, all things considered.
A special guest at training:
And lastly, only adding to the unique events of Monday morning, Canada had a special visitor who arrived right when the media were able to get into the session – Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau.
Already in the city on work business, the Canadian PM decided to come by and say hello to the Canadian players before this game, where he wished them luck ahead of their big game on Tuesday.
Safe to say that was quite a surprise for both the players and those in attendance, but it just gives an idea of how big this game is, and where this profile of this Canadian team is currently trending at the moment.
If you needed any reminder that this game is going to be huge, the Prime Minister showing up is one heck of a way to show that, especially since he actually had to rearrange his schedule to do so, leaving this team with a moment to remember as they prepare for Tuesday’s clash.
“He’s the real gaffer, isn’t he?” Herdman joked of Trudeau’s visit to training. “No, I think it’s a key moment for the lads, I don’t know how many of our lads are politicians, but when the Prime Minister moves his schedule around to come in, it lets us know how important it is that we perform tomorrow.”
“He was a big part of bringing 2026 to this country, and he came here to tell us that the country believes in them, we’ve got a good chance of beating Mexico tomorrow, and we’ll look to do what Canadians do, and that’s to surprise people.”
Up Next: Canada vs Mexico, Tuesday, November 16th, 2021, 19:00 CST, 18:00 PST, 21:00 EST (Commonwealth Stadium)
Cover Photo via: Canada Soccer