The CanMNT is getting set to take on Jamaica in a crucial home CONCACAF World Cup qualifier on Sunday. Here’s our preview ahead of that one.
It’s all set up perfectly for them here.
A chance to qualify for the 2022 Men’s World Cup, at home against Jamaica, in front of a rocking sold-out crowd on Sunday – it doesn’t get much better than that for the CanMNT.
Heck, if anything, it almost feels like a dream, but instead, it’s the reality that awaits them on Sunday, where they can officially snap a World Cup drought that dates back to 1986.
So while they might still be smarting after missing out on their first chance at qualification this past week, when they dropped a 1-0 result to Costa Rica in San Jose on Thursday (where a win or a draw could’ve gotten them in), this isn’t a bad alternative for them to have.
Much like 37 years ago, when they qualified for their one and only participation in the men’s World Cup thanks to a 2-1 win at home over Honduras in St. John’s, Newfoundland, it almost feels written in the stars for them to repeat a similar feat at home on Sunday now, where a win or draw will book their spot to the World Cup (with a loss also even working in some instances).
And it’s been one that has been a long-time coming for this team.
After some lean decades, one that just mostly consisted of close calls, heartbreak and moral victories, they have put all of that behind them so far this World Cup cycle.
Sitting atop the ‘Octagonal’, the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, a round they hadn’t even made since the 1990s before doing so this cycle, they’ve not only thrown themselves back into the mix as a team that can be one of CONCACAF’s 3.5 representatives for this next World Cup, but have arguably led the way in that charge, too.
Because of that, it’s given them this incredible opportunity to now finish the job in front of their home fans on Sunday, which for them, would be a fair reward for how their adventure has gone to this point.
“I think it’s going to be good for us,” Canadian midfielder, Stephen Eustaquio, said of the opportunity on Saturday. “The whole country is playing tomorrow, not only us, and this is our last opportunity (to clinch at home).”
“And we’re going to win, that’s it, and clinch first place,” he confidently added.
And it’s that sort of confidence that has become such a huge part of this Canadian team.
Always satisfied to kind of float around the fringes of CONCACAF before, they have ditched that ‘laissez-faire’ sort of attitude that they often had for the decades after that 1986 run, and instead now want to be the best team in the region.
So when you hear Eustaquio say that his team is going to go out and win on Sunday, you can really believe it. Before, they might’ve said something like that, but executing those words would’ve been a whole other story.
Now, though, the standards are higher than ever for this Canadian team, and they want to continue to push them higher and higher, starting with this qualification to the World Cup.
“We know our quality,” Eustaquio continued. “I believe we are the best team in CONCACAF, but we have to start acting like it, and we have to work for it.”
But if Canada is to continue to improve their standards, playing like the top team in CONCACAF, it’s imperative that they find a way to not get dragged down by what happened in Costa Rica this week.
Even though it was a tough way to lose, going down to 10-men and then still doing everything but tie things up in a hard environment, Canada had a lot to be proud of with how they fought for a result in a tough environment.
So because of that, while it’ll be easy to lament the missed opportunity that losing that game was, if they can build off of what they showed, there’s no reason why they can’t finish the job in this game.
After getting a harsh reminder of what playing in this region can be like, something that they hadn’t gotten a proper taste of in a while on this fairytale run, their feet are firmly planted on the ground again, and they believe that’s just what the doctor ordered ahead of Sunday.
“Yesterday and today was just (about) recognizing what happened in Costa Rica,” Herdman said of the Costa Rica match. “For me, it was a performance we could be proud of, and put that in the past. There were some things we wanted to take from that, which were bravery, courage, playing a style of football, and then recognize that this is a completely different animal with Jamaica.”
“It feels good to be home,” Eustaquio added. “It was a hard punch in Costa Rica, we wanted to win, but we couldn’t, but if we look at things normally, we have a good opportunity to win tomorrow.”
But while a lot of focus will be on what Canada is going to be expected to bring to this game, and rightfully so, it’s also imperative that they give full respect to the Jamaican side that awaits them in this game.
They might be sitting near the bottom of the Octo, one of the three teams already eliminated, but don’t be fooled by all of that – this is a very solid team.
Led by some talented players, such as the likes of Michail Antonio, Leon Bailey, Ravel Morrison, Ethan Pinnock and Andre Blake, they just never really got going this Octo, leading them to fire their head coach, Theodore Whitmore, after just 8 games this round, replacing him with interim coach, Paul Hall.
And since then, they’ve started to look like themselves again, playing some of their best soccer in the 4 games after Whitmore’s dismissal, even despite their record of 0W-3L-1D (1 PT) under Hall.
So because of that, while it might be easy to look at this Jamaica side and think ‘oh, this is going to be a walk in the park for Canada’, they’re a sleeping giant of sorts, and those are the kinds of teams you have to be careful of, as Herdman made sure to caution Saturday.
“The mindset’s got to be right first,” Herdman said of playing Jamaica. “We know that Jamaica is a team that plays with a freedom, it’s a team that they’re going to have young, hungry players that are going to want to prove themselves for their country, so as always, we gotta get back to our humility, our tactical excellence and bring back our mentality to push a level that intensity that shows why we’re #1 in CONCACAF at the minute.”
But if Canada does that, though, this game will be remembered in the history books.
37 years later, people talk about Canada’s victory over Honduras in St.Johns in hushed tones, almost in awe of what happened that day.
And that was for a game back before social media, played in front of a couple of thousand supporters in the middle of nowhere.
This game will be played in front of 33 000+, and millions more across the country, meaning that a win could set off the sort of celebrations that will make this one of those ‘where were you when…’ kind of events.
Plus, this would be the sort of win that would have a massive impact on generations of Canadian soccer fans, especially for the young kids, who will only be inspired by what this sort of victory and qualification would mean.
So because of that, while it’s easy for Canada to lock into the “only focus on the 90 minutes, and then focus on the rest after” mentality that most might preach in this situation, they showed good perspective on Saturday, making sure to acknowledge how special this game could be.
“We’ve got to keep it in perspective that they could do something amazing, I mean that was something (we said) at the beginning of the camp, we made out the map of what this could mean to define what a ‘New Canada is’. And coming out of Costa Rica, which was like the gut punch we needed to get back down to earth, our feet on the ground, let’s get this done, let’s get back to business.”
And from there, the rest they’ll feel should line up nicely.
“Get ready to be in Qatar,” Eustaquio confidently added.
Up Next: Canada vs Jamaica, Sunday, March 27th, 2022, 13:00 PST, 16:00 EST (BMO Field, Toronto)
Cover Photo via: Canada Soccer/MexSport