How are you feeling Canada fans? After a long and grueling process with qualification requirement changes, FIFA ranking calculation, past demons to face and conquer, and resurgent national teams, Canada has finally found themselves in the final round of World Cup qualifying. By the celebrations of the players, one would have thought that they had made the finals themselves, and to many Canadians, this feels just like that- and that is not a bad thing. It wasn’t more than ten years ago when Canada fell 8-1 at the hands of Honduras at the final hurdle eliminating them from Brazil 2014. The future seemed bleak for Canada soccer at that point, and it is crazy to think that a turnaround of fortunes came so quick.
But this team is completely different than the one that took the field on that fateful October night in 2012, with 10+ goal a season strikers up top, and a plethora of European champions littered across the Canadian roster. That’s not to mention the first ever CONCACAF player to make it in the FIFA World XI, Alphonso Davies. This squad has a goal, and that is to find themselves in soccer’s biggest tournament come December 2022.
Everyone on the team seems determined to fight for the badge and country, as seen in the pre-match team talk and the post-match celebrations. Many players who weren’t born in this country have vowed to give their all to a country which has given them a home one way or another; and this encapsulates beautifully the Canadian identity. Hopefully, this story of triumph is able to inspire other Canadians in one way or another to choose to fight for the country that can offer them so much (*Cough cough* Tomori).
As for the games of the second round, they were much more tense than they had any right to be, but that made them infinitely more fun. What many were worried for was a nervous defensive display that would show the same cracks displayed in the 2019 Gold Cup, but this was far from the case. In fact, one of Canada’s best assets was what was letting them down, which was their striking. Across two legs (Outside of the last ten minutes) it looked as if the forward moves weren’t clicking the way they needed to and players weren’t reading runs properly. In the game against Haiti, you could have chalked it up to the different climate and harsh Central American climate, but it was a little worrying heading into the 75th minute of the second game only having scored a single goal themselves. No disrespect to Haiti or any of it’s talented players, but if Canada were wanting to make some noise in the Octagonal, they would need to roll over teams such as this that weren’t of the same caliber of Mexico, the USA, and Costa Rica. Luckily, the score after two legs was 4-0, and I’m sure the finishing will be addressed by John Herdman for the Gold Cup and subsequent Octagonal games.
The standout stars of the matches versus Haiti were the midfielders, especially Mark-Anthony Kaye and Stepehen Eustáquio. Kaye showed an impressive display of midfield coverage, intercepting balls and making great passes to the forwards, very rarely being dispossessed by the Haitian players. He seemed a cut above the rest of the players on the field and looked to be a match for any midfielder in CONCACAF. Hopefully Kaye can continue these strong performances for country and club, possibly bagging himself a move to Europe with the soccer world’s eyes slowly turning towards Canada. Eustáquio on the other hand, was much more understated but equally as effective. Playing a deeper role than that of his other midfield counterparts, Eustáquio was able to clean up loose balls and stop attacks altogether, dropping to the defensive line often to provide an extra body in the back line on attacks from Haiti that were not in his vicinity. Hopefully that move to a top team in Portugal or a top 5 league team materializes and he can take his game to the next level, which he very well is able to do.
At the end of the day, a 3-0 victory was a moralizing one for this young Canadian side. Looking forward, the path ahead is much simpler to understand. Round robin with 7 other teams, in which the first three teams have direct qualification to the World Cup while the fourth goes to an interconfederation playoff. Realistically the goal will be to claim that fourth place as their own, with anything better being a nice surprise. It is definitely doable with the side Canada has, and only time will tell whether this generation of Canadian players will be able to achieve something greater.