MLS Today

Canada can "stamp" rise from Concacaf afterthought to World Cup-bound nation

History is within touching distance for the Canadian men’s national team, which can book a Qatar 2022 World Cup spot with a win Thursday night at Costa Rica (10:05 pm ET | Paramount+, Sportsnet, OneSoccer).

In fact, head coach John Herdman’s squad has performed so admirably throughout Concacaf’s Octagonal that a loss or draw in San Jose, as combined with other results around the region, could still book World Cup passage for the first time since 1986.

While one of Concacaf’s three automatic spots isn’t technically locked up, Les Rouges are undefeated through 11 of 14 matchdays and their fanbase has relatively low anxiety levels as compared to those in the US, Mexico and elsewhere.

“I expected Canada to fight for a spot for a qualifier to 2022, but definitely not at the pace and the demonstration that they have put forth since the beginning of this final round and the Octagon qualification stage,” CF Montréal all-time great and former Canada midfielder Patrice Bernier said on MLS Today. “Now, it’s [not only] for Canada to have risen to the level of talent that there is in Canada, but to display it on the international stage on a regular basis.”

Canada have two other matches this window, hosting Jamaica on March 27 at Toronto FC’s BMO Field before closing with a March 30 trip to Panama. While uncertainty surrounds most of Concacaf’s contenders, Canada know they'll – at the bare minimum – be heading to an inter-confederation playoff vs. Oceania’s representative.

It’s a rapid progression amid a lights-out generation, one spearheaded by Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David, Tajon Buchanan and other youngsters. Davies, back training after a bout with myocarditis (heart inflammation), missed out on this roster, though the Vancouver Whitecaps FC product is the program’s undoubted face.

“Now Canada has that top quality, but it’s also because defensively they are strong and so you know if you make a mistake you better watch out,” Bernier said. “It’s not going to take three or four chances. It’s going to take one or two and you’re down 1-0. Then after that, you don’t want to be running against the score against a team that can go put a second one or a third one.”

That defensive rigidity is anchored by goalkeeper Milan Borjan, and there's a sterling midfield duo of Atiba Hutchinson and Stephen Eustaquio. Dual-nationals are considering Canada in greater numbers, too, given their success.

And when the World Cup spot is likely secured, Bernier said the cascading effect will be immense for soccer’s trajectory in the country.

“I think once they solidify and confirm that spot to the World Cup, everybody is going to be like, ‘You know what? Let’s go watch this World Cup. November is going to be great, everybody is going to jump in,’” Bernier said. “Now you’re going to get the second crop who are a bit curious or doubtful that Canada is really a soccer country, now jumping on the bandwagon. After that, hopefully investment and people really want to keep growing the game. Because it’s growing, no question about it – now we need to grow the elite side of it, this landmark moment that will happen in the following next games.”

From there, Bernier said the magic happens for a nation that began this qualification cycle in March 2021 by topping Group B of Concacaf's first stage before advancing from a two-legged series that June vs. Haiti (second round), booking this Octagonal opportunity.

“Eyeballs are already on Canada,” Bernier said. “But you need that moment that is going to stamp it.”