Canada command "respect" at Copa América with semifinal berth

Canada celebrate - Copa America - quarterfinal

Two penalty kick stops and two saves. The standout goalkeeper of the 2024 Copa América so far. Despite that, Maxime Crépeau knows where things stand.

In the moments after Canada’s 4-3 PK shootout win over Venezuela following a 1-1 draw in Friday's quarterfinal, the 30-year-old Portland Timbers star echoed the beliefs of many.

“This is amazing... I think everybody needs to realize the respect this country and these footballers deserve,” Crépeau told TSN post-match. “Everybody says, ‘Who are these Canadians?' Yeah, well, these Canadians are semifinalists.”

With national hero and NHL superstar Sidney Crosby watching from the AT&T Stadium stands and joining the Canadian players in the locker room postmatch, Les Rouges put in a dominant performance, silencing the heavy Venezuelan support throughout the match despite struggling to finish chances.

“We probably don’t,” head coach Jesse Marsch said of the respect Canada get from the international soccer community. “That will take time. I think respect comes in many different ways, but the best way to earn respect is to play well and win matches.”

While Crépeau proved his worth in net, Nashville SC’s Jacob Shaffelburg scored the opening goal and Ismäel Koné netted the game-winning penalty with ice-cold composure.

The Marsch effect

Just six games into his tenure, Marsch has pushed the group to their best form and booked a semifinal date against Lionel Messi and Argentina on Tuesday night at MetLife Stadium.

While the former CF Montréal and New York Red Bulls head coach may not have any family connection to the country, there’s little doubt he’s learned the value of being Canadian over the past two months.

In his first moments with the CanMNT, he questioned the group on what it meant to be Canadian. In team talks, he stressed the importance of not losing their national identity in the global game.

It didn't take long, and now it’s paying off.

“Their commitment, their desire, their willingness to learn, and all of that has led to bigger and bigger belief and self-confidence,” Marsch said, appearing on the edge of tears following Koné’s winner. “At the end, you saw how strong the team is. They’re united, even in the penalties... the unity that the group has is amazing.”

Marsch’s approach has been a breath of fresh air for Canada Soccer. Five games ago, his side lost 4-0 to the Netherlands and looked overwhelmed by his demands. Yet, as they’ve increased their fitness levels and adapted to the high-pressing nature of a Red Bull-style team, it’s all coming up for Les Rouges.

As Marsch belts the anthem pre-match and sinks his teeth into the nation’s identity and inclusive values, the players have paid him back with determined performances, showcasing a Canadian grittiness with tactical and demanding football.

“I'm just thankful that this program helped me show my abilities, play with my brothers, and play in tournaments like this. I think we earned it, but to be in this position to help the program, it’s a great feeling,” said Koné, unable to wipe the smile off his face. “It’s just been progress, learning and fun. This brotherhood means everything to me.”

Argentina rematch looms

When Canada opened Copa América with a 2-0 loss against defending champions Argentina, few would have expected the two sides to meet again in the semifinal. Fewer would have bet Canada to go farther in the tournament than Concacaf favorites Mexico and the United States.

Now they walk into the semifinal as a different challenger against an Argentine side that has grown much the same during the competition.

There’s a special determination in the group, especially for Shaffelburg – one of the few players not from the provinces of Ontario or Quebec, where pathways to national team programs are clearer.

Hailing from Kentville, Nova Scotia, the former Toronto FC winger turned Nashville cult hero has had a breakout tournament and will look to keep it going in the semifinal.

“All of his goals like count double, it feels like,” former CF Montréal defender Alistair Johnston said of Shaffelburg, whose two other international goals also came in knockout ties. "The shift he puts in every time, he’s running his balls off every game, and it makes such a difference for us.”

Pride of a nation

For Marsch, though, it’s about moving forward with the group and keeping the mentality he has helped foster, even with the challenge of facing the world’s top team once again – now with the eyes of Canada on him, including Crosby, casual sports fans, famous figures and even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“We know that it's going to take so much more to give ourselves a chance, but we're excited about where we are in our development and that we have earned the right to give it another shot,” Marsch said. “Argentina will have to be the best match we’ve ever played and it still might not be enough. But, whatever. We’re going to go for it.”