Canada seek Copa América upset vs. Argentina: “We believe"


Kits emblazoned with Davies, Koné, Osorio, and Johnston on Canadian streets. Red and white smoke outside bars in Montréal. Unbridled roars pouring from seemingly every establishment.

For Canada, it’s all too familiar with Olympic golds in hockey, women’s soccer and more.

Men’s soccer? Not quite.

Despite two FIFA World Cup appearances, the men’s game has never had a Canadian moment like this Cinderella run at Copa América, with a semifinal against Lionel Messi’s Argentina looming Tuesday night at MetLife Stadium (8 pm ET | FS1, Univision, TSN).

“I’m starting to feel Canadian, which is really cool ... and we’re getting more stories and videos about what's happening back home,” said CanMNT head coach Jesse Marsch.

“The guys are feeding off that energy, and they're excited. I think most Canadians can relate to and understand their stories, so they're a great representation of everything that's good about the country.”

Over the last month, since Marsch took over and navigated complicated friendlies against European powers before tackling Copa América, names previously seldom known to Canadian sports fans have become household heroes.

So far, Canada fell against Argentina to open Group A, beat Peru and tied Chile. Then came the quarterfinals, when they beat Venezuela in penalty kicks to set up a rematch with their opening-night foes.

Portland Timbers goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau is now a national icon for his breakaway saves and penalty stops. Colorado Rapids center back Moise Bombito and CF Montréal academy product Ismaël Koné are renowned for their class finishes from the spot. And, of course, Nashville SC’s Jacob Shaffelburg, “Tennessee Waterslide” mullet and all, is endearing himself to Canadians while playing on Alphonso Davies’ left wing.

Full circle

The emanating pride for Canadian soccer is new, especially for their 14 Copa América players currently in MLS. For Crépeau, in particular, it’s a full-circle moment.

When he put pen to paper as a young 18-year-old goalkeeper prospect with CF Montréal, Marsch was in the room as the club’s head coach.

“I remember we talked about his professional career and what we hoped he could become,” Marsch recalled with OneSoccer. “Now, getting to know him again, when he’s 30 years old, it's almost like a lifetime ago. I’m impressed with the man he's become, the husband, the father, and the team leader.”

Crépeau, who could be in the running for the tournament’s Golden Glove award, has an easily relatable journey to many of the players who have come through MLS and built up to this moment.

For Davies, a former Vancouver Whitecap, it’s about taking on the captaincy and a defined role at left back, knowing he doesn’t have to freeflow and tackle every task himself. For Shaffelburg, it’s about growing into a new team, and for Derek Cornelius, alongside Bombito, taking on the weight of facing world-class attackers as go-to center backs.

With millions watching from home and thousands of Canadians expected in the stands at MetLife Stadium, MLS stars and the rest of Les Rouges get set for arguably the CanMNT's biggest-ever match.

They’ve got every belief they can come out on top, despite the challenge posed by Inter Miami CF's Messi and La Albiceleste.

“We’re a completely different team than we were 20 days ago; it’s going to be a different match,” said Toronto FC fullback Richie Laryea. “We didn’t come here just to make a semifinal against Argentina and wash our hands and be like, ‘That’s good enough.’ This is a game we think we can win.

" … We want to win [Copa América], as bold or as crazy as that might sound.”


Ahead of the semifinals, Argentina are favored to lift their 16th Copa América trophy. Yet, with the CanMNT's performances so far, there’s confidence brewing they could pull off the upset.

While the stats and odds could add some extra motivation, the group finds calmness in themselves, channeling bravery in big moments.

Ahead of the tournament, few would have guessed two inexperienced international center backs would form Canada’s spine, yet Bombito and Cornelius have been among the tournament's best.

“I wanted to invest in those two guys at the start of our development process, and pretty quickly in training and in the first matches, they showed that they were going to be up for the challenge,” Marsch said about the pairing. “They've adapted and grown and tried in every way to commit to the things that I've asked them to do.”

Bombito even demonstrated his ability to thrive under pressure in the Venezuela shootout, holding his composure with fans pointing lasers in his eyes before slotting home a critical penalty.

It’s still early in this new CanMNT era, yet there’s an extraordinary belief in the group, one they think gives them a chance against the defending Copa América and World Cup champions.

“It’s a big task. Wow. What a huge ask to beat Argentina, especially with the way that they're playing, but we believe, and we've been playing well,” Marsch noted.

“We will give ourselves a chance. Tuesday's a big night for us.”