Trophy-chasing Canada have clear "expectation" vs. Honduras in Nations League

Canada Johnston - 3.27.23

Silverware is front of mind for the Canadian men’s national team.

Coming off the program’s first FIFA World Cup performance in 36 years, Les Rouges can take an important step towards that when hosting Honduras in their Concacaf Nations League group-stage finale Tuesday night at Toronto FC’s BMO Field (8 pm ET | OneSoccer, Paramount+).

Canada need a win or draw against Honduras to earn top honors in League A, Group C – booking one of four spots in the four-team semifinals this June in Las Vegas. With both teams entering on six points and Canada holding a +5 goal differential, Honduras must win to book a spot in the Nations League Semifinals.

For Canada and a squad in a generational transition at some positions, it’s a time to give themselves a legitimate shot at lifting a trophy – something they last accomplished when winning the 2000 Concacaf Gold Cup.

“We want to win something this year. That’s the statement we’re going to be stepping behind… to be the best team is our mission,” head coach John Herdman said at his Matchday-1 press conference. “We are qualitatively inside the top four in Concacaf.”

While Canada will be playing at BMO Field for the first time since clinching their World Cup berth on March 27, 2022, they do so on the back-end of a challenging window, having beaten Curaçao 2-0 away on Saturday, less than 72 hours prior. 

Against Curaçao, Canada took a while to settle into the rhythms they became accustomed to in the World Cup process and struggled to maintain long spells of possession. Still, former Orlando City SC striker Cyle Larin kept up his stellar form from his thunderous start at LaLiga’s Real Valladolid, scoring his 26th goal for Canada, while Lille’s Jonathan David added his 23rd. With that result, a 2023 Gold Cup ticket was punched.

However, when Canada line up against Honduras, there’s an impetus on winning and achieving continental success with trophies, continuing their Concacaf-leading qualifying efforts during the 2022 World Cup cycle. 

“We should win this game. It’s an expectation,” Herdman said of facing Honduras. “Winning this game puts us with a chance of beating the U.S., Mexico, Jamaica, whoever we face, to lift our first Nations League trophy and be pioneers again.”

Bringing the "pressure to win"

With a Canadian group on the rise and Herdman ever-emphasizing the need for players to play in Europe and at “tier one” levels, former CF Montréal standouts Alistair Johnston and Ismaël Koné joining Scotland’s Celtic and England’s Watford are shining examples of Herdman’s desire.

With 36-year-old center back Steven Vítoria suspended Tuesday, Johnston will likely also bring youthful leadership to the Canadian backline, starting in either a 3-5-2 or 4-4-2, as one of the longest-tenured defenders, despite being just 24 years old.

At this camp, Johnston brings new lessons. While he’s not been at Celtic for long, the short stint with the Scottish giants has seen him lift the Scottish League Cup and given him a taste of what it’s like to play for one of the biggest-name clubs in world soccer.

“The pressure to win and the pressure to represent Celtic every moment of every day, it’s something I’ve had to learn,” Johnston said of his first half-season with the club. “You go to the grocery store, and there’s people running after you; it’s a bit of a different lifestyle... I’m trying to make that fanbase proud, and the Canadians back home proud.”

Meanwhile, Koné has settled in with Watford, continuing his meteoric rise through the last 18 months. It was just over a year ago that Montréal started Koné for the first time; now he’s playing regular minutes in the English Championship and is rumored to be joining Serie A’s Udinese this summer.

Although still relatively young, the two made instant international impacts after getting a chance to shine in MLS.

“I probably hadn’t heard of Koné a year ago,” Canadian midfielder Stephen Eustáquio said of the 20-year-old. “To see how important he is right now, we just wish that there are more players like coming into our environment.”

While Canada got over the men’s World Cup hump, winning trophies and establishing themselves as the region’s best is a critical next step in the buildup to being co-hosts for North America 2026. For Eustáquio, who’s no stranger to trophies with FC Porto, there’s nothing more important.

“If we end our career and we don’t win trophies, then what is the point?,” the midfielder posed.