Why Canada's final Concacaf Nations League qualifier is so important

Atiba Hutchinson - Canada national team - celebrates goal vs. St. Kitts and Nevis

The Canadian national team wrap up their Concacaf Nations League qualifying campaign against French Guiana on Sunday at BC Place (6 pm ET on TSN2 in Canada; FloSports in USA), a match that could have massive implications for the program's short- and long-term ambitions.

Les Rouges have been perfect thus far in CNL qualifiers, with a 3W-0L-0D record, 14 goals scored and none conceded. But it could all fall by the wayside if they stumble in the last section of this winding road.

“With a win we qualify for the Gold Cup, we qualify for Nations League Group A, and Canada are picking up ranking points that are important. And we’re moving towards our ultimate goal, which is 2022,” Herdman told reporters last week.

CNL qualifying determines the final composition of the new Concacaf Nations League competition which kicks off across the North American region later this year, and Canada want badly to book one of the six spots up for grabs in Group A, the top tier, which features heavyweights like Mexico and Costa Rica.

That would provide tougher competition for coach John Herdman’s squad as they seek to climb into the Concacaf elite and eventually earn a place at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. It would also clinch their qualification for this year’s Gold Cup, with CNL now serving as the route to determining berths in that tournament.

While there are scenarios in which Canada could still finish in the top six of CNL qualifying standings with a loss, a win or draw against French Guiana — who have earned six points from three matches and posted a plus-five goal differential — is of the utmost priority.

“We need to get a result to guarantee our spot in Group A of Concacaf Nations League, so we are putting all our focus and attention on achieving that outcome,” said Herdman when the home of the Vancouver Whitecaps was officially announced as the venue for this game.

“As the qualifying round progresses, you are facing nations from higher-seeded pots, so you know the matches will get harder. We need to continue to improve so that we are ready for whatever French Guiana throws at us in March and ready to move this team to the next level. The fans in BC can play a big role in pushing the team to a first berth in Concacaf Nations League Group A and to Concacaf Gold Cup qualification.”