The Canadian and the US national teams will be squaring off once again in Olympic qualifying – and it’s the Americans who’ll be seeking revenge, for a change.
The cross-border rivals will meet in their opening match of the 2016 Olympic qualifying tournament on Oct. 1 at Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan., it was revealed on Tuesday. Joining them in Group A are Panama and Cuba, with only the top two teams in each group having a chance at reaching Rio 2016.
“Whether it's a good thing to open against a tournament favorite depends on the score,” Canadian head coach Benito Floro said in a release. “If we win or tie while playing well at the same time, which will always be our intention, we could say that it is good that we start against the USA.”
Back in 2012, Canada shocked the US with a 2-0 win that helped knock the Americans out of the qualifying tournament and deny them a spot at the London Games. The Canadians also failed to qualify, though Floro – who is manager of the Under-23 Olympic team as well as the senior national team – has identified qualifying for Rio 2016 as a top priority ever since he took over two years ago.
And he feels that his side has the capacity to take a real shot at it.
“If we can get all the players we’d like, we could have a very good team,” said Floro. “And we can compete with anyone and that we can play very well and win games.”
Of course, whether all of Floro’s preferred players will be available remains to be seen. Canada’s first two group games are on Oct. 1 (US) and Oct. 3 (Panama), but the official FIFA international break doesn’t begin until Oct. 5.
“We are expected to know soon if coaches from European and MLS clubs are going to allow us our players to at least attend all the games and whether it’s possible for them to attend the pre-tournament camp,” said Floro. “We trust that the Canadian USL teams are going to allow players to attend the camp and in all the games.”
Canada’s USL clubs were well represented on Canada’s team at this summer’s Pan American Games, which served in part as a warm-up to Olympic qualifying. Twelve of the 18 players on that roster have competed this season with a Canadian USL side, including Caleb Clarke (Vancouver Whitecaps 2), Molham Babouli (Toronto FC II) and Maxime Crepeau (FC Montreal).
And that squad could be set for set for some significant reinforcements, potentially including the likes of Doneil Henry (West Ham United), Cyle Larin (Orlando City SC), Michael Petrasso (Queens Park Rangers), Dylan Carreiro (Dundee), Fraser Aird (Glasgow Rangers), Luca Gasparotto (on loan at Greenock Morton) and Sam Adekugbe (Vancouver Whitecaps).
But, once again, the participation of those players will rely on what sort of deal can be struck with their respective clubs – not to mention that MLS clubs battling for playoff spots will be reluctant to part with players who can make a difference.
“If clubs don’t allow several players to attend the games, it will be much more difficult for us,” said Floro. “We hope the clubs will allow all the players with us.”
No matter which players end up donning the red and white for that emotional tournament opener, Floro plans to prepare the team to compete for a vitally important result against the Americans.
“The most important thing is to play the game and to trust in what we can do on the pitch,” he said.