Michael Petrasso - Canada - U-23 - close-up
USA Today Sports

Michael Petrasso hopes to follow lead of recent Toronto sporting success in Canada's Olympic aspirations

Michael Petrasso has seen two of his hometown teams reach their targets in 2015; now, he’s hoping to help Canada’s Olympic qualifying squad do the same thing.

Canada faces Mexico in the CONCACAF semifinals on Saturday (6 pm ET; broadcast on TLN in Canada, on Telemundo in United States, streamed live on canadasoccer.com), with a chance to earn the country’s first Olympic berth in men’s soccer since 1984. But breaking droughts has become a bit of a theme for Canadian teams this season; the Toronto Blue Jays are playing postseason baseball for the first time since 1993, while Toronto FC looks set to finally clinch their first playoff spot in club history.

Petrasso, a 20-year-old from Toronto, is drawing some inspiration from the success of those teams—and he showed it in Tuesday’s game against Cuba, using the same “stirring the pot” celebration favored by the Blue Jays and TFC midfielder Sebastian Giovinco.

“I’m a big fan of Giovinco and what he’s done for the club,” the QPR player told MLSsoccer.com on Thursday. “And the Blue Jays, it’s hard to watch it from London… But I’m hoping they can do well throughout the playoffs.”

Petrasso has been the star for Canada thus far, scoring three of the team’s six goals and providing an ever-present threat down the left wing. His ability to keep that personal momentum going will be a big determinant of Canada’s chances against the powerful Mexican team.

“I’m feeling confident at the moment, scoring in each of the games I’ve played in,” said Petrasso. “As a team, we’re excited to potentially have a chance to qualify for the Olympics, which would be a dream come true.

“Obviously we’re a bit nervous; it’s a big game for the country, but it’s good nerves. I think the boys are focused and I think we have a chance.”

Canada have gotten to the semifinal stage in the last two Olympic qualifying tournaments, but fallen short on both occasions. But this time around, CONCACAF has an extra half-spot in the Olympics, meaning that the loser of the Canada-Mexico game still has a chance at reaching Rio.

That, however, won’t be on anyone’s minds once the whistle blows.

“We’re going to go into this game as our do-or-die chance to qualify, and give it all we’ve got,” said Petrasso.

It’s tough to know what to expect from Canada, who looked strong against Panama in a 3-1 win, but scraped their way to a 2-2 draw against an undermanned Cuba team. According to Petrasso, that latter result might have had something to do with the team’s mindset.

“Coming into the game, maybe we thought ‘we can beat Cuba’ and were a bit laid back,” said Petrasso. “Taking that into the next game, maybe Mexico will be thinking the same thing, ‘we can beat Canada,’ and we can come out fighting.”

If the squad can find its way to the Olympics — either by beating Mexico, or finishing third in CONCACAF and beating Colombia in a playoff — there’s one other place from which they’ll be able to draw inspiration. The Canadian women’s team had its breakthrough moment in the public consciousness during its bronze medal run at the 2012 Olympics, and Petrasso thinks that appearing in Rio could work similar magic for the men’s program.

“Men’s football in Canada, we haven’t gotten a lot of praise,” he said. “If we were to qualify for the Olympics, we’d gain a lot of support from Canada, and I think it’d be a big deal. … If we were to qualify, it’d bring a lot of people into the game.”