Perhaps nothing will ever wash away the stains of Canada’s previous encounters with Honduras in World Cup qualifying. Perhaps there is more heartbreak on the way in the future.
But for one night, for the first night in a very long time, Canadian fans can hold their heads high following a high-stakes clash with their long-time CONCACAF rivals.
From the moment the ball left Junior Hoilett’s foot in the 38th minute, the 20,000+ fans in attendance at Vancouver’s BC Place could tell that something special was about to happen. It’s unlikely anyone predicted that a Will Johnson header would find the backside of an oblivious Cyle Larin, resulting in a goal to whom no one could seemingly attach credit.
But it’s also unlikely they cared. After a scoreless draw at home against Honduras doomed Canada’s chances of reaching Brazil 2014, a goal—any goal, ugly, beautiful or somewhere in between—was an absolute necessity on Friday night.
And after all the bad bounces, all the bad calls, all the bad moments that have befallen Canada in previous installments of the rivalry, yeah, we’ve earned the right to get a weird one in our favor.
“The last qualifiers, we didn’t have a lot of luck,” Canadian goalkeeper Milan Borjan told me after the game. “I think the luck is now looking at us… Like today, the goal, it was a lucky goal, let’s say.
“You have to have luck in this sport.”
So yes, maybe good fortune shone on Canada for once—there was no dubious penalty awarded to Honduras, no opportunity for the Central Americans to infuriate onlookers with dramatic writhing and time-wasting, no late-game collapse to rip away Canadians’ dreams.
And it couldn’t have come at a better time. With the team visiting Vancouver for the first time in over a decade, and the game broadcast nationally on TSN for the first time since the 1990s, this was a prime opportunity to change some minds about what the team is, and what it could be.
To the team’s credit, they came out firing and produced multiple legitimate scoring chances throughout the 90 minutes. And to the fans’ credit, they were loud and proud from start to finish, buoyed by a rambunctious and coordinated supporters section led by The Voyageurs.
With Canada set to face Mexico at a yet-to-be-confirmed Canadian location in March, some have floated the idea of trying to “freeze out” the opponent by playing in a frosty venue such as Edmonton or Winnipeg. But after the adrenaline surge of Friday night’s result, many with the team have made up their mind.
“Yes, I think—no, I am sure we are going to play against Mexico here,” said head coach Benito Floro, after gushing over the impact of the home crowd.
And Borjan was strident in advocating for a return to BC Place.
“I think that’s an amazing idea,” when he was told about Floro’s desire to face Mexico in Vancouver. “As more fans come to the game, they’re giving us a push in the back, and we need that. We need to know the country believes in us.”
After Friday night’s performance, there are a whole lot more believers than their might have been before the opening whistle. With three points in the bag, the semifinal round is off to a good start; but finishing the first two games with four (or even six!) points would make Russia 2018 look like an even more realistic goal.
Of course, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We can take a moment to savor a game that, quite frankly, many of us suspected might turn out like previous showdowns with Honduras—with utter frustration. Instead, the dream of a World Cup return remains alive, for at least a few more days, when we once again put all of our emotional-investment eggs in one basket.
Heading to Central America has traditionally been a recipe for disaster when it comes to Canada in World Cup qualifying. But then again, so has playing Honduras.
“We’re going to go there as a team, as a family, and make Canada proud,” said Borjan. “We are ready for El Salvador.”
See? All is well! So let’s have a nice weekend, thinking comforting thoughts about Canada being alive and well in World Cup qualifying, and let the chips fall as they will on Tuesday. The players were full of belief after Friday night’s result so, what the heck, maybe we can do the same.
After all, it’s not every day Canada beats Honduras in World Cup qualifying.