ORLANDO, Fla. – Canadian soccer fans haven’t had a chance to hold their heads this high when it comes to the men’s program in quite some time.
An impressive victory over the United States last month was an encouraging sign that maybe John Herdman’s overhaul is the right path forward for a program long stuck in a perpetual state of looking to the future.
But before Canada talk about shifts in the Concacaf hierarchy and knocking off the region’s two traditional powers off their perch, the team is out to prove that last month’s result wasn’t a fluke.
“These games are good for the respect for our country and the new Canadian of soccer that we’re playing,” said Toronto FC’s Richie Laryea ahead of Friday’s Concacaf Nations League rematch with the USMNT at Exploria Stadium (7 pm ET | ESPN2, UniMás, TUDN in US; OneSoccer.ca in Canada). “These games are very important for us to win. It puts a statement across the rest of the Concacaf teams.”
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In their 2-0 win at Toronto’s BMO Field last month, Canada were rewarded for coming out with more drive and more intensity than their much more heralded opponent.
Needing a draw or win on Friday to pull off an unlikely group win, Canada must confront what has so often proved to be their downfall: getting results on the road in competitive fixtures.
“The players know how important the game is. It’s just World Cup qualification, Hex qualification,” said Herdman. “There’s nothing else in our minds. We’ve heard all the stuff on the outside of what’s being said about the team. We just need points. It’s that simple. We want to take this country to a World Cup.”
Fortune may be smiling on Canada with a wounded US team forced to play without Michael Bradley, Christian Pulisic and Zack Steffen. Given Canada’s lack of results when it matters most on hostile ground, they know they can’t get carried away.
“We have to respect them for the guys they have out there,” said Laryea.
“They’re still going to field a good 11 players and they’re going to have substitutes that are going to be very good, as well. It’s going to be a big difference for them but I’m sure they have guys ready to fill the void.”
In the Canadian sporting landscape, last month’s result opened some eyes. But the jury is still out whether the program is finally turning the corner. World Cup qualification is the ultimate yardstick. A result Friday would prove wrong many naysayers who’ve long alleged that Canada can’t get the job done.
“It’s another cup final,” said Herdman. “The other team will have other motivations but for us, we’ve got to win these games. We’ve got to pick up points. We want to finish top of the nations league. It’s like life or death.”