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After returning to the World Cup in Qatar, Canada men look to win trophies this year

TORONTO — After qualifying first in CONCACAF for the World Cup in Qatar, Canada coach John Herdman says his team's ambition is simple this year. "Kings of CONCACAF is the overarching theme," Herdman said Monday.
Jonathan David (left) and Alphonso Davies take part in a drill Monday, March 27, 2023 at Canada’s training session at BMO Field in Toronto. The Canadian men play Honduras in CONCACAF Nations League play Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Neil Davidson

TORONTO — After qualifying first in CONCACAF for the World Cup in Qatar, Canada coach John Herdman says his team's ambition is simple this year.

"Kings of CONCACAF is the overarching theme," Herdman said Monday. "That's what the mission was pre-World Cup. The mission wasn't to qualify for the World Cup. It was always to set something way beyond that.

"The men are pretty clear … When we came back together (March 20), to a man, everyone was clear. It's about going right back to the top and finishing the end of this year showing that we are the best team in CONCACAF. We may not have the biggest player pool. We may not have the biggest budgets. But we'll be the best team and that's our mission."

The 53rd-ranked Canadian men can take a step closer to adding to their trophy case on Tuesday, when they wrap up CONCACAF Nations League group play against No. 81 Honduras.

A draw or a win and Canada wins its group and advances to the tournament's final four in June in Las Vegas, joining No. 13 Mexico and the other heavyweights from North and Central America and the Caribbean.

Herdman's team has already qualified for this summer's Gold Cup, by virtue of its 2-0 win in Curaçao on the weekend. That guaranteed the Canadians at least second place in Group C — and a ticket to the Gold Cup.

"We want to win something this year," said Herdman. "We've got to make statements like that."

Canada Soccer expects a crowd of some 13,500 at the game, filling the lakefront stadium's lower bowl.

Canada will be without suspended centre back Steven Vitoria on Tuesday. But Herdman and defender/wingback Alistair Johnston are back after sitting out the win over No. 86 Curaçao through suspension in the wake of being sent off last June in a hot-blooded 2-1 loss in Honduras.

Seven Canadian players were yellow-carded on a rain-soaked night in San Pedro Sula, with Johnston sent off after receiving a second yellow in the 94th minute. Defender Raheem Edwards and Herdman were both red-carded after the final whistle.

After the heat and humidity of Curaçao, the Canadians were wearing layers for their early-afternoon training session Monday at BMO Field where the temperature was four degrees Celsius but felt like minus-one.

Herdman expects the temperature on the field to rise after kickoff Tuesday.

"It will be hot (Tuesday) night, there's no doubt," he said. "They're hungry. They could put themselves in a Nations League final. And for us, it's all on the line for us. Winner takes all."

"We know we've got the quality to win this match, at both ends of the field," he added.

The Canadians have an 8-12-7 career record against Honduras, including 5-2-3 on home soil.

Disciplinary records will be wiped clean for the tournament semifinals in Vegas.

Canada missed out on the final four in the inaugural 2019-20 edition of the CONCACAF Nations League, finishing runner-up to the eventual champion U.S. in its group on goal difference. The Americans edged Mexico 3-2 after extra time via a 114th-minute Christian Pulisic penalty in the final.

Tuesday's game is the first for the Canadian men at BMO Field since the historic 4-0 victory over Jamaica that sealed World Cup qualification on March 27 last year. 

Canada Soccer Hall of Fame inductee Richard Hastings, who won 59 caps for Canada between 1998 and 2010, will be honoured at Tuesday's game.

The four League A group winners move on to Las Vegas for the June 15-18 final four. Mexico and the U.S. have already booked their tickets.

No. 13 Mexico (2-0-2) finished atop Group A after tying No. 64 Jamaica 2-2 Sunday. The 15th-ranked U.S. (3-0-1) downed  No. 74 El Salvador 1-0 in Orlando on Monday night to win Group D.

No. 61 Panama (2-0-1) finishes out Group B play at No. 32 Costa Rica (2-1-0) on Tuesday.

The Canadians are unbeaten in 15 matches at home (14-0-1) and have won their last seven straight. Their last loss on Canadian soil was 3-0 to Mexico in March 2018 in World Cup qualifying. 

Canada has not lost at BMO Field since Sept. 2010 when it was beaten 2-0 by Peru. It has gone 14-0-6 at the lakefront stadium since then, outscoring the opposition 51-6.

That run is all against CONCACAF opposition, with the exception of a 2-2 tie with Ecuador that came on the heels of the Peru loss.

Canada blanked Curaçao 4-0 before losing in Honduras to open Nations League play last June. Those matches came amid turmoil in the Canada camp, with players refusing to take part in a planned friendly against Panama over ongoing labour talks.

The CONCACAF Nations League features 41 teams from North and Central America and the Caribbean split into three tiers: League A (12 teams), B (16) and C (13).

Curaçao (1-3-0) has been relegated to League B after finishing third in Canada's group.


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This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 27, 2023.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press