Canada’s soccer credentials under coach John Herdman will be tested by the best CONCACAF has to offer at this summer’s Gold Cup.
The Canadian men, currently ranked 78th in the world, have been placed in Group A with six-time champion Mexico (No. 18) along with Martinique (unranked because it is not a FIFA member) and Cuba (No. 174).
“We all knew this was going to be a tough draw, no matter what group you ended up in,” Herdman said in an interview from Los Angeles where he learned his team’s fate.
“As a group, we were hoping to get some tough matches and to get tested and there’s no bigger test than Mexico,” he added.
Canada will kick off the CONCACAF championship on June 15 against Martinique at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., before facing Mexico on June 19 at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver and Cuba on June 23 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
Each of those matchdays will feature Group A doubleheaders.
The tournament, won by Canada in 2000, wraps up July 7 at Chicago’s Soldier Field.
The four groups were announced Wednesday at the Banc of California Stadium, 100 days from the 15th edition of the CONCACAF championship which has been expanded to 16 teams.
It was already known that Mexico, No. 38 Costa Rica, No. 61 Honduras and the No. 24 Americans would head up the groups. CONCACAF, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean, filled in the rest of the groups from the competing teams.
The seeded nations were the four highest-ranked teams in the region based on the CONCACAF ranking index for September 2018: Mexico (No. 1), U.S. (2), Costa Rica (3) and Honduras (4). Canada was No. 6 after Panama.
Group B features Costa Rica, Haiti, Nicaragua and Bermuda with games in San Jose, Costa Rica, Frisco, Texas, and Harrison, N.J.
Group C is made up of Honduras, Jamaica, El Salvador and Curacao with games in Kingston, Jamaica, Houston and Los Angeles.
Group D consists of the U.S., Panama, Trinidad & Tobago, and Guyana with games in Saint Paul, Minn., Cleveland and Kansas City.
The top two in each pool will advance to the knockout quarterfinals. Asked about his team’s chances against Martinique and Cuba, Herdman replied: “Anything can happen in tournaments.”
“We’ve seen that in World Cups, in big tournaments. You know there aren’t any easy games. These are all do-or-die-type matches. Teams, now matter where they’re ranked in CONCACAF, they’re able to raise their game.”
The top two in Group A will cross over to play the top two in Group B in the June 29 quarterfinals at NRG Stadium, Houston. The winners will then meet in the July 2 semifinal at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.
Canada is 3-18-7 against Mexico and winless in the last seven meetings (0-5-2) since the Canadian men posted a 2-1 win in the quarterfinals of the 2000 Gold Cup when Richard Hastings scored in second-half stoppage time.
Canada is 1-2-1 against Martinique, losing the last meeting 1-0 at the 2013 Gold Cup, and 6-2-3 against Cuba.
Canada is 5-0-0 under Herdman, outscoring its opposition 19-1. But the average world ranking for the first four of those opponents — French Guiana, the fifth team, is not a member of FIFA so is unranked — has been 158.
“We keep saying we’ve been making steps and I think we all believe that we have,” Toronto FC midfielder Jonathan Osorio said Wednesday prior to the group announcement. “Especially with the players we have coming in and everything.
“But you can’t really prove that until you play the best. So we’re excited for that. We’ve been waiting for this. These other games have been tough in their own way but the games coming up are the ones that we’ve really been looking forward to.
“We want to prove ourselves. We feel like we haven’t yet, maybe. But we’re ready to do that now.”
Canada had previously drawn Cuba — and the U.S. — in the first edition of the CONCACAF Nations League A this fall.
The 2019 Gold Cup has been increased to 16 teams with the top 10 countries from the CONCACAF Nations League qualifying and the six teams — Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Trinidad and Tobago, and the U.S. — who made it to the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying last time out.
The Canadian men made it to the quarterfinals last time out in 2017, losing 2-1 to Jamaica. The U.S. beat Jamaica 2-1 in the final for their sixth title.
Canada finished third in 2002 and 2007.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press