Canada coach John Herdman has asked Albertans to climb on board next month when the Canadian men play a pair of crucial World Cup qualifying games in Edmonton.
“That’s what we’re inviting this community to do, to come and be part of history, because these six points will make the biggest difference,” Herdman told a news conference Tuesday in the Alberta capital. “And the fans will get us over the line.”
“This is about Canadians supporting Canadians in the biggest sport on the planet,” he added.
The Canadian men, currently ranked 51st in the world, host No. 44 Costa Rica on Nov. 12 and No. 9 Mexico on Nov. 16, both at Commonwealth Stadium.
Mexico (4-0-2) tops the eight-team CONCACAF round-robin with 14 points, three ahead of the 13th-ranked U.S. (3-1-2). Canada (2-0-4) is third with 10 points and No. 68 Panama (2-2-2) fourth with eight points. Costa Rica (1-2-3) is fifth with six points.
Come March, the top three teams will book their ticket to Qatar 2022, representing North and Central America and the Caribbean. The fourth-place side will take part in an intercontinental playoff to see who joins them.
Herdman’s visit to Edmonton to drum up interest in the November matches was timed to coincide with tickets going on sale Friday.
While a loud and proud crowd will boost Canada, it’s also hoped that playing in chilly conditions on artificial turf will discombobulate the Costa Rican and Mexicans. Herdman remembers coaching the Canadian women in October games in Edmonton against South Korea (2013) and Japan (2014).
“Both times I could barely move my lips on the sidelines,” he said. “So I know it’s not easy.”
Herdman also has fond memories of Commonwealth Stadium. In 2015, he experienced a crowd of more than 53,000 roaring his team on as captain Christine Sinclair slotted home a 92nd-minute penalty for a 1-0 win over China in the opening game of the Women’s World Cup.
“It was a sea of red that day,” Herdman recalled.
“It’s a passionate football crowd that has showed up when we needed it,” he added, also referencing the 2002 FIFA U-19 Women’s World Championship.
Almost 48,000 were on hand at Commonwealth Stadium to see that 2002 U-19 final, won 1-0 by the U.S. after extra time over a Canadian team that featured Sinclair and goalkeeper Erin McLeod.
The choice of venue also makes for a homecoming for 20-year-old Bayern Munich star Alphonso Davies, who delivered a video message at Tuesday’s news conference.
The November games will be Davies’ first as pro in his hometown.
“I can’t wait to see all you guys there, can’t wait to fill that stadium ,” said Davies, who scored a memorable goal in Canada’s 4-1 win over Panama on Oct. 12 at Toronto’s BMO Field. “And we’re excited to show you guys what we have. And I hope you’re excited to see it.”
Davies should also help drive the gate, revenue that will be welcomed by the Canadian Soccer Association after seeing its bottom line battered by the pandemic.
With 4.5 million followers on TikTok, 4.1 million on Instagram and 302,400 on Twitter, Davies’ reach is “beyond football,” said Herdman, whose 10-year-old daughter is one of Davies’ followers.
“What this kid’s been able to do is just bring a positivity, a hope, a smile to Canada,” he said of Davies.
The back-to-back November games are seen as crucial for Canada, which has already tied Honduras and beaten El Salvador and Panama on home soil. Making the most of home games is essential in this qualifying run.
After the two matches in Edmonton, Canada will have six games remaining with just two at home.
The Canadians will visit Honduras and host the U.S. in January before playing in El Salvador in February. They will wrap up qualifying in March with a home game against Jamaica sandwiched around visits to Costa Rica and Panama.
Amidst the sales pitch, Herdman admitted “this is the hardest job I’ve ever done in my life,”
“We’ve got eight games left. I’m no under no illusion that we’re there … We’ve got more adversity coming in our way. There’ll be moments where we’re going to have to dig even deeper than we have before.”
“I’m going to keep smiling,” he added. “Because as I’ve said to the players, we’ve got nothing to lose. No one expected us to qualify for a World Cup. I was just the crazy guy that said we would.”
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 19, 2021
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press