Canada headed to Haiti on Friday, looking to minimize its time in Port-au-Prince ahead of Saturday’s World Cup qualifier.
The two teams meet again Tuesday in suburban Chicago with the series winner advancing to the final round of qualifying in CONCACAF.
While travel to Haiti is not recommended due to the pandemic and possible civil unrest, footballing authorities gave the green light to stage the first leg of the second-round playoff at Haiti’s Stade Sylvio Cator in Port-au-Prince. Haiti has already hosted Belize and Nicaragua in qualifying play.
Canada coach John Herdman said his 70th-ranked his team was “excited” to face No. 83 Haiti.
“We’re just focused now on what happens between those white lines,” he said in an interview. “Everything else is just noise. We know we’ve got people in place to keep us safe.”
Herdman said while the travelling party had gone through COVID-19 testing ahead of departure, it found another round of testing awaiting in Haiti.
“Which is a surprise,” he said. “And honestly a bit of a concern. That was a new thing last night.”
“We’ll adapt to whatever they throw at us,” he added.
Peter Montopoli, general secretary of Canada Soccer, said his organization had had “many discussions” with FIFA about the merits of staging a game in Haiti. Montopoli, noting both FIFA and CONCACAF had been “very co-operative,” said Canada Soccer had requested extra security and medical staff plus “experienced staff on the ground.”
“What we believe is that we’ve taken the necessary steps to mitigate as much risk as possible … and done the best job possible with the governing bodies that we’re working with,” Montopoli said in an interview. “And potentially additional support that we as Canada Soccer see and feel is required for our team
Canada is 7-2-2 all-time against Haiti but lost last time out, blowing a 2-0 lead in a 3-2 loss in the quarterfinals of the 2019 Gold Cup in Houston. Haiti also beat Costa Rica at that tournament and took Mexico to extra time in a 1-0 semifinal loss.
“It showed the strength of that Haitian team and that we have to respect,” said Herdman.
“Two years later, we’re a stronger unit … We’re a more talented team. We’re stronger collectively and ready to go,” he added.