Sam Adekugbe trains with Canada's national team in Toronto on Wednesday, September 1, 2021, ahead of their World Cup qualifier against Honduras. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Home field advantage? Cold, heavy snow await Canada and Mexico in Edmonton

Home field advantage? Cold, heavy snow await Canada and Mexico in Edmonton

EDMONTON — Sam Adekugbe grew up in Calgary, and has played pro soccer in Norway, so he knows a few things about having to deal with inclement weather.

When asked about the coldest game he ever played in, his memory went back to Scandinavia.

“Probably, Norway, small town called Tromso, got down to -15,” Adekubge said after the Canadian national team trained indoors Monday at the Scottish Dome on Edmonton’s south side. “It was cold, but we survived.”

Canada (3-0-4) is preparing to face Mexico in a game that could decide who goes to the top of the table in CONCACAF’s World Cup qualifying Octagon. Canada currently sits third, Mexico (4-1-2) is tied with the United States at the top. The top three teams qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, while the fourth-place team gets a final chance to qualify through an intercontinental playoff.

Canada beat Costa Rica in Edmonton Friday, in front of more than 48,806. That game was played in what some in Edmonton would consider balmy November conditions, at 1 C. But Environment Canada is calling for heavy snow during the day Tuesday, followed by what could be -11 C temperatures around kickoff — and that’s before the wind chill is factored in.

Defender Steven Vitoria said the weather won’t affect the team.

“We grew up in this,” he said. “We joked around during the week, this brings us back to our childhood. We’re excited. We’re not going to find any excuses. We’re going to leave it all out there, whether it’s sunny or snowy.”

He said the weather wasn’t a factor Friday, because the fan support for Canada was so strong and the players were able to ride the wave of emotion.

“We didn’t really feel it, we fed off the heat of our fans and we think it will be crucial tomorrow night.”

Canada Soccer officials confirmed that more than 50,000 tickets have been sold for Tuesday.

Coach John Herdman said he expects nothing less than a war between the two teams; Mexico beat Canada 2-1 at the Gold Cup, but Canada drew the Mexicans 1-1 at Azteca Stadium earlier in the qualifying cycle.

“The pitch is going to be set up the same, it’s a narrow field for both games,” he said. “But the narrow-field conditions, it’s not going to matter. It’s going to be an absolute war. It’s what we’re intending to bring. Both teams want to finish up at the top of the group by the end of the year.”

The field at Commonwealth is narrow because of the surrounding athletic track. During training at the Scottish Dome Monday, the sidelines were brought in so the team could replicate the Commonwealth conditions.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in Edmonton Monday morning to make an announcement on the child-care plan, visited with the team during the session.

“I just want you to know how much we are all so excited about what you have achieved, what you are going to continue to achieve and know that we’re really, really, really rooting for you all,” Trudeau told the players.

Trudeau asked the team whether they thought the cold weather and snow would be an advantage against Mexico.

“They’re not going to like it,” one team member said.

“It’s not like you’ve grown fur. Nobody is going to like it, but you’re a little more used to it?” Trudeau asked.

The players smiled and nodded.

“He reminded us that we’re all in this together as a country, and we all share a common goal, to raise our country’s name as high as we can,” Vitoria said of the meeting with Trudeau.

— With files from Daniela Germano.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Month Date, 2021.

Steven Sandor, The Canadian Press

soccer