VANCOUVER – The odds are unlikely for Canada’s men’s national soccer team as it looks to break nearly 20 years of futility in World Cup qualifying.
Canada hasn’t reached the final round of qualifying in the CONCACAF region since the 1998 World Cup cycle and will need a win over El Salvador Tuesday night (10 p.m., TSN) along with a Mexico win over Honduras, and a six-goal swing in the two games to reach the Hex. With Mexico already through to the six-team final round of CONCACAF qualifying, Canada trails Honduras by three points for the other berth, and is five goals behind on goal differential.
The team knows the math. It now just needs to score like it hasn’t scored in recent memory.
“I think it’s going to be an open game. We’re going to be doing a lot of attacking,” said forward Cyle Larin, who will be under pressure to find the back of the net like he’s done with Orlando City SC of Major League Soccer.
“It’s about getting on the wing and crossing the balls. I think there’s going to be a lot of going after it and trying to get the ball into the box more.”
In one further twist of the long odds, El Salvador captain Nelson Bonilla said in a Monday press conference that the visiting team was offered money by a Salvadoran businessman for a win, draw or snything short of the heavy loss that might help prevent Honduras from advancing. El Salvador, with but two points from five group games, are well out of the race for the Hex's final spot.
Apart from that element, It’s become all too familiar for the road to end at this stage for the Canadian team.
Much of the progress the CSA has made in attracting attention and fans to home games hinges on the team’s next 90 minutes and for a team that needs goals, the numbers don’t look good.
In six games in 2016, Canada has only scored two goals in one game once and hasn’t scored three in a game since a 3-0 win over Belize last September in a World Cup qualifier at BMO Field. It only has two goals in five games in this round of the competition.
The players believe they have what it takes to put the boots to an El Salvador team that has already been eliminated from World Cup contention but it’s not something they’ve really showed much under Benito Floro, or any coach, in the last many years.
“We just have to go and push for it. We’re in a position where we don’t have much to lose,” said Atiba Hutchinson, who could very well be playing in his final game for Canada. “We just have to have our heads right and be composed and come off the bat flying. We need to have a very good start and be very balanced. It’s going to be important for us to go out and start the game.”
It will be interesting to see how Canada comes out on Friday. The team knows it needs goals but it can’t go too reckless, otherwise El Salvador will be given opportunities to make things even worse.
Given Floro’s defence-first policies, the thought of Canada playing without the handbrake seems almost unthinkable so while they may establish a possession game without being too cavalier, there will come a point where caution will have to be thrown to the wind.
For veteran players like Hutchinson, their very futures with the national team will be on the line as this could be their last kick at qualifying for the World Cup.
But the players maintain the hope that the home crowd at B.C. Place will push the team to pick up a result while Mexico will be out to restore some lustre to its program in its first home game since losing 7-0 to Chile at last summer’s Copa America tournament in the United States.
“Mexico’s a really good team and I have confidence that they can do it,” said Larin. “They’re a strong squad and they’re playing at home and I think they’ll get the result for us and I think we can get a result here.”