Story by Alex Rodgerson/ISN
After refusing to allow a single goal against in four international matches this year, Canada Men’s Soccer will play their final CONCACAF Nations League qualifier next March against French Guiana. Still with an opportunity to finish the Nations League qualifying round with a first place finish, Canada will be looking to bring their best to B.C. Place come March as a chance to qualify for League A of the Nations League will be at stake.
For Canada the year began with the squad’s hiring of John Herdman in January, as Herdman would step over to the Men’s side after managing the Canadian Women’s team since 2011. In his time with Canada’s national Women’s team, Herdman would lead the squad to a first place finish at the 2011 Pan American Games as well as back-to-back Olympic Bronze medals in 2012 and 2016.
With Herdman now at the helm of Canada’s Men’s team, Canada would begin the year with a 1-0 exhibition victory over New Zealand before entering the CONCACAF Nations League qualifying round in September. The qualifying tournament to determine the seeds for the upcoming Gold Cup and CONCACAF Nations League would see Canada collect three consecutive clean-sheet victories over the U.S. Virgin Islands, Dominica, and most recently Saint Kitts and Nevis.
In their three qualifying matches this fall, the Canadians would rack up fourteen goals for while allowing none. Returning to B.C. Place for the first time since September of 2016, Canada will be looking to wrap up the qualifying round with a perfect 4-0 record on March 24th to give themselves the best chance to advance to League A of the Nations League.
After the qualifying round comes to an end, only the top-six teams will qualify for League A, a bracket that will feature the likes of already qualified U.S., Mexico and Costa Rica. The ramifications for the upcoming Gold Cup, will be that the top-ten teams will qualify.
On Monday afternoon on a dreary day in Vancouver spirits were high amongst manager John Herdman and veteran midfielder Russell Teibert, as the two addressed the media in Vancouver following a win over Saint Kitts and Nevis a little over a week ago. Manager Herdman talked about his team’s experience in the Caribbean, which for many of the younger players it would be the first trip of their careers.
“It was a tough experience, but we prepared the team and the mindset to go in and embrace the Caribbean challenge” said Herdman. “I think what we wanted to make sure of was that any excuses of the past were exorcised early.”
Since taking over the team in January the Canadian Men’s team has taken on a new identity, driven by hard work and overcoming adversity. John Herdman then spoke about the program’s new mentality.
“We did a bit of work in Dominica, we brought people in from the military to speak to the group about representing your country in adverse conditions, and really just crafting a mindset that I think is going to take us further on the journey when even more testing environments come.”
With a perfect 2018 under their belts, Canada has not seen a Men’s soccer team with this much talent for decades. In their history, the Canadian Men’s team has only qualified for the FIFA World Cup once, which came all the way back in 1986.
Manager Herdman then gave his take on the state of Canadian Men’s Soccer after a 2018 that saw his squad refuse to surrender a single goal, and on where they stand in the CONCACAF qualifying round.
“Well we wanted to be at the top by Christmas but we didn’t quite make it,” said the native of Consett, England. “Our goal was to finish the year, which was the first in our history — perfect with four games, four wins and zero goals concealed.”
Herdman continued on regarding the importance of a strong finish to qualifying, in order to make it into League A of the Nations League.
“We’re now just a point away from what we set out for, which is Group A in the Nations League.” said Herdman. “If we make it into Group A I know those FIFA windows will be filled with tough matches against big teams — the Mexico’s, the U.S.A’s, the Costa Rica’s.”
As Canada Men’s team would struggle on the international stage for many years up until only recently, many factors have led to the turn around of the Canadian Men’s team. The biggest factor, teenage soccer phenom Alphonso Davies.
Since appearing on the scene for Canada, Davies has appeared in nine international matches totaling three goals and four assists. However, in more ways than just statistically, Davies has also helped add some much needed confidence back to the Men’s squad. Herdman then spoke about Canada Soccer’s turn around in the last year and a half.
“I think it all started with the Gold Cup in 2017 and the emergence of Alphonso Davies onto the Men’s national team.” said Herdman. “I think Alphonso, for whatever reason, has inspired a new walk for the guys on our team.”
At only age twenty-five midfielder Russell Teibert has already appeared in twenty-two international matches for Canada, starting nine times while notching a goal and two assists along the way. Now a part of the leadership group for Canada’s Men’s team, Teibert spoke about how he feels after nearly a year since John Herdman took over as manager.
“Revitalized,” said Teibert. “There was a time when I didn’t know if I was ever going to play for Canada again and that’s just being honest. Since Johns taken the job and been involved with the team, he’s really taken on board the culture, where we’re headed, and this road map to a World Cup.”
Teibert, also a member of the hometown Vancouver Whitecaps, then spoke about how it feels to suit up for Canada on his home turf, and his appreciation for Canadian soccer fans in general.
“The people of Vancouver bleed for soccer,” said Teibert. “They really love this game and I get to feel that every time I play for the Whitecaps. They’re our 12th man, and we’ll need that same support when we come here with Canada.”
Individual tickets will go on sale for Canada’s final CONCACAF qualifier vs French Guiana on Wednesday, November 28th at 10am pacific time. Visit CanadaSoccer.com/Tickets for more information.