The bandwagon is rolling. Canada is looking good in men’s football.
Yes, you did hear that right!
For close observers the only surprise is the pace of development. Many comfortably expected the upward trajectory, but with a relatively inexperienced squad and a rookie international manager, most wondered if current World Cup qualification wasn’t a campaign too soon.
Not so long ago optimism tended to manifest itself in the hope that a fourth place finish in the Octagonal might be possible, leading to a play-off against an equal from another confederation.
No-one expected an unbeaten run through the first six matches of qualification, especially considering two were away at regional heavyweights, Mexico and the USA.
The only downside so far has been the opening 1-1 draw with Honduras in Toronto. That game possibly came too soon. Had it been won as it probably should, Canada would be splitting Mexico and the US in the top three spots as things stand. Much loftier heights than the most optimistic Canuck would have even dared hope.
If emerging undefeated from their two hardest games on paper wasn’t enough to underline Canadian World Cup credentials, the nature of Wednesday evening’s 4-1 demolition of 2018 qualifiers Panama, compounded strongly the narrative, convincing many fans that Herdman’s side can play high octane, attractive football and score goals.
Those fans finally did come out to back their team. Over 26,000 of them. Flag-waving and creating a constant din, the atmosphere was electric, probably as hostile as ever-decent Canadian sports crowds can be.
And the team, inspired no doubt by Herdman’s pre-match motivational verbals... and then some more by a magnificent Alphonso Davies performance, delivered.
How they delivered!
The games against USA and Mexico showed this team can go away from home and grind out results. Actually the trip to Jamaica did too, but in ruthlessly sweeping aside a Panama team which had so recently downed the USA, a new item was added to the expanding RED portfolio - the ability to open up and destroy opponents at home.
This was the evening Les Rouges truly ignited, attracting new fans and followers, every one of whom would have left BMO Field with the name ‘Alphonso Davies’ and the number ‘19’ on their minds. Simply put, he was that good.
His was one of the greatest individual performances in the history of Canadian men’s football. Davies was simply superb, unplayable, dancing past white-shirted defenders to set up strike partner David on a couple of occasions, sending in the corner from which Canada drew level and then of course that sublime effort to steal the go-ahead goal.
‘Steal’ is the right word. He’d no right to emerge from a tight situation on the touchline after chasing what appeared a lost cause. Panama’s Harold Cummings’ decision to shepherd the ball out to safety opened the door and Davies didn’t need a second invitation. Dragging the ball ahead of his run in one swift movement, his opponent left for dead, Bayern Munich’s young Canadian was on his way....
Fidel Escobar, a Spanish Segunda B player with CD Alcorcon and goalkeeper Luis Mejia from Uruguayan top division side Fenix stood between parity and Davies reaching double figures in international goals.
As he bore down on Escobar already you felt a certain inevitability. Thoroughbred amongst selling-platers, Canada’s #19 left the first opponent flat-footed, made an angle and cut the ball across the other. Sublime. Panama’s defence rooted, the talisman in red had waved his wand.
Perfect timing. Panama was beginning to regain a foothold with some decent possession, but Davies knocked the stuffing from them, inspiring team-mates to rediscover the tempo of the first 45.
By 78 mins it was 4-1. Davies assisted David whose stumbling finish rounded off the scoring after Buchanan’s wonderfully flighted header from Laryea’s cross had made it three.
At 20 the former Vancouver Whitecap is undoubtedly a leader in red. Few would argue he’s not the region’s top talent, nor CONCACAF’s most effective player. There will be those who say he needs to do it for longer, but for this writer Alphonso Davies already is by some distance, the finest footballer ever to depart Canadian shores.
A group can be lifted by greatness and sprinkled by stardust, and while some fine footballers currently infiltrate Canada’s best-ever international squad, it’s clear Fonsie’s influence lifts each and every player to previously unscaled personal heights. Who wouldn’t want to play in the same team as this young Canadian sporting icon?
The platform has been laid for success. Herdman remains cautious, yet you might even say to not qualify now would represent abject failure. But let’s be fair, there’s still a distance to be covered.
Canada no longer possesses the element of surprise underwritten by 20 years of underperformance. Still however... no team in this Octagonal will any longer relish a visit to face the Canucks on home soil and that includes heavyweights, Mexico and USA.
There will be more matches between now and if qualification is achieved, where Canada must meet defensive-minded teams possessing not a second thought about deploying the ‘dark arts’; another area which this Canadian team has handled admirably.
It’s off to Edmonton in November for two tricky ties in which 4 points is the minimum ask. Canada will want to keep or increase daylight between themselves and Costa Rica, but the battle-hardened and experienced Ticos, with a regular taste for World Cup qualification themselves, won’t be easy.
Then it’s the big one with El Tri, a match needing no billing whatsoever.
Low temperatures are likely to be a factor in both games favouring Les Rouges, as should the hometown return of Alphonso Davies whose presence will draw a close to capacity crowd.
Herdman, Canada and a talisman called Fonsie have every reason to be cautiously optimistic....
Canada’s record v Costa Rica in 6 World Cup qualifying matches played is W1 D2 L3.
Their sole success came in June 1997. Canada won 1-0 in Edmonton on a goal by Eddie Berdusco in the 68th minute.
Canada’s record against Mexico in 18 World Cup qualifying matches played is W1 D6 L11.
Their sole victory came 45 years ago in Vancouver’s Empire Stadium in 1976. Canada won 1-0 through a goal by Buzz Parsons in the 32nd minute....