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joi, 12 noiembrie 2015

Canadian men's soccer team eager for fresh start

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What’s Honduran — or Spanish?
I remember it vividly — the sounds, the scene, the uncertainty on Canadian players’ faces.
Following Canada’s goalless draw with Honduras three years ago in a critical World Cup qualifier in Toronto, a Honduran media member grinned with satisfaction outside the dressing rooms. He didn’t hide his bias.
“We will beat you (Canada) at home,” he said with a certain smugness.
Then Canadian captain Kevin McKenna hinted Canada would regret not securing maximum points that night.
Turns out he was right.
Four games later — in need of just a draw to advance — Canada fell 8-1 in San Pedro Sula, eliminating the Reds.
Had they won four months earlier, the Canadians would have advanced.
The loss in Honduras wouldn’t have mattered.
The resulting, long-lasting negative stigma attached to Canada’s men’s team wouldn’t be so extreme.
“You’ve hit the nail on the head,” Canada’s David Edgar told the Toronto Sun on Wednesday, two days before Canada resumes 2018 World Cup qualifying against that same Honduran team at Vancouver’s BC Place.
“You obviously play for your country. You play for the pride of wearing that maple leaf, but we all want this program to grow. The only way you do that is through results and through qualifying for things and winning things.”
While scars remain, Friday night represents yet another chance at a rebirth — and a bit of retribution.
It’s yet another first impression in front of a national TV audience and a Vancouver crowd desperate to host.
“They’re massive games,” Edgar said. “It has a different feel to it, a different edge. I think some of the boys are starting to notice that with the amount of media coverage and the hype and the buzz surrounding the game on Friday.
“We’ve had a walk around Vancouver city centre. People are saying ‘good luck’ and ‘we’ll see you at the game on Friday.’ It has that different feel to it. It’s not a friendly. It’s an honour to be involved in these games.”
These first two — at home to Honduras and in El Salvador next Tuesday — are paramount with back-to-back fixtures against Group A giants Mexico looming in March. Only the top two finishers in Canada’s four-team group advance.
Without hesitation, Edgar, one of 10 players left over from the 2014 cycle, referred to Friday night’s game as a must-win.
“What we’ve been telling the new boys is that you’ve got to win your home games,” Edgar reiterated. “It’s simple as that. We should have beat Honduras in the first round of the last cycle and those things come back to haunt you.
“If you win your home games and you steal a point away from home it keeps you in good stead.”
While pundits, experts and whoever else makes wild, pre-tournament predictions aren’t pegging the Canadians to advance beyond this round, the fact their Central American opponents are in a bit of turmoil could factor in at some point.
El Salvador’s first-team players are striking over pay and working conditions. As a result, head coach Ramon Maradiaga has called in a selection of domestic-based players in case a settlement isn’t reached. Honduras, meanwhile, hasn’t played well under new head coach Jorge Luis Pinto. Los Catrachos have won once in their last 11 fixtures.
“It’s a massive opportunity for us,” Edgar said. “We’re at home with a chance to get three points to start off properly. It would build confidence going into Tuesday in El Salvador, which is going to be a difficult situation.”
Cautious optimism surrounding Canada’s men is almost certainly unfounded.
There’s little evidence to suggest this team has the quality, the camaraderie, the mettle to advance.
There’s that stigma again.
“It’s a new challenge now with the new players,” Edgar said. “We want to break the (negative) stigma. Everyone wants to be a part of a winning team ... We know how big this program could be with results.”
The best part about international game is the slate is essentially wiped clean every four years.
There’s something new to play for.
And that means the smiling Honduran journos will be back with straight faces prior to Friday night’s game, hoping to leave BC Place with another pompous grin.
(Canada entered CONCACAF World Cup qualifying at the second stage)
Stage 2 (20 teams)
- June 11, 2015 – First leg: Dominica 0, Canada 2
- June 16, 2015 – Second leg: Canada 4, Dominica 0
*Canada advances to third round 6-0 on aggregate.
Stage 3 (12 teams)
- Sept. 4, 2015 – First leg: Belize 0 @ Canada 3
- Sept. 8, 2015 – Second leg: Canada 1 @ Belize 1
*Canada advances to fourth round on 4-1 on aggregate.
Stage 4 (12 teams)
Group A
El Salvador
*Top two finishers after six group games advance to final round.
Stage 5 (6 teams)
Known as “the hex”, the six remaining CONCACAF teams will play each other home and away between Nov. 2016 and Oct. 2017, with the top three finishers advancing to the World Cup and the fourth-place finisher advancing to an inter-continental playoff against fifth-place Asia (AFC).

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