Sandwiched between the more gentrified parts of the neighbourhood and the local methadone clinic, a first-floor loft apartment in Toronto's Parkdale section is unnaturally abuzz for a Friday morning.
Stacks and stacks of envelopes cover the kitchen table. Inside are tickets to Canada's game against Cuba that evening. A small group of local supporters, the Voyageurs, have moved over 3,000 seats on their own and they're putting together the final organizational touches.
When it's all said and done, if a ticket was bought for the south end of BMO Field Friday night, it likely came from this motley crew of ticket agents. They're not paid to do this work. And they don't do it to make money. In fact, that's a good thing, because they make none.
Their initiative and motivation is part of a grassroots movement that has sprouted up over these past few years, where fans of the Canadian national teams have taken it upon themselves to get organized and sell the general sporting public on the idea of Canadian soccer. With dreams of a World Cup berth on the horizon, it's increasingly becoming an easier sell.
Around the same time as the Voyageurs are doing their last ticket count, less than one kilometre away at BMO Field, Canada's opponent for the evening is dealing with the repercussions of another dream - an American dream. Four Cuban players have slipped away from the team's camp
and are on their way to the U.S. border to seek asylum. The move left Cuba with exactly 11 players for Friday night, few of which even played the last time these two teams clashed.
In a game where Canada needed to run up the score to ensure it didn't fail to advance because of goal differential, the news couldn't be better. This Canada squad, for as well as it has played this round, has struggled to find the back of the net. If not for the lack of quality finishing among the Reds, Canada could easily be sitting at the top of its group right now. Instead, the Canadians are in a dog fight with Honduras and Panama for the group's top two spots.
And for the first 15 minutes, despite the 146th-ranked Cubans playing with what looks like their B squad, it's an all-too-familiar scene. Canada generates lots of chances, but time and again the ball glances wide or opportunities are left to go begging. It's a mental barrier as much as it is anything for this side. That's why when Tosaint Ricketts buried Canada's first goal off an Ante Jazic cross, the celebration by the players and fans was more of a collective sigh of relief than an expression of joy.Good form
Canada's run of form would continue well into the second half with similar results, but as the Cuban legs began to tire, with no subs to be had; eventually the local side was able to fully break through. A header by Will Johnson, followed five minutes later by a volley from defender David Edgar (the best of Canada's qualifying so far) had Canada rolling. They would press for a fourth - eyeing that goal differential once again - and they could have had seven in the second half alone, but they would have to settle for a 3-0 win
A strange statement to be sure - Canada settling for a 3-0 win. But after the final whistle, as the national team players unfurled a banner of their own that read "Thank you for your support," many of those supporters were already headed back to that Parkdale apartment.
A shaky internet stream of a CONCACAF game, projected up on to the wall, kept the attention as Honduras and Panama plodded their way through a game that seemed destined from the start to end nil-nil. Despite some nervous moments in the final frame, Panama would do what it needed and hold off the Honduran attack for a scoreless draw.Canada one step closer
The result allows Canada to control its own fate heading into its match in Honduras on Tuesday. A win or a tie and they're on to the next round, a place this team hasn't been in World Cup qualifying in over a decade.
It's easy to dream of what could be for Canadian soccer. A result there would not only exorcise a number of demons for this program - Honduras has been a thorn in the side of Canada for a long time. It would thrust the Canadians into the collective sporting consciousness once again. A place they probably haven't been since the last time they qualified for the World Cup in 1986.
The problem in dreaming of what could be for Canadian soccer is that for the few who have been trying to sell the many on the beauty of the world's game, they too often have seen those dreams turn to nightmares.
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