Jason de Vos, left, and teammate Craig Forrest hoist the Gold Cup trophy after Canada defeated Colombia in the 2000 tournament final. (Getty Images)
February 20, 2000. In a bus outside Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, a group of men looked at each other in disbelief.
One of them spoke up and said what the others were thinking to themselves.
"You know what? We could actually win this thing."
Canada's national soccer team had just beaten Mexico in the quarter-finals of the 2000 Gold Cup, the CONCACAF Championship. We weren't expected to beat the Mexicans, who were a far more talented team than our group of hard-working, journeymen players.
In fact, according to the tournament media guide, we shouldn't even have been there.
According to the guide, Canada would be lucky to score a goal in the Gold Cup, let alone win a game. Before our opening game, I read what had been written about my team, and then promptly threw the media guide in the bin in disgust.
An unbelievable run to the final
What followed over the next two weeks was nothing short of surreal.
We tied our two group games: 2-2 against Costa Rica, and 0-0 against South Korea, who had been invited to the tournament as a guest team. The other group game finished 2-2, so all three teams were level on two points each.
The tie breaking formula saw the Costa Ricans top the group on goals scored, but there was a coin toss needed to determine who would advance in second place, as we were tied with South Korea on every other criterion.
In the back of the media tent, our team huddled together as we waited for a signal from our head coach, Holger Osieck. The coin went up, came down, and after a quick glance at the result, a thumbs up from Holger sent our team into celebrations.
Winning the coin toss was a double edged sword in some respects, as our reward was a quarter-final matchup with the powerful Mexicans. We were expected to be nothing more than cannon fodder, but we went into the game with a plan.
We were well organized defensively, had the best goalkeeper in CONCACAF, and knew that if we kept it close, we could sneak something on a counter attack or set piece.
When the Mexicans opened the scoring in the first half, it was expected that the floodgates would open up. But we stuck to our game plan, stayed compact from back to front, and frustrated the Mexicans until late in the game.
Carlo Corazzin, who was in the form of his career, equalized with a little less than ten minutes left in regulation time. When the 90 minutes were up, we went into sudden-death, golden goal overtime.
What happened next is something I will never forget.
The Mexicans played a ball into our box, and the clearance eventually found its way to Martin Nash. 'Nashy' was one of the most underrated players I ever played with, and his ability to pass the ball was his greatest strength.
His cross-field ball found a streaking Richard Hastings, who had made a lung-bursting run from his own half to find himself bearing down on the Mexican goal.
The ball bounced up awkwardly, and truth be told, Richard's first touch wasn't the greatest. But his second touch was the finest strike of his career.
He smashed the ball home, giving us a 2-1 victory over the Mexicans, and a place in the semifinals.
Hastings the hero
Which brings us back to the bus.
We sat there, having defeated the team favoured by many to win the Gold Cup, and realized that something unique was happening. We felt like the 'Bad News Bears' the infamous baseball team from the film, who defied the odds and beat the best.
Up next was Trinidad and Tobago, a team that we knew we could beat. Perhaps that knowledge worked against us, as we didn't play particularly well. A Mark Watson goal saw us come away with a 1-0 victory, but it was the performance of another man that really won us the game and a place in the final.
Craig Forrest has played many fine games for Canada over his career, but none finer than that day against Trinidad. He was unbelievable. If ever there was a performance that encapsulated the term "standing on his head", 'Stacks' put it in that day.
The final saw us up against another invited team, Colombia. Led by Faustino Asprilla, the Colombians had a star-studded line-up, but didn't appear to be up for the game. Played in the cavernous LA Coliseum in rainy conditions - in front of a little over 6000 fans - you could understand their lack of excitement.
It's not like playing Canada is a marquis fixture for a team like Colombia.
Regardless, the game that followed was the finest one that I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing in a Canadian jersey. We ran out comfortable 2-0 victors to lift the only major international trophy that a Canadian men's national team has ever won.
During my career, I had three opportunities to help Canada qualify for the World Cup, and fell short on all three occasions. Not having the opportunity to play in the World Cup will always remain the biggest disappointment of my career.
I have been asked on many occasions when Canada will next qualify for the men's World Cup, and it is a very difficult question to answer. We simply do not produce enough players of international calibre to be consistently competitive with the likes of Mexico and the United States.
But when I think back to those two weeks in February, 2000, I believe that anything is possible.
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