Soccer·Analysis

Something special is going on with Canada's men's soccer team — and it could lead them to the World Cup

For decades, Mexico has ruled over this part of the globe's World Cup qualification like a ruthless bully. But there's been a seismic power shift within CONCACAF during this year's final round of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup, as evidenced by Canada's epic 2-1 win over the Mexicans on Tuesday.

Canada has a good shot at its first appearance since 1986 in soccer's biggest tournament

Canada's Cyle Larin (17), Kamal Miller (4) and Atiba Hutchinson (13) celebrate a goal against Mexico during the second half of the World Cup qualifier in Edmonton on Tuesday. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

For more than 70 years, Mexico has ruled over this part of the globe's World Cup qualification like a ruthless bully, callously wiping out rivals who dared to muscle in on its territory.

El Tri have qualified for the previous seven FIFA World Cups in a row, and 15 of the last 18 overall since 1950. 

More times than not it has gorged itself during the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) qualifiers to come out on top, leaving the rest of the teams in the region to fight it out over its table scraps.

But there has been a seismic power shift within CONCACAF during this year's final round of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, as evidenced by Canada's epic 2-1 win over the Mexicans on a frigid Tuesday night before 44,212 spectators at Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium. It could mean Canada's second-ever trip to the World Cup and its first since 1986.

Cyle Larin was the star of the show. He scored both goals to move him into a tie with Dwayne De Rosario as Canada's all-time leading scorer, with 22 goals apiece. He wasn't the only hero for Canada, as goalkeeper Milan Borjan came up with a miraculous save deep into injury time to preserve one of the biggest results in the history of the men's team program.

It was Canada's first win against Mexico in over 21 years and first on home soil against the CONCACAF powerhouse since 1990. Mexico has dominated the all-time series against Canada, winning 19 of the previous 32 encounters dating back to 1957, with only four losses.

WATCH | John Molinaro breaks down Canada's big win:

John Molinaro analyses Canada's huge victory over Mexico

1 year ago
Duration 4:40
TFC Republic's John Molinaro takes an in-depth look at what went right for Canada in their crucial 2-1 victory over Mexico, and discusses their chances of clinching a World Cup berth.

Canadian men make huge statement

But Canada made a major statement with its fifth win over Mexico. The Reds came up with a performance for the ages in one of the most important matches ever between the two nations, delivering a stern message to the Mexicans that the gap has closed and that CONCACAF is no longer their personal playpen. 

The final round of the CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers, known as The Octagon, kicked off in September and runs until next March, with eight teams facing each other home and away. The top three nations at the end of the 14-match group stage automatically qualify for next year's World Cup in Qatar. The fourth-place team is forced to play a two-game intercontinental playoff with a World Cup berth at stake. 

After eight matches, Canada is the only unbeaten team in CONCACAF qualifying and sits in first place in the table with 16 points, just ahead of the United States (15), and Mexico and Panama (14 apiece). They are followed by Costa Rica (nine), Jamaica (seven), El Salvador (six), and Honduras (three). At the moment, Canada looks to be in a very good position to end its World Cup drought. 

Canadian coach John Herdman said his "boys delivered" on Tuesday night, but he also reiterated that there's still lots of soccer still to play. 

"This is a 14-game war," Herdman said in the post-match news conference. "We've only got six games left. Six tough matches. We just have to keep our feet on the ground.… You see how tight it is; the group is so tight. This isn't going to be done until the last round. That's my belief. We have to keep fighting."

WATCH | Larin ties De Rosario's goal record as Canada tops Mexico:

Larin brace moves Canada past Mexico and to top of CONCACAF World Cup group table

1 year ago
Duration 2:03
Cyle Larin's two-goal performance gave him a total of 22 for the national side, tying Dwayne De Rosario as the top Canadian men's goal-scorer in history and also gave Canada a 2-1 win over Mexico, moving them to the top of their CONCACAF World Cup group.

'Be Canadian, be humble'

He also downplayed suggestions that this win over Mexico means Canada could now be considered among the elite nations in CONCACAF. 

"Not until we get to Qatar," he said. "We've got to get to Qatar, and that's [what] I am asking this country to do, just keep our feet on the ground. Be Canadian, be humble. We've won nothing yet. We're on a bit of a roll at the minute … but let's keep our feet on the ground, and if we qualify for Qatar, then I think this whole country can celebrate and recognize the achievement." 

Indeed, Canada has to play away from home in four of its last six games, with tricky road trips to Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Panama. Visits to Central America have ended Canada's World Cup dreams before, so nothing can be taken for granted.

WATCH | Borjan seals Canada's win over Mexico with key stops:

Canadian goalkeeper Milan Borjan makes goal-line saves to preserve win over Mexico

1 year ago
Duration 1:44
In added time, Canadian goalkeeper Milan Borjan was forced to make a couple of goal-line saves as Canada held on to a 2-1 win over Mexico.

Still, Herdman's modesty aside, there's no denying that this is the best and most talent-rich Canadian men's team in history, led by players the calibre of Alphonso Davies, a top player with Bayern Munich and the reigning Lou Marsh Trophy winner as Canada's top athlete. The team is also playing with a level of confidence and an attacking verve that it has historically lacked. 

The narrative within CONCACAF is changing. Something very special is going on with this team, and it's clear that Mexico won't have Canada to kick around anymore. 

"We are a top team in CONCACAF," Larin said post-game. "I believe that; the team believes it. And we think we can make the World Cup."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Molinaro

Freelance contributor

John Molinaro is one of the leading soccer journalists in Canada, having covered the game for over 20 years for a number of media outlets, including CBC Sports, Sportsnet and Sun Media. During his time at CBC Sports, John travelled to South Africa to cover the 2010 FIFA World Cup for CBCSports.ca. He is currently the editor-in-chief of TFC Republic, a website dedicated to in-depth coverage of the Canadian game.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now