Soccer·Analysis

After 36 years, Canadian men's soccer team can finally dream the impossible dream

"As a Canadian kid, to dream of something like this was impossible," said Canada's Jonathan Osorio after he and his teammates defeated Jamaica to send the men's national team to the FIFA World Cup for the first time in 36 years.

An outpouring of emotion engulfs a frigid BMO Field after win over Jamaica

Team Canada coach John Herdman is doused with champagne by goaltender Milan Borjan following the World Cup-clinching win over Jamaica on Sunday. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The referee blew his final whistle. Canada's men had clinched their first World Cup berth since 1986 with a 4-0 win over Jamaica at BMO Field in Toronto. The flag-waving, sellout crowd of 29,122, who had stood on their feet in bitter cold and swirling winds for most of the match, realized all at once, with a release of pure emotion, that together they had finally earned their moment in the sun.

Cyle Larin, Canada's all-time men's leading scorer, who had opened Sunday's accounts in the 13th minute by slotting home a beautifully weighted through ball from Stephen Eustáquio, joined in the mob of celebrations before pulling himself away, walking to a piece of empty grass near the touchline, and wiping tears from his eyes.

Goalkeeper Milan Borjan, whose family fled the Croatian War of Independence to come to Canada when he was 13 years old, dropped to his knees, then climbed back to his feet and put both of his fists in the air, before collapsing again, this time into the arms of his teammates. 

"This is just amazing," he said after. "Just an unbelievable feeling."

Head coach John Herdman, having lifted both the men's and women's programs to their highest heights, arguably becoming the country's most significant soccer figure in its history, hugged everyone who came within arm's length. 

"I'm just a snotty-nosed kid from Consett, County Durham, doing what I love, with people that I love," he said, his smile as wide as an ocean. "And we did it. We f---ing did it!"

WATCH | Canada punches its ticket to 1st World Cup in 36 years:

Canada punches ticket to first World Cup in 36 years with victory over Jamaica

5 months ago
Duration 1:15
Junior Hoilett scored the 3rd of Canada's 4 goals in a shutout over Jamaica. The red and white's historic victory earns them a spot in the FIFA World Cup for the first time since 1986.

Jonathan Osorio pulled a bass drum out of the crowd and carried it to the middle of the pitch, where he led a drum chant before struggling to find the words to describe the moment. 

"As a Canadian kid, to dream of something like this was impossible," he said, his jaw shaking from either the cold or the emotion, it was hard to know which. "To see it come to fruition is incredible. It's a dream come true. I don't know how else to explain it."

Alphonso Davies, this team's undisputed star, who missed the last five qualifiers following a bout of COVID-induced myocarditis, live-streamed his reaction from his club base in Munich on Twitch: "Done!" he had said at the final whistle, and then he started crying and fell on his back on the floor. "Oh my God, yes," he said, having dropped almost entirely out of frame. "Yes. Oh my God."

Tajon Buchanan, all of 23, had done a cartwheel and backflip after he scored Canada's second goal just before halftime to make the fantasy conclusion to this journey a foregone one. Now he celebrated again, screaming at the sky in the seconds before it was filled with fireworks.

Junior Hoillet, a calm, steadying presence inside the dressing room and on the field throughout Canada's qualifying campaign, and the scorer of his team's third goal in the 79th minute — turning a former impossibility into a wonderful certainty — dropped to his knees, stood up, and then thought better of it, dropping to his knees again.

Sam Adekugbe, who made the iconic leap into an Edmonton snowbank during November's pivotal win over Mexico and has become one of this team's ascendant heroes-in-the-making — his run and cross led to Canada's fourth goal, an own goal by Jamaica — walked around as though in a daze, with his hands over his mouth, and his cheeks frozen with tears. 

Alistair Johnston pulled on the same commemorative T-shirt as his teammates: WE CAN, it read across its front. The defensive pillar was playing in League1 Ontario only three years ago and now will play in front of millions of soccer fans the world over. "Holy s--t, guys!" he shouted to some friends he found in the crowd. "I'm so excited!"

Canada's Alistair Johnston celebrates with fans following a 4-0 win over Jamaica that clinched the country a berth in November's World Cup finals in Qatar. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

'Means the world to me'

Atiba Hutchinson, who at 39 years of age had taken some convincing to make his fifth attempt to help Canada qualify for the World Cup he feared would never come, and who heard the entire stadium chant "ATIBA, ATIBA" when he came on as a second-half substitute, returned the love after, blowing kisses to the last of the crowd before heading down the tunnel to join the party that would continue late into the night.

In the buoyant dressing room, champagne soon dripped from the ceiling. Outside, a light snow began to fall. The stadium emptied. The sun began to set.

"We couldn't really picture this years ago," Hutchinson said.

Now the picture couldn't be more clear.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chris Jones

Senior Contributor

Chris Jones is a journalist and screenwriter who began his career covering baseball and boxing for the National Post. He later joined Esquire magazine, where he won two National Magazine Awards for his feature writing. His work has also appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times Magazine, ESPN The Magazine (RIP), and WIRED, and he is the author of the book, The Eye Test: A Case for Human Creativity in the Age of Analytics. Follow him on Twitter at @EnswellJones

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