Soccer

Liam Millar aims to make mark with new Swiss club, help Canada reach World Cup

Liam Millar has already made a mark at Liverpool. Now the 22-year-old Canadian winger is looking to blaze a trail in Switzerland with FC Basel, while also helping Canada through a challenging stretch of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying games.

22-year-old to compete in World Cup qualifying match against Mexico Thursday

Liam Millar, left, moved on from Liverpool FC in order to challenge himself and get more of an opportunity to play with FC Basel in Switzerland. (Alex Grimm/Getty Images)

Liam Millar has already made a mark at Liverpool. Now the 22-year-old Canadian winger is looking to blaze a trail in Switzerland with FC Basel.

Millar and Basel lead the Swiss Super League at 5-0-4 and are currently involved in group play in the Europa Conference League, UEFA's inaugural third-tier competition.

Facing a senior roster stacked with big-name internationals at Liverpool, Millar opted to leave to challenge himself.

Basel is a powerhouse in Switzerland with star striker Arthur Cabral leading the attack. The Brazilian tops the Swiss league with 11 goals in nine games and is currently with Brazil for CONMEBOL World Cup qualifiers.

"He's an amazing player. He just knows where the net is," said Millar.

"He's one of the top goal-scorers in Europe right now," he added. "As a winger sometimes you can just put your head up and put the ball in the box and he'll be there. It's great to play with a striker of his quality."

The transition to life in Switzerland has been eased in recent weeks by the arrival of Millar's wife and baby daughter.

"Everything's good now. Everybody's settled," he said.

Journey through World Cup qualifiers

Millar's immediate task is helping Canada through a challenging stretch of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying games. The 51st-ranked Canadian men play No. 9 Mexico at Mexico City's famed Azteca Stadium on Thursday before taking on No. 59 Jamaica in Kingston on Sunday. Then it's back to Canada to host No. 68 Panama on Oct. 13 at Toronto's BMO Field.

Millar says the team is feeling confident.

"We all believe that we have enough quality, enough talent, enough togetherness, everything to be able to put up a fight against anybody," he said.

Mexico (2-0-1) leads the eight-country final round of qualifying in CONCACAF. Canada (1-0-2) is second on goal difference after beating No. 65 El Salvador and tying No. 63 Honduras and the 13th-ranked Americans.

The U.S. and Panama are also 1-0-2. Jamaica is bottom of the so-called Octagonal at 0-2-1.

Come March, after the eight remaining teams have each played 14 games, the top three will represent North and Central America and the Caribbean at Qatar 2022. The fourth-place team will take part in an intercontinental; playoff to see who joins them.

It marks the first time the Canadian men have reached the final round of qualifying in the region since the lead-up to France '98.

Millar, who has won 11 caps for Canada including five starts, says the Canadians have already forged a tight bond.

"We're all brothers here. We're all best friends," said Millar, who was 14 when he made his debut in the Canadian youth program in 2014 and 18 when he made his senior debut in 2018 against New Zealand in John Herdman's first game at the men's helm. "There's a great group of guys here. A lot of us have been together for a long time."

"It's only getting stronger," he said of the ties in the team. " You can tell that by our performances and the way that we're playing. And how much we believe that we can beat one of the big dogs in CONCACAF."

Canada forward Liam Millar, right, moves the ball past Bermuda defender Eusebio Blankendal, left, during the second half of a World Cup 2022 Group B qualifying soccer match in Orlando, Fla. (John Raoux/AP)

They face a steep challenge Thursday against a Mexico team that is 12-1-7 against Canada in World Cup qualifying, with the lone Canadian win a 1-0 decision in Vancouver in October 1976. The Mexicans have gone unbeaten in 14 World Cup qualifying matches (7-0-7) against Canada since then.

Canada is 4-19-8 against Mexico in all international "A" matches since 1957.

But that history means little to a talented young Canadian team that is turning heads. In July, Mexico needed a 99th-minute goal in the Gold Cup semifinal to edge Canada 2-1 The Canadians were ranked 70th at the time, 59 rungs below Mexico.

"We wanted to show tonight that we're more than than that (Canadian) grit and resilience," Herdman said at the time. "We can play. And we can go toe to toe with the best in CONCACAF.

"Some of those men came of age tonight."

Path to playing pro overseas

Millar joined Liverpool's academy in 2016, moving up through the ranks from the under-18 and under-19 teams to captain the Reds' under-23 side. He made his senior debut for Liverpool in February 2020 in an FA Cup match against Shrewsbury Town.

Millar went out on loan to Scotland's Kilmarnock in 2018-19 and 2019-20. He led Liverpool's U-23 side for the first half of 2020-21, before joining Charlton Athletic in January on loan for the remainder of the season.

He signed with Basel in early July.

Millar grew up playing for Brampton Youth SC and North Mississauga. At 10 or 11, he tried out for the Toronto FC academy but did not make the cut.

His father Alan coached one of the North Mississauga teams and Liam drew the attentions of several scouts while playing at the Keele Cup in England. He ended up moving to England with his father to pursue his soccer dream when he was about to turn 13.

Liam started in the Fulham youth system before joining Liverpool after impressing the club in a fine under-16 season. Eventually his entire family was reunited in Liverpool.

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