What to know for tonight's big Canada vs. Mexico soccer match
Canadians hope frigid Edmonton gives them an extra home-field edge
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Canada has another huge soccer match tonight
The Canadian men's soccer team is red-hot. The weather in Edmonton is ice-cold. Here's what else you should know for tonight's crucial World Cup qualifying match vs. Mexico at 7:05 p.m. local time (9:05 p.m. ET):
We're halfway there.
All eight teams involved in the final round of qualifying in the CONCACAF region (that's North and Central American and the Caribbean) have played seven of their 14 matches. With three wins and four draws, Canada is the only unbeaten team. It sits third in the standings with 14 points — one point behind both the United States and Mexico, who are the traditional powers in this part of the world. A win is worth three points, and a draw is worth one. So, depending on how the U.S. fares today at Jamaica (they play at 5 p.m. ET), Canada could jump all the way up to first place by the end of the night.
When this round wraps up in late March, the top three teams in the standings will be awarded a spot in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. The fourth-place team gets another shot via an intercontinental playoff. So the Canadian men are in great position to earn their first trip to the World Cup since 1986.
Canada is on a roll.
Friday night's 1-0 win over Costa Rica in Edmonton was Canada's second victory in a row — both against quality opponents. Costa Rica qualified for four of the last five World Cups (including a trip to the quarter-finals in 2014) and is currently fifth in the CONCACAF standings. Before that came a momentous 4-1 win over fourth-place Panama, which qualified for the last World Cup. That match, in Toronto, featured Alphonso Davies' electrifying go-ahead goal that might be the most impressive play in the history of Canadian men's soccer.
For the most part, the Canadians have taken care of business at home — a key for any team with World Cup aspirations. Prior to the back-to-back victories over Costa Rica and Panama, they beat seventh-place El Salvador 3-0 in Toronto. The only real blemish so far was a 1-1 draw vs. last-place Honduras in Toronto in September.
Canada has also earned some impressive and important results on the road. A 0-0 stalemate at Jamaica was meh, but a pair of 1-1 draws at the United States and Mexico can almost be considered wins, seeing as how they came on the road against the top two teams in the region. The one in Mexico City was especially encouraging. It marked the first time in 41 years that the Canadian men came away with anything but a loss at notorious Estadio Azteca, where the heat, altitude and boisterous fans create one of the world's toughest environments for visiting teams.
Commonwealth Stadium could be Canada's Azteca.
Speaking of tough environments, the forecast for kickoff time tonight calls for a temperature of minus-7. With the windchill, it'll feel like 14 below. A bunch of snow also got dumped on Edmonton over the last day or so, causing the Mexican team's flight to be delayed and training at Commonwealth Stadium to be cancelled for both sides (Canada found an indoor facility to practise in yesterday, but Mexico did not).
While this particular weather is a bit extreme, it's kind of what Canada had in mind when it decided to place its two November home games — both against warm-weather opponents — in the country's northernmost major city. If this sounds a bit unsportsmanlike, well, that's kind of the point. Some CONCACAF countries (and their fans) are infamous for stacking the deck against visiting teams, who come back telling war stories about being woken up by dubious fire alarms in the middle of the night and having literal bags of urine chucked at them during games.
The cold, of course, cuts both ways. It's not like the Canadian players enjoy playing in minus-14 temps. The calculation is simply that they'll be less-miserable enough to make a difference. For more on the weather's role in tonight's match, read this piece by Chris Jones, who's in Edmonton reporting for CBC Sports and gets credit for making the Commonwealth/Azteca connection.
Mexico seems a little off.
With the exception of 1990, when they were banned after getting caught using overage players in an under-20 tournament, Mexico has made it to every World Cup from 1986 on. And they're still a good bet to extend that streak. But they look a bit shaky right now.
Besides that once-in-two-generations draw vs. Canada at Azteca that we mentioned earlier, Mexico is coming off a 2-0 defeat to the United States in Cincinnati on Friday night. That was Mexico's third straight loss to the U.S., and it dropped them behind the Americans for first place in the CONCACAF standings (both teams have four wins, two draws and a loss, but the U.S. is ahead on goal differential).
The Americans chose Cincy as the site of that game because of its relatively cold weather and lack of a sizable Mexican fanbase. You can say the same for Edmonton, where it's safe to assume nearly all of the 50,000 tickets sold went to supporters of the Canadian team. Adding to Canada's home-field advantage is the fact that it got to play on Commonwealth's slick-ish artificial turf a few days ago. The Mexicans will have to adjust to its nuances on the fly if they hope to avoid another road defeat.
Players to watch:
As we've seen, the 21-year-old Davies is capable of doing something amazing every time he steps on the pitch. These two matches in Edmonton are his first in his hometown since leaving to join Major League Soccer's Vancouver Whitecaps when he was 14. Since then, he's blossomed into a global star with Bayern Munich, helping them win the UEFA Champions League title in 2018-19 while earning rookie of the year honours in the German league. Davies has taken over Canada's World Cup qualifying matches at times with his blinding speed and bold attacks from the wing — both on full display in that jaw-dropping goal vs. Panama.
Also keep an eye on Canada's "other" 21-year-old superstar, Jonathan David. The skilled striker is the co-leader in goals in the French league this season and was the scorer in Canada's 1-0 win over Costa Rica on Friday. David has 18 goals in 23 matches for Canada and seems destined to one day own the scoring record for the men's national team — perhaps very soon. It's held by the retired Dwayne De Rosario with 22, and active Canadian forward Cyle Larin has 20. Another Canadian men's record is expected to fall tonight when captain Atiba Hutchinson makes his 90th appearance for Canada. That will break a tie with the retired Julian de Guzman.
After tonight's match, Canada will have six left. They'll be played in two windows. The first will see Canada visit Honduras on Jan. 27, host the United States (exact location TBD) on Jan. 30, and visit El Salvador on Feb. 2. For the final window, in late March, Canada visits Costa Rica and Panama and hosts Jamaica. The intercontinental playoff will happen in June. The 2022 World Cup kicks off in late November. Normally it's played in June/July, but that time of year is too hot and humid in Qatar.
The Toronto Blue Jays agreed to a seven-year, $131-million US deal with one of their key pitchers. Did you think Robbie Ray? No, the American League Cy Young finalist is still a free agent. But Toronto locked up Jose Berrios today with the third-richest contract in team history. The 27-year-old right-handed went 5-4 in 12 starts for the Jays after they acquired him in a trade with Minnesota. In his six big-league seasons, Berrios has never won more than 14 games or finished with an ERA lower than the 3.52 mark he posted for Toronto and Minnesota combined this year. But he's unusually durable, making more starts than nearly any other pitcher in baseball over the last four years. It's fair to wonder whether this deal signals the departure of Ray. Toronto now has two starting pitchers making big money in Berrios (close to $19 million a year) and Hyun Jin Ryu ($20 million). The Jays are also hoping to keep second baseman Marcus Semien, who will surely cash in with someone in free agency after being named a finalist for AL MVP. Read more about the Berrios deal here.
Dion Phaneuf retired. If you thought he already had (me), don't feel bad. The former Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa and Los Angeles defenceman last suited up for an NHL game during the 2018-19 season, but he didn't make his retirement official until today. Phaneuf had a dynamite start to his career in Calgary, where he was known for scoring goals (a career-high 20 as a rookie) and dishing out big hits. But he kind of fizzled out after being traded to Toronto in January 2010. Phaneuf was the captain during some tough seasons for the Leafs, who sent him to Ottawa six years later before he finished up in L.A. Read more about Phaneuf's career here.
The final week of the CFL regular season kicks off tonight. The six playoff teams are already decided, and Winnipeg and Toronto have clinched first-round byes and the right to host their respective division finals. We also know Saskatchewan will host Calgary in the West semifinal on Nov. 28. So tonight's game between Toronto and West-trailing Edmonton means nothing. The only thing left at stake is who gets to host the East semi between Hamilton and Montreal, who are both 7-6. That'll be sorted out starting Friday night, when the Alouettes host East-trailing Ottawa, and on Saturday when Hamilton hosts Saskatchewan. Assuming no ties, the Ticats just need a win or an Als loss to secure home-field advantage against them in the playoffs.
You're up to speed. Talk to you tomorrow.