What to know for Canada's latest set of World Cup qualifiers
Men's team kicks off this window with big test in Mexico on Thursday
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The Canadian men's soccer team resumes World Cup qualifying tomorrow
So far, so good. With a 3-0 home win over El Salvador and a pair of 1-1 draws (at home vs. Honduras and at the United States) in its first three outings, Canada is off to a strong start in the final round of regional qualifying for the 2022 World Cup. The next window of matches, which starts Thursday, will tell us more about Canada's chances of making it to soccer's biggest event for the first time since 1986. Here's what you need to know:
The schedule: This window kicks off with Canada's toughest test of qualifying so far: a visit to Mexico City's infamous Estadio Azteca to face the highest-ranked team in the CONCACAF region (Mexico is No. 9 in the world — 42 spots above Canada). That's Thursday at 9:40 p.m. ET. Then comes an away match vs. 59th-ranked Jamaica on Sunday at 6 p.m. ET, followed by a home date vs. No. 68 Panama on Oct. 13 at Toronto's BMO Field.
The standings: With five points through three matches, Canada is tied for second place in CONCACAF's final eight-team group. The U.S. and Panama also have five points, while Mexico sits atop them all with seven (a win is worth three points, a draw one). Quick refresher on how this final round works: the eight remaining CONCACAF teams play each other twice (one home, one away) and the top three earn a spot in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. The fourth-place team gets one more shot to play its way in via a two-leg playoff vs. someone from another continent.
What's next: After this set of matches wraps up next week, three more regional qualifying windows (with a total of eight matches) remain. Canada will host Costa Rica on Nov. 12 and Mexico on Nov. 15 at cleverly chosen Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, which might feel pretty chilly to visitors from the south. The final two windows, both consisting of three matches, take place in late January/early February and late March. The intercontinental playoff will happen in June. The 2022 World Cup kicks off in late November — moved from the traditional June/July window to escape Qatar's unbearable summer heat and humidity.
The outlook: Of the three matches in this upcoming window, Thursday night's at Azteca certainly looks the most daunting. The Canadian men's team has never won at that stadium, and they're facing a superior squad. But Canada gave the Mexicans a run for their money this summer at the CONCACAF Gold Cup, falling 2-1 in a hard-fought semifinal in Houston that was decided in the ninth minute of stoppage time. And that was with Canada's two best players — Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David — out with injuries. Both are expected to play Thursday, with Davies recovered from a minor knee injury that caused him to miss Canada's win over El Salvador last month. The marvellous 20-year-old left-back has started all four of Bayern Munich's matches since he got hurt in the Canada-U.S. qualifier. David, a 21-year-old forward who plays his club soccer at Lille, is tied for the scoring lead in the French league with six goals in four matches this season. With these two young stars leading the way, there's real hope that the Canadian men's team can reach its first World Cup since 1986. Read a full preview of Canada's upcoming matches by soccer expert John Molinaro here.
Canada's spot in the next men's curling world championship is being challenged. It shouldn't be much of a challenge, but reigning Brier champ Brendan Bottcher's rink will have to beat Brazil and Mexico later this month after those countries exercised a rarely-used right to make Canada win its spot in the next worlds. The Americas region is granted two entries in the tournament, and one of them belongs to the United States, which is hosting it in Las Vegas in April. Usually, the other spot is conceded to Canada. But this time, Bottcher's team will have to dispose of the lightweight Brazilian and Mexican teams in a double round-robin competition Oct. 29-31 in Alberta. If you're thinking this might result in a real-life, curling version of The Mighty Ducks, forget it. The only other time such a challenge happened, in 2018, Glenn Howard's rink swept a best-of-five series vs. Brazil that included a 15-1 score in one of the games. Read more about the upcoming Canada-Brazil-Mexico "showdown" here.
Alpine skiing's strangest event might be toast. The "combined" discipline, which pairs a slalom with a downhill or super-G, is meant to determine the best all-around skier. And it's attracted some great ones over the years. Women's GOAT Lindsey Vonn won the combined World Cup season title three times and took gold at the world championships twice. Mikaela Shiffrin captured the world title this year and Olympic silver in 2018. Eight-time men's World Cup overall champ Marcel Hirscher owns an Olympic and world title in the combined. But it's now considered unpopular and outdated and, after years of being slowly phased out, could soon be gone entirely. The new World Cup season, which starts in a few weeks, does not have any combined races, and some believe the 2022 Beijing Olympics might be the last hurrah for the discipline at the sport's highest level. Read more about the possible end of the original Olympic alpine event here.
Another marquee matchup is on deck tonight in the baseball playoffs. Last night, Boston avoided another Bucky F------ Dent moment by beating the archrival Yankees 6-2 in their one-game American League wild-card showdown at Fenway Park. The Red Sox will now face Tampa Bay while the Chicago White Sox meet Houston in the AL Division Series, which open tomorrow night. The National League matchups will be finalized tonight when the resurgent St. Louis Cardinals visit Dodger Stadium for a wild-card one-off vs. defending World Series champion Los Angeles. St. Louis won 17 consecutive games in September to barge into the post-season. The Dodgers won a franchise-record-tying 106 games this year — only to see San Francisco steal the NL West with 107. The winner of the wild-card game faces the Giants, while Atlanta and Milwaukee square off in the other NL series. Those begin Friday.
You're up to speed. Talk to you tomorrow.