Canadian men's soccer is looking more and more like a World Cup team
Canada is in great position to qualify, but there's lots of work still to do
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It's all happening for the Canadian men's soccer team
It was the kind of night you might look back on a year from now — or five, or 10 or 20 — and say that's where it all started. The Canadian men's soccer team's 4-1 victory over Panama in last night's World Cup qualifier in Toronto was convincing and electrifying on a number of levels.
For starters, it kept Canada undefeated through six of its 14 matches in the final stage of regional qualifying. With two wins and four draws, Canada sits in third place in the eight-team CONCACAF group (comprised of teams from North and Central America and the Caribbean). The top three teams after this round receive a ticket to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. The fourth-place team gets one more shot via an intercontinental playoff matchup. Canada's two toughest-looking matches — at Mexico and at the United States (the top two teams in the region) — are already in the rearview, with Canada earning a 1-1 draw in both. So, nearing the halfway point of the final round, the Canadian men are in great position to qualify for their first World Cup since 1986.
That's the big picture. And when you zoom in on last night's victory, it gets even brighter.
Even if you didn't watch the match, the result alone is impressive. Panama is a quality opponent that made it to the most recent World Cup and currently sits fourth in the CONCACAF standings. In their previous two matches, they beat the United States and tied Mexico — the top two teams in the region. This is the kind of team Canada needs to beat to become a World Cup team. And the Canadians didn't just beat Panama. They walloped them, rallying from an early 1-0 deficit with four unanswered goals while generating far more shots, shots on goal and scoring chances than the visitors.
And if you did watch the match, you came away even higher on this Canadian team. The style with which they delivered last night's victory was really something. Alphonso Davies' go-ahead goal in the 66th minute was an instant classic — possibly the best individual effort in Canadian soccer history. Fully unleashing his incredible foot speed, the 20-year-old superstar raced up the right sideline as if shot from a cannon to win a ball he had no business winning (or even being anywhere near) from an incredulous Panamanian defender. Somehow keeping the rock in bounds with Astaire-like footwork, Davies cut in on net and beat another defender and the goalie with a world-class finish. To be honest, I can't do it justice with words. If you haven't seen the goal, watch it here. If you've seen the goal, see it broken down into its brilliant component parts in a video treatment by CBC Sports' Steve Tzemis below. And read more about Davies' stunning performance last night in this story by soccer analyst John Molinaro.
Davies' jaw-dropping strike touched off a barrage of three Canadian goals in 12 minutes — fittingly capped by one from the team's other young cornerstone, 21-year-old forward Jonathan David. The French league's co-leader in goals has now scored 17 times in only 22 matches for Canada. He's already tied for fifth all-time on the men's national team. It's also worth noting that Cyle Larin, Canada's active leader with 20 career goals, missed last night's match. When he's back in the lineup, Canada will have even more firepower at its disposal.
OK, so now what? The next World Cup qualifying window is in mid-November, and it'll see Canada host fifth-place Costa Rica (the only team it hasn't played yet) on Nov. 12 and first-place Mexico on Nov. 16. Both matches are at Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium, where chilly weather could give Canada an edge against its warm-weather opponents. Temperature aside, Canada's home-field advantage should continue to play a bigger role. Last night's crowd in Toronto was bonkers, and you can sense the entire country starting to realize this team's potential. That should translate into more boisterous support at the remaining four home games, which might help with avoiding another result like that 1-1 home draw vs. last-place Honduras — Canada's only real blemish so far in the final round.
After the November window, Canada will face the second-place United States and sixth-place Jamaica at home and Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama and seventh-place El Salvador on the road. Those matches will happen in two windows — one in late January/early February, the other in March. The intercontinental playoff for the fourth-place team takes place in June. The World Cup kicks off in November 2022. It's looking more and more like Canada might be playing in it.
Olympic champion Ted-Jan Bloemen and rising star Isabelle Weidemann won Canadian speed skating titles. The 35-year-old Bloemen, who took gold in the men's 10,000 metres and silver in the 5,000 at the 2018 Olympics, won the 5,000 yesterday at Calgary's Olympic Oval. Weidemann, 26, who missed the podium in Pyeongchang but picked up a medal at the world championships in both 2020 and '21, won the women's 3,000. In other races on day one of the national championships, which are also serving as trials to help finalize the Canadian team for the 2022 Beijing Olympics, Laurent Dubreuil won the men's 500 and Brooklyn McDougall took the women's 500. Read more about yesterday's races and watch them here. Watch today's women's 5,000 and men's 10,000 live starting at 6 p.m. ET here. Read more about what Canada's speed skaters are looking to achieve after 18 months of pandemic-related disruptions here.
Baseball's final four will be finalized tonight. The best of the four division series matchups also turned out to be the most dramatic. The defending World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers, who won 106 games this season, and the San Francisco Giants, who won 107 to clip L.A. for the best record in baseball, play the fifth and deciding game of their series tonight at 9:07 p.m. ET. It's just a shame one of them has to be eliminated this early. The winner will meet Atlanta, which got past Milwaukee in four games, in the National League Championship Series. The American League Championship Series opens tomorrow night and pits the Boston Red Sox against the Houston Astros.
What a day for the first couple of Canadian soccer. You already know about Alphonso Davies' big night (here's that goal again if, like me, you feel like watching it for the 20th time). His longtime girlfriend Jordyn Huitema, who also plays for the Canadian national team, had a huge game on Wednesday too, scoring three goals in just 17 minutes to help Paris Saint-Germain defeat Ukraine's WFC Kharkiv 5-0 in UEFA Women's Champions League play. As a bonus, Canadian Olympic hero Steph Labbé recorded the shutout in net for PSG. Read more about Huitema's hat trick and watch highlights here.
You're up to speed. Talk to you tomorrow.