Tonight the Canadian men’s national team travels to San Salvador hoping to take three points from El Salvador in a crucial World Cup qualifying match for both nations.
The Salvadorans need three points to avoid dashing their chances for qualification to the Hex before they even begin, following their 3-0 loss to Mexico in their opening match. Canada, for its part, will want to press their advantage into an early six point buffer before qualification resumes in 2016.
The top two teams from each of the three remaining CONCACAF qualification groups make it into the “Hex”, which will begin in late 2016. The top three teams from that stage then qualify for the World Cup, with the fourth place team heading to a playoff against Asia’s fifth place team.
Canada did buy themselves some early breathing room by taking three points off of Honduras in its opening match, but wouldn’t want to use it up against a team that played them to a draw in the first match of the 2015 Gold Cup. That match, played last July in Los Angeles, showed that El Salvador could give Canada headaches, but featured a lineup without Julian de Guzman, Atiba Hutchinson and Junior Hoilett. It was also felt Canada could have won that match if not for a glaring miss by forward Cyle Larin, who sent a ball high into the stands despite having beaten the Salvadoran keeper one-on-one. Given 99 more chances, he’d likely bury all of them. Arturo Álvarez gave Canadian left back Marcel de Jong some trouble in that match, but the Salvadoran captain was not called into the squad for these qualifying matches.
Before we get too confident about our prospects in this match, let’s remember that Salvadorans have a reputation for making visitors to Estadio Cuscatlán very uncomfortable. This is a place where soldiers have previously blocked the Canadian team from training in the stadium and bags filled with urine have been lobbed onto players on the pitch. Incredulous? Check out this piece where former Canadian keeper Craig Forrest recounts his experiences in El Salvador. CONCACAF, baby!
Nine points is usually enough for teams in this stage to qualify for the Hex (the only exception being last time, with Canada missing out while on 10 points). In speaking with former National team head coach and player Colin Miller at Sunday’s NASL Championship Final, he pointed out that Canada has a tremendous opportunity, with what he feels is the strongest Canada lineup he’s seen since his playing days (Miller was part of Canada’s 1986 World Cup squad), to get to the Hex and qualify for the World Cup.
Canada goes into San Salvador with the wind in its sails, coming off a win against its hated rival. With such momentum, hopes are riding high that Les Rouges can emerge from El Salvador with six points in the bank. Let’s just hope the anticipated liquid falling from the sky is colourless.