Let’s get right down to it: the Canadian soccer psyche is still severely damaged because of what happened on the last day of the 2014 World Cup qualifying cycle, when Honduras handed Canada an 8-1 defeat in San Pedro Sula to end Canada’s hope of going to Brazil.
Anytime I bring up Canada’s men’s team, whether it be with a hardcore follower of the team or someone much more casual, the conversation is inevitably steered to a mention of that match. The fans haven’t recovered from that drubbing, and it’s reasonable to think that the players who were present are similarly scarred.
There’s been a lot of turnover in the squad since Benito Floro took over the program following Stephen Hart’s resignation after that match, but a handful of Canada’s current squad were present that day: Julian de Guzman, Atiba Hutchinson, Tosaint Ricketts, David Edgar, Will Johnson and André Haineault were all starters. Milan Borjan, Kenny Stamatopoulos and Marcel de Jong watched from the bench. If fans need some sort of cathartic result against Honduras, imagine what it would mean to these players.
Still, it feels like it was so long ago. Not just in matters of time, but in the makeup of the squad. Cyle Larin, Junior Hoilett, Tesho Akindele and Fraser Aird have helped inject a sense of renewal into Canada’s senior men’s team, and with it a new hope. Long time supporters of the team treat Hope as suspiciously as they would Lucy during a field goal, but there she is again. No matter how much she’s burned us before, it feels good to hope again.
Canada gets a chance to expand on these warm, fuzzy feelings on Friday night in Vancouver. A win against Honduras would go a long way to setting the balance right, not to mention securing three crucial points in this round of qualifying. Other than Honduras, Canada will also be facing El Salvador and Mexico home and away, with the top two teams making it into the final round of qualifying, called “The Hex” because of the six teams that compete for the 3 ½ CONCACAF spots for Russia 2018. Mexico and Honduras are favourites to advance, but Honduras isn’t that far ahead of Canada.
Canada have had an up and down 2015, but mostly up. Canada has lost only twice this year (Costa Rica, Iceland), picking up five wins and five draws along the way. Many of their players have had excellent 2015 club seasons, most prominently Cyle Larin who this week was named the MLS Rookie of the Year. This is a welcome development for Canada, since Larin is a striker who tore MLS defences apart with 18 goals for Orlando City SC and scoring goals has been a bugaboo for this team. Atiba Hutchinson continues his strong play for Turkish powerhouse Beşiktaş. Julian de Guzman helped lead the Ottawa Fury to their first NASL Soccer Bowl appearance. Tesho Akindele is fresh off scoring a goal for FC Dallas that helped knock the Seattle Sounders out of the MLS playoffs.
For their part Honduras have been in something of a tailspin since their 2014 World Cup appearance. In 2015, the team played 15 times, winning only three of those matches, drawing five and losing seven. Their three wins came against French Guiana, El Salvador and Ecuador. In fact, they just barely squeezed past French Guiana to get into last summer’s Gold Cup after losing the first of their two-leg playoff 3-1.
Hopefully, Canada will come flying out of the tunnel on the strength of a near-sellout at BC Place in Vancouver. The team will be seen nationwide on TSN for the first time since the 1990’s when we were treated to Vic Rauter’s call of “”Peschi-SOLI-do” and “BUN-bury!”. A strong Canada performance, whether it results in a win or a draw, is essential to grow the fan base and convince TSN to come back for seconds.
Are we seeing the meeting of one team on the decline, and another on the rise? The Elo rankings seem to indicate that with Canada gaining 14 spots on Honduras in the last year. Despite all this good news, it’s hard to imagine Canada’s supporters approaching this match with anything but trepidation, however. Honduras is Canada’s boogeyman, having handed us crushing defeats going back further than the 8-1 loss in 2013.
Besides, at this point “trepidation” should feature somewhere on The Voyageurs crest. Let the healing begin.