Mexico has always proven to be a tough opponent for the Canadian men’s soccer team.
But Canada will have an even harder time against their CONCACAF rivals now that captain Will Johnson has been officially ruled out of Thursday’s crucial Gold Cup contest against the Mexicans in Seattle.
Johnson has been battling an undisclosed illness for several days, and had to be substituted out early in the second half of Canada’s 1-0 loss to Martinique on Sunday in Pasadena, Calif.
The Canadian Soccer Association confirmed Wednesday afternoon that Johnson returned home to Portland, Oregon, to continue his recovery from his illness and that he won’t be available for the Mexico game. The CSA said that Johnson remains on the team’s roster and he could potentially play on Sunday against Panama “if he recovers sufficiently.”
Also on Wednesday, interim Canadian coach Colin Miller confirmed winger Russell Teibert was suffering from a "fever and the shakes" and is being monitored by doctors.
All of this comes on the heels of Randy Edwini-Bonsu leaving the Canadian squad with a knee injury and fellow forward Simeon Jackson departing camp after signing a contract with a new pro club, Eintracht Braunschweig of the German Bundesliga. Also, Miller originally named Nana Attakora to his 23-man roster, but the defender never reported to camp due to post-concussion symptoms.
A former star for Canada during his playing career, Miller has only called up one replacement, D.C. United forward Kyle Porter, so he’s dealing with a rather depleted squad.
"(Goalkeeping coach) Paul Dolan and I are getting warmed up and getting ready to go," Miller quipped with reporters during a conference call.
With Johnson officially ruled out, the potential loss of Teibert would be another big blow for a Canadian side in desperate need of a win. The setback against Martinique, considered by many pundits as the weakest team in the group, has jeopardized Canada’s chances of advancing to the quarterfinals.
Panama defeated Mexico 2-1 and is tied with Martinique for first place in Group A with three points.
As only the top two nations in the group automatically advance, Canada was resting its knockout round hopes on being one of the tournament’s two-best third-place finishers. Three points is the bare minimum Canada would need to finish third, and the victory would seem more likely to come against Martinique.
Beating either Mexico or Panama (even their respective B teams) was always going to be tough task. After Canada’s dire effort against Martinique, it seems even less likely.
Even though the Mexicans are fielding a somewhat experimental side at this tournament, they still pose a danger, Miller warns.
"I don’t care if they bring their ‘Z’ team, any player who wears a Mexico (uniform) is of a very high quality," Miller stated.
Mexico is the top team in the CONCACAF region, ranked #20 in the recent FIFA world rankings. Canada is ranked 88th. What’s more, Mexico has dominated the all-time series, winning 16 of 28 meetings (with only four losses) at the senior level versus Canada.
But maybe Canada is catching Mexico at the right time, with the CONCACAF powerhouse reeling from its opening loss to Panama, which has put the Mexican coach and players under a great deal of pressure and media scrutiny.
Miller called Thursday’s contest against Mexico a “terrific opportunity to try and get that result against Martinique out of our system."
“These are occasions that don’t happen very often in your career,” Miller said. “(The players) can’t be intimidated, so if they’re not motivated to play against these players then there’s something wrong.”