FRISCO, TEXAS – As Canada’s young stars look to continue the growing optimism around the national men’s soccer team, they’ll have to move past the cause of so much of the program’s recent trauma.
Canada plays Honduras on Friday night with a win or a draw ensuring its passage through to the knockout round of the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Even a loss might enough for the Reds to advance, depending on how the other round-robin groups play out.
But with most of the players that were humiliated 8-1 in San Pedro Sula in 2012 having moved on, the new group has a chance to finally prove that Canada has turned the page from that nightmare.
“I can tell you that the guys are ready. They want to play. They are wanting to go onto the field as soon as possible,” Canadian coach Octavio Zambrano said. “The guys who have not had the opportunity to play yet are really eager to get on the pitch and that’s great. I sense that excitement. I sense the healthy competition within the environment, within the team.”
Canada earned a small measure of redemption in a 1-0 win over Honduras at home in World Cup qualifying in 2015. But it was Honduras who once again had the last laugh when it mattered most last year, winning 2-1 to all but eliminate Canada from 2018 World Cup contention.
An eager Canadian side is out to prove that was then, and the encouraging signs shown in its two previous games at this Gold Cup is an indication of what can be now be expected.
“We have that youthful injection and that fearlessness from players like Alphonso Davies,” said forward Tosaint Ricketts, one of the holdovers from that 2012 squad. “That’s what we need. We need those type of players that will go at people and just give it everything.”
Regardless of what happens with the Florent Malouda situation – whether Honduras remains on one point or is awarded three for a forfeit win over French Guiana – Los Catrachos
knows it has to beat Canada in order to move ahead in the standings.
But Canada has no plans to bunker down and sit in.
“We’re not going to try and draw for a point in this game,” Canadian forward Lucas Cavallini stated. “We want to be top of the group and get the three points, which is the most important of all.
“This team wants to go out and get the win and be first of the group.”
Thursday was a scorcher in the Dallas area with temperatures well over 30 degrees — very reminiscent of afternoon kickoffs in San Pedro Sula. A 9:00 p.m. local time kickoff on Friday means it will be warm, but at the same time comfortable, and nowhere near as humid as the team experienced in Houston in a 1-1 draw vs. Costa Rica on Tuesday night
Canada has been relaxed group in training at this Gold Cup, and the effect of picking up results and controlling its own destiny has really added to that.
There’s still focus, without question, but a weight is lifted and there’s a healthy competition in the battle for playing time as the youngsters in the squad have no lingering memories of past failures against Honduras.
“We keep talking about a new era so I don’t think too many of us are looking back,” midfielder Russell Teibert offered. “We’re looking forward to the future and we’re taking it game-by-game and we can’t move onto the next round if we don’t take care of business.”
After the draw with Costa Rica, Zambrano said that Davies, the team’s top scorer at this Gold Cup with three goals, would be good to go for Canada vs. Honduras after picking up an ankle injury. The Canadian coach left his role a little undefined saying he may also be an option off the bench.
Davies looked completely comfortable training at Toyota Stadium on Thursday evening.
“We have most of it figured out. We have a couple things we have to do with Alphonso,” Zambrano said.
“The other one, obviously, is with the minutes played that some of the players have had coming into this match. Two hard games have been played and we have to be smart, not only to preserve guys like Alphonso but to make sure we inject some fresh legs into the lineup, as well.”