There’s a great deal of optimism surrounding the Canadian men’s soccer team at the moment.
John Herdman has injected some much-needed confidence and positivity into the program since taking over as coach last year, and with the team boasting a crop of exciting and dynamic attacking players, including Bayern Munich’s Alphonso Davies, there is genuine hope that Canada can come good at this year’s Concacaf Gold Cup.
Of course, if Canada does manage to win the Gold Cup – which runs from June 15 to July 7 in 16 cities across the United States, Jamaica and Costa Rica – it wouldn’t be the first time.
A little more than 19 years ago, on a rainy day at the Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, Canada capped off a miraculous run in the 2000 Concacaf Gold Cup by upsetting heavily-favoured Colombia in the final. It’s still the only major championship won by the Canadian senior team.
As Canada’s starting goalkeeper back then, Craig Forrest was in the thick of the action, earning three shutouts in the tournament, and backstopping his country to surprising wins over Mexico and Trinidad & Tobago in the knockout round, before leading the Reds to victory over Colombia in L.A.
Forrest sat down with Sportsnet to recall his memories from that famous match.
SPORTSNET: What do you remember the most about that day in Los Angeles?
FORREST: I remember the stadium was pretty empty [only 7,000 fans]. And the rain. [laughs]
I think Concacaf at first was disappointed that we got to the final because they were banking on a U.S.-Mexico final. But when we got there, we felt as though we had their backing, because they wanted us to defend the confederation’s honour — they would have been embarrassed if a team from South America won their continental competition.
SPORTSNET: What was the mood like in the Canadian camp ahead of the final?
FORREST: Very calm and relaxed. Believe it or not we didn’t feel any pressure. As the last remaining Concacaf team in the competition, we had already qualified for the FIFA Confederations Cup the following year [in Japan and South Korea]. Colombia was six years removed from playing at the World Cup in the United States, but they were still a very good team with guys like [former Newcastle United forward] Tino Asprilla in their side. The pressure was on them, not us.
Plus, we also felt very confident. We beat Mexico in extra time in the quarterfinals and then we beat Trinidad in the semis when, if I’m being honest, I don’t think we played all that well. But here we were in the final against Colombia, and there was a sense of belief that we could beat them. It kind of felt like destiny was on our side with the way we had worked our way through the competition.
SPORTSNET: What kind of tactical game-plan did Canadian coach Holger Osieck lay out for the team?
FORREST: Just to play smart. Do what got us to the final, which was play smart football. Try to contain Colombia and hit out on the break when we could.
SPORTSNET: It looked like you guys would head into halftime tied at 0-0. But then Jason deVos scored off a corner kick in the 45th minute to give Canada the lead. What went through your mind when deVos scored?
FORREST: I wasn’t surprised because I thought one of our strengths was set pieces. It’s something we worked on. Martin Nash played a great ball to the far post off the corner, and Jason just timed his late run perfectly. Colombia didn’t pick him up, and he headed it home. In all honesty, the Colombian goalkeeper [Diego Gomez] should have stopped it; it was kind of like a bar of slippery soap the way he handled it. [laughs] But it didn’t matter. That goal gave us a lot of confidence going into the break.
SPORTSNET: And then Carlo Corazzin put Canada up 2-0 in the 68th minute from the penalty spot.
FORREST: He did, but it was Jeff Clarke who made the play, darting into the box with a quick run and drawing the foul.
SPORTSNET: At 2-0, did you think that was it?
FORREST: Hell no. [laughs] We knew better than that.
SPORTSNET: Asprilla drew a foul in the box in the 84th minute when Clarke pulled him down, and Jamaican referee Peter Prendergast pointed to the spot.
FORREST: Yeah, but Asprilla made the most of it. Jeff grabbed him a bit and Asprilla went down like he had been shot. [laughs]
SPORTSNET: What went through your mind when Asprilla stepped up to take the penalty against you?
FORREST: Well, I played against him in the Premier League when he was at Newcastle and I remember he always liked to take those stutter steps in his penalties and tried to get the ‘keeper to commit before taking his shot. So, what I tried to do was stay up until the last possible second and keep him guessing. He did his little stutter step but I didn’t bite, and by the time he struck the ball, he couldn’t get much power behind it. I read which way it was going and I stopped it.
The funny thing is that although it may have looked like I made an easy save, the ball nearly slipped through underneath my body because the pitch was slippery from the rain. Thankfully I held on.
SPORTSNET: You must have known at that point it was over.
FORREST: No, far from it, actually. There was still five minutes left and a two-goal lead against Colombia wasn’t safe. After I stopped the penalty, I was mobbed by teammates. Clarke came running back and hugged me. But I was furious. I kept waving everybody away from me because I didn’t want us to lose concentration. I kept yelling “get out, get out!” [laughs]
SPORTSNET: You guys eventually did hold on for a 2-0 win. What did you think when Sepp Blatter and Jack Warner handed you and Jason deVos the trophy during the on-field presentation?
FORREST: It was unreal. It was just pure joy. Jason and I just looked at each other and were laughing and screaming. We didn’t have to say anything to each other. We knew what a special moment it was and what we just achieved. It was a proud moment for soccer in Canada.
SPORTNET: What kind of reception did you guys get after your win?
FORREST: It was very muted. You have to remember the Gold Cup was in February, so we were all in the middle of our club seasons. After we won, we all went our separate ways — in my case I went straight back to West Ham United. So, while it was a great win and achievement, it felt as though it went unnoticed.
Compare that to when the Canadian women won bronze at the Olympics in London [in 2012]. They became national heroes, and a large part of that was because they returned home after the win and were hailed by the media. We all had to go back to our clubs, so that’s why we were a little less celebrated.
SPORTSNET: You mentioned the Gold Cup came in the middle of the Premier League season. Was West Ham manager Harry Redknapp happy that you were away on international duty for such an extended period of time?
FORREST: Oh God, no. [laughs] At the time, Shaka Hislop [West Ham’s starting goalkeeper] was injured, our third-stringer was out, so they were down to using someone from the reserves.
I was getting daily phone calls from Harry when I was [at the Gold Cup] — “When are you coming back? We need you?” and “What are you doing wasting your time in that tournament? Canada never wins anything, anyway.” [laughs] He was very unhappy and wanted me back as soon as possible, and as we kept progressing he became even more agitated and would call me up even more, begging me to come home.
SPORTSNET: It’s a good thing you stayed, as you were named tournament MVP.
FORREST: In all modesty, it was the best I’ve ever played in all my years suiting up for the national team. I just felt I was really strong in net, supported by a defence that was very well organized.
It was definitely the highlight of my career. But then I flew back to England to rejoin West Ham and in my very next game after beating Colombia I was in net as we got shelled 7-1 by Manchester United at Old Trafford. How’s that for karma? [laughs]
An earlier version of this story was first published on Sportsnet.ca on Oct. 13, 2014.