TORONTO — Farmers, fishermen, construction workers, teachers, students and the self-employed. There’s more than just soccer to the men who make up the Dominica national team.
"Most everyone on the team is working," said coach Shane Marshall, a former midfielder and national team captain whose day job is driving a taxi. "Most of them are self-employed. We have a few guys that are going to school. So it’s kind of difficult to work around.
"Some of them have to say ‘OK, well coach, I’ll not be able to make it today because I have class. I’ll make it tomorrow."’
From their modest home away from home, a two-star hotel in suburban Brampton, the team known as the Nature Boys — due to the natural beauty of Dominica — is hoping to score one for the little guy when it takes on Canada on Tuesday in the return leg of their World Cup qualifying series.
Canada, ranked No. 109 in the world, defeated No. 168 Dominica 2-0 last before some 6,000 fans on Thursday in the Caribbean island located halfway between Puerto Rico and Trinidad and Tobago.
The Dominica players, dressed in a lime green tops, took a moment to take in BMO Field on Monday before the match commissioner let them on the pristine field for their one-hour practice.
"It’s a lovely playing field. It’s conducive to playing good football," goalkeeper and captain Glenson Prince, who was a standout in the first leg, said admiringly.
The series opener was played on a somewhat less hospitable cricket pitch in Roseau. Canada went ahead on a fifth-minute goal by Orlando City forward Cyle Larin. Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Russell Teibert made it 2-0 on a 63rd-minute penalty after Larin was pulled down.
Canadian coach Benito Floro, while not complaining, thought Canada could have scored more.
"Everyone’s going to think it’s a walk in the park," Canadian captain Julian de Guzman said of Dominica. "But these teams, they’re very tricky. You can’t take them lightly at any moment. They’re very physical, fast players and they’re playing for a World Cup too. They believe they can make it.
"We cannot judge these guys on rankings or where they’re from. So we’re not taking it any different than it would be if we were to play Panama in Panama or (play) the U.S."
Canada will be without goalkeeper Milan Borjan, red-carded late in the game for handling the ball outside the penalty box.
"A lot of persons didn’t give us a chance coming into the game because of the (FIFA) rankings and what not," said Prince. "But we watched a lot of tapes of the Canadians. We were confident coming into the (home) game and we are confident going into this game because we can believe that if we can improve on our performance we can turn that 2-0 deficit around."
So a Dominica win is possible?
"Definitely. If not we wouldn’t be here right now," said the 27-year-old ‘keeper.
Prince is currently without a club after his contract with a team in Trinidad and Tobago ran out. Two of his teammates play semi-pro in Trinidad while the rest play for clubs at home.
Prince teaches physical education at a secondary school in Dominica, whose population numbers some 73,500 — about the same as Sarnia, Ont.
While Dominica stays at a hotel with a complimentary continental breakfast near the airport after commercial flights to Antigua and then Toronto, the fully professional Canadian side travelled south by chartered plane and stayed in a hotel featuring a fully equipped dive shop, its own jetty, rooftop Jacuzzis, infinity pool, gymnasium and spa.
Dominica beat the British Virgin Islands in a two-legged playoff in the first round of World Cup qualifying in the CONCACAF region, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean.
The 10 second-round winners move on to the third round where they will be joined by Jamaica and Haiti for another home-and-away series.
The six winners will join the top six teams in the confederation — Costa Rica, the U.S., Mexico, Honduras, Panama and Trinidad and Tobago — in the penultimate stage which will see round-robin play in three groups. The top two in each group will advance to the final hexagonal round-robin.
The top three will qualify directly for the 2018 World Cup in Russia with the fourth-place team having a chance to join them via a playoff.
So Canada, in its quest for only its second ever World Cup qualification, could have at least 18 more games to go if it wins Tuesday.
"It’s a long journey, a lot of games ahead of us," said de Guzman.
With the domestic soccer spotlight on the Women’s World Cup, the Canadian men are flying under the radar.
With no TV network interested, Tuesday’s game is being streamed on the Internet. Monday’s practices drew one reporter.