VANCOUVER, B.C. - Canada has assembled in Vancouver this week as Benito Floro's squad of 23-players prepare for a crucial World Cup Qualifying fixture against Mexico on Friday, March 25 at BC Place. 50,000 spectators are expected to pile in for what is slated to be an epic clash between CONCACAF rivals looking to solidify a spot at the top of Group A. Mexico currently sit first with 6 points, while Canada is second with 4 points. El Salvador remain on 1 point, while Honduras has 0 points.
The top two teams from Group A will qualify for "The Hex" and Canada has not made it that far since 1986. Toronto FC midfielder Will Johnson is looking forward to the match and shared his thoughts on the challenge that Mexico will present.
"A tough game, a very good team. It's going to be a rowdy atmosphere, there's obviously a lot at stake because it's a World Cup Qualifier, which adds to the intensity. I think it'll be a battle, for a lack of a better term."
Under the guidance of Coach Benito Floro, Canada has come along way since the Spaniards appointment on August 1, 2013. Canada has been able to recruit talented players like Junior Holiett, Steven Vitoria and most recently. Scottish born midfielder Scott Arfield. The new wave of Canadians has boosted morale, confidence, and talent within the men's national team program.
West Ham centre-back Doneil Henry has noticed how big an impact new player acquisitions are having for Canada. Going into a match against a World Cup perennial like Mexico. Canada has a new-found belief that they can compete and come away with a result.
"Yeah definitely, I think with the guys that we have in the squad now, I think the national team for the men's is really changing," explained Henry. "We have a good set of veteran presence in the players that we have here, but a lot of young guys who are hungry, who can make a difference when called upon by Benito. These next two games are really important in the group stage. If we can get results out of it, I think we can definitely get to the top of the table."
Mexico Coach Juan Carlos Osorio is bringing a talented roster to Vancouver to take on Canada featuring Javier Hernandez, Andres Guardado, Marco Fabian, Hector Herrera, and Raul Jimenez. It will be monumentally important for Canada to weather the early storm. It's unknown how many fans will be decked out in green Mexico kits cheering for the visitors. Canada can't afford to get behind early and play into a track meet with Mexico. Will Johnson has other ideas and a change in forecasts.
"Yeah, hopefully they're weathering our storm though. We've got a lot of fans coming too, and we've got a lot of good players, and obviously we feel comfortable and confident. Hopefully they have to weather our storm as much as we weather theirs."
With a massive crowd of support and one of the strongest Canada roster we've seen in some time, Canada must get a result. It won't be pretty going to The Estadio Azteca on Tuesday to play Mexico in Mexico City. Everything this week in Vancouver is looking positive for Floro and his players. Mexico is going to be no picnic, but make no mistake. This is a vastly improved Canadian team. The players all know what this game means, how important it is, and how serious they have to take it.
The former TFC defender likes the experience and professionalism Canada's new additions have brought to the team. It won't all be on the boots of Arfield and Holiett, but they will be counted on more than others to deliver in the clutch.
"These guys play at big clubs, and a guy like Scott Arfield has been at the top-level for many years," said Henry. "These guys know what the big games mean, they know what it is to be a true professional like Junior (Hoilett), Scott (Arfield), and like you said, Steven Vitoria. These guys are top professionals. They come in and add to the group the quality, that maybe the team has lacked. These are the guys that when they are called upon, we're going to have to lean-to them, along with the guys who have been here previously. I think it's going to be a good mix and everybody is going to buy into what Benito wants us to do and we can get results."
It's a great time to be a Canada Soccer fan. The enthusiasm and positivity surrounding this Canadian team is enough to fill the hearts of thousands of Daniel Squizzato's. The players have noticed this as well. Getting behind and supporting Canada's quest to qualify for the 2018 Russia World Cup is another step in the right direction in building for the future.
2015 Portland Timbers MLS Cup Champion, Will Johnson agrees.
"Absolutely, this is it. There hasn't been a game like this on Canadian soil since I've been playing and maybe in the last decade or two at least. This is a good opportunity for everyone to see that we have good players, we're getting better, we're striving to catch one of the best teams. To play them at home with 50,000 people is an opportunity that many players on our squad didn't think that we would get. This has come earlier than expected and now we're going to try and take this opportunity and show that."
BC Place showed that it was a fortress during the 2015 Women's World Cup and Canada's Men's National team is hoping that rings true on Friday. Mexico is a strong opponent, but playing in an unfamiliar environment and on artificial turf could give Canada the extra bit of advantage they need to pick up a result.
Notes: Canadian midfielder Iain Hume's arrival has been delayed to due travel interruptions.