With World Cup qualification in their sights in this international window, the Canadian men say they are staying in the moment and keeping it real.
“We pride ourselves on being humble,” midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye said. “At the same time we know we’ve done a good job, but we haven’t really done anything yet. We haven’t gotten to our goal. I think the humble part is keeping us on task. … It allows us to hold each other accountable because we know that there’s a bigger goal at the end. And we’re not there yet.”
“We haven’t accomplished anything yet,” fellow midfielder Liam Fraser added.
But that could change Thursday when 33rd-ranked Canada (7-0-4, 25 points) takes on No. 42 Costa Rica (4-3-4, 16 points) in San Jose at Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica. A win and Canada, which tops the CONCACAF qualifying table, secures a berth in Qatar 2022 with two more games remaining.
A draw Thursday would also work if fourth-place Panama (5-4-2, 17 points) fails to beat eighth-place Honduras (0-8-3, three points).
The top three teams qualify automatically for Qatar, representing North and Central America and the Caribbean, while the fourth-place finisher takes on a team from Oceania in an intercontinental playoff to see who joins them.
After Costa Rica, Canada wraps up its qualifying campaign by playing host to No. 62 Jamaica at Toronto’s BMO Field on Sunday before playing at No. 63 Panama on March 30.
Under coach John Herdman, the Canadian men are looking down in the qualifying standing at No. 12 Mexico and the 13th-ranked Americans (both 6-2-3, 21 points), CONCACAF’s traditional powerhouses.
The Canadian men were ranked 94th in the world when Herdman took over in January, 2018, after a successful stint at the Canadian women’s helm. At the time, nine CONCACAF countries were ranked higher than Canada.
Now, Canada stands third in CONCACAF in the FIFA rankings and is looking to continue bossing qualifying in the region. The Canadian men have won six straight and are currently 13-0-4 through three rounds of play.
“We knew that in order to get to here it was going to be a long journey,” Kaye said Monday from Canada’s Florida camp.
The team built its brotherhood and belief along the way. With qualifying delayed and then crunched together because of the pandemic, Canada’s qualifying road to Qatar called for 20 games in a year.
“We just got tighter and tighter as a group,” Kaye said.
Fraser says the team believes it can beat anyone on its day.
“Without a doubt,” he said. “I think we have the individual players, but furthermore we have the collective mindset and the collective synergy that allows us to go and beat any team on our day. The level that we’ve gone to under John has truly shown us and shown everyone how much of a top team we are.
“So we’re going to continue to get better and hopefully that leads us to where we want to go.”
Canada’s only other visit to the men’s World Cup was in 1986 in Mexico. Kaye says Herdman, known for being a powerful motivator, has helped the players understand “the importance of what we’re doing for our country.”
“That then makes you realize how grateful and blessed we are to be Canadians, and have the opportunity to represent the country” said Kaye, who shows it by belting out O Canada with unbridled enthusiasm before matches.
Kaye, who has won 32 caps for Canada with two goals and seven assists, is one of 10 MLS players on Herdman’s 25-man roster.
The Colorado Rapids acquired the 27-year-old Toronto native plus a 2022 first-round draft pick from Los Angeles FC last July in exchange for US$1-million in general allocation money (GAM) and a 2022 international roster slot. The deal also called for LAFC to receive additional GAM if Kaye reaches certain performance incentives.
In January, Kaye signed a four-year contract extension with the Rapids that runs through the 2025 season with a club option for an additional year. Kaye made US$247,200 last season.
The 24-year-old Fraser has won 13 caps for Canada with two assists.
He is forever linked to Kaye, winning his first cap when he came on to replace the injured Kaye in the fifth minute of a CONCACAF Nations League game against the United States in October, 2019, before family and friends in Toronto. He fit in seamlessly, helping Canada to a 2-2 win that ended a 34-year, 17-match winless run against its North American rivals.
A former Toronto FC homegrown player, Fraser joined Columbus last May on loan from Toronto. Out of contract at the end of 2021, he signed with KMSK Deinze in the Belgian second tier.
Deinze (8-5-12) currently stands fourth in the eight-team Belgian First Division B.