If Cyle Larin wasn’t already heavily motivated to help the Canadian men’s soccer team qualify for just its second World Cup – and first since 1986 – the events of Aug. 6 merely served to galvanize him.
“It’s a great moment for Canadian soccer,” he said of the Canadian women capturing soccer gold at the Tokyo Olympics, inadvertently throwing down the gauntlet to their male counterparts in the process.
“We’re going to try to push on to make the World Cup.”
The Canadian women are currently enjoying some well-deserved time in the spotlight, playing a pair of exhibition matches in Ottawa and Montreal, with additional matches to come next spring, before they begin to turn their attention to qualifying for the 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
Next July’s regional CONCACAF W Championship will determine who advances to that World Cup, with head coach Bev Priestman using the string of exhibitions to celebrate her gold-medal-winning team, while simultaneously trying to inject some fresh blood into the squad.
The time for tinkering has long since ended for the Canadian men’s team, however. John Herdman’s squad, currently ranked 48th in the world, is in Edmonton this weekend as the region’s final World Cup qualifying stage reaches its halfway point. Canada plays a pair of games at Commonwealth Stadium, taking on 45th-ranked Costa Rica late Friday followed by ninth-ranked Mexico on Tuesday. Canada is one of just two unbeaten squads at kickoff time late on Friday night, with group leader Mexico the other, and is currently third in the standing, one point back of the United States.
The top three teams after 14 games qualify automatically for Qatar next year, while the fourth-placed team faces an intercontinental playoff to get in.
The Canadian men have enjoyed some milestone results already on this journey, most notably the 1-1 draw with Mexico at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City last month, when Canada earned its first point in 41 years at the home of Mexican soccer. That result followed on from a 1-1 draw in Nashville against the United States in September, when a Larin equalizer ensured Canada broke another long jinx, picking up its first World Cup qualifying point on U.S. soil since 1980.
On an individual level, a pair of Canadians lead the way statistically in CONCACAF, thanks in large part to lopsided wins in the first round of World Cup qualifying earlier this year, when Canada beat all four opponents by a 27-1 goal differential. As a result, Larin tops all goal scorers, having found the net on nine occasions, while Alphonso Davies has the most assists with three.
However, it was the Bayern Munich star’s own goal-scoring instincts that caught the eye last month, when he chased down and dispossessed a hapless Panamanian defender, before firing home for a highlight-reel match winner in a 4-1 victory in Toronto.