As the end of another season of missed opportunities approaches, Canada’s men’s national soccer team has travelled a long way from home for one final chance to build momentum heading into next year.
Canada, currently ranked No. 110 in the FIFA men’s rankings, will take on No. 44 South Korea on Friday in its last friendly of the year as it looks ahead to next summer’s Gold Cup tournament.
“We want to finish really positively. We want a really strong application, a really strong commitment to what we’ve been trying to work on in the last couple of camps,” said interim head coach Michael Findlay, who took over after former head coach Benito Floro left following Canada’s elimination from World Cup qualifying in September.
“Obviously with the disappointment of not qualifying, we want them to be thinking of the future.”
After finishing third in its qualifying group, Canada continued a World Cup drought dating back to 1986. But there is a belief that better days lie ahead for the Canadian program.
The squad in South Korea is a mix of established names like David Edgar and Marcel de Jong and newer faces like Carl Haworth of the Ottawa Fury FC, who is in his first camp, and Marco Bustos, who had a standout year with the Vancouver Whitecaps reserve team in the USL and is a hot prospect for more minutes in Major League Soccer next season.
And there is established young talent like forward Cyle Larin, who scored 14 goals with Orlando City SC in MLS and is turning into the genuine goal-scoring threat that the Canadian program has been lacking.
“We have great older guys that are there and the new generation coming in is one that can help us go to the World Cup eventually,” Larin said. “The young players [will] help us do well in these next couple tournaments like the Gold Cup and next World Cup qualifying games.”
A quiet training session on Thursday morning at the Cheonan Stadium was occasionally punctuated by the occasional roar of military jets, a stark reminder of the tension in the region. South Korea is technically still at war with North Korea after an armistice to halt the Korean War was signed in 1953, but no formal peace treaty followed.
With the game taking place on Remembrance Day, Canada will take a moment of silence in its hotel that’s about a two-hour drive from the 38th parallel that divides the south from the north.
The two teams have played four times before with Canada winning twice, South Korea once and the memorable game being a draw.
The teams tied 0-0 when South Korea was a guest team at the 2000 CONCACAF Gold Cup that Canada eventually went on to win – one of the rare high points for the Canadian program.
Another meeting at the 2002 Gold Cup resulted in Canada winning 2-1 to claim third place.
South Korea went on to finish third at the 2002 World Cup, which it co-hosted with Japan, and has qualified for every World Cup since, while Canada is once again hoping that the team is laying groundwork for long overdue success.
“What we’ve done is we’ve sat down and we’ve looked at 2017 and strategically thought what are our objectives and what we need to get out of 2017 moving forward,” said Findlay, who is running his second camp.
“The Gold Cup is one component of it. It’s certainly going to be a great opportunity to assess our talent and the talent depth not just as a team but in positions … It also gives us an opportunity to really get a sense of how we’re going to transition youth into this group over the next couple of years. ”Report Typo/Error