Canada, continuing its search for FIFA ranking points to improve its World Cup qualifying road, will play Trinidad and Tobago twice on Vancouver Island during the March international window.
The Canadian men, currently ranked 73rd in the world, will meet the No. 104 Soca Warriors on March 27 and 31 on artificial turf at Westhills Stadium, in Langford, B.C.
The two countries have met 11 times previously with Canada holding a 7-2-1 edge.
Canada, currently ranked seventh among CONCACAF countries, is looking to catch No. 6 El Salvador (No. 69 in the world rankings) in its bid to secure the most direct route of World Cup qualifying out of the region that covers North and Central America and the Caribbean.
The top six CONCACAF teams after the June international window make the so-called Hex qualifying round, which will send three teams from the region to Qatar 2022.
Failure to make the Hex means a more convoluted qualifying schedule for teams ranked seventh through 35th in the confederation. The last team standing will meet the fourth-place Hex finisher to determine who represents CONCACAF in an intercontinental playoff for a berth in the World Cup.
Canada started the year with 1,331.2 points in seventh spot in CONCACAF, 15 points behind El Salvador.
In January, Canada beat No. 162 Barbados twice and lost to No. 39 Iceland. Canada Soccer says it currently has Canada at 1,332 points, with El Salvador at 1,346.
Canada coach John Herdman, who was in Langford on Friday to announce the March fixtures, said two wins over Trinidad could net his team 7.5 to eight points.
The Canadians were 30 points behind El Salvador last July when CONCACAF announced its revised pathway for World Cup qualifying.
Asked what Canada's odds are now of making the Hex, Herdman replied: "Better than July.
"I think that's our reality," he added in an interview. "When July came around and we were 30 points away, it was a bit doom and gloom. I think through the (CONCACAF) Nations League, we were able to claw some points back as well as see El Salvador drop a couple of points."
"Fourteen points away, two more FIFA windows. We're still in the fight," he added. "That's what's motivating everyone in the men's national team environment at the minute. We're still fighting. And what a story it would be if we qualify for the Hex."
Trinidad and Tobago is under new management with former England international Terry Fenwick appointed coach in December. Fenwick, 60, spent most of his playing career with Queens Park Rangers but also spent time with Tottenham and Crystal Palace, Leicester and Swindon Town.
Fenwick, who married a Trinidadian, has also managed club teams in Trinidad and Tobago.
"This will be a tough match for us and one our players will have to right up for it," Herdman said.
Canada won 2-0 the last time it met Trinidad and Tobago in an international friendly in August 2012 in Florida on goals by Will Johnson and Tosaint Ricketts. The game before that, Trinidad and Tobago won 4-0 in Port-of-Spain in September 2000 to end Canada's World Cup qualifying run.
The teams met last year in a closed-door training match, won 2-0 by Canada, in the leadup to the Gold Cup.
"It was a close game," said Herdman. "They were a real challenge physically. Athletically they're excellent and they have a very mobile front four that can threaten. It's going to be a tough match and that's what our team needs, it's what the crowd will enjoy. We'll have to be at our best to get these points."
Trinidad, currently ranked 11th among CONCACAF countries, ended the Americans' 2018 World Cup qualifying hopes with a 2-1 upset win in October 2017.
Herdman said he we call in all his top talent for the March games, calling them "critical for Canada."
"Having spoken to the senior players, some of the core players, they're in the fight," he said. "They want to help their country qualify for the Hex while there's still a chance. The players are invested and will be there."
Herdman said Canada Soccer had looked into playing friendlies in Europe, citing Albania and Estonia as possible opponents.
"These matches didn't really give you the points nor did they give you the opportunity to play against CONCACAF teams and prepare for what's coming in the fall, regardless if we're in the Hex or the other level of competition," he said.
Herdman also wanted to play at home, with the West Coast seen as the best option given the weather and time of year. Canada Soccer came close to organizing games against Panama and Costa Rica but the travel proved to be an issue.
"They weren't comfortable doing it," said Herdman.
Panama, ranked 81st in the world, is now playing El Salvador during the same window.
The March games will be the first international "A" matches on Vancouver Island since the Canadian women played at Victoria's Centennial Stadium in March 2006.
"I was here at Pacific FC's opening match and it was a real great atmosphere," Herdman said of Westhills Stadium.
Canada has played Olympic qualifiers in 1983 and 1984 and qualified for the Los Angeles Games at Victoria's Royal Athletic Park in April 1984. Vancouver Island also hosted World Cup qualifying matches in 1985 and CONCACAF Women's Championship matches in 2002.
Herdman will hold camp March 23-31 in Vancouver, Langford and Victoria with the opening part at the Whitecaps' training facility at the University of British Columbia.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 14, 2020.
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