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Herdman calling on 'Fortress Canada' to lift national soccer team to 2022 World Cup

John Herdman is calling on Canada to be a “fortress every­where,” from Victoria to St. John’s, as the men’s national soccer team attempts to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

John Herdman is calling on Canada to be a “fortress every­where,” from Victoria to St. John’s, as the men’s national soccer team attempts to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Canada opens the final round of CONCACAF qualifying today against Honduras at BMO Field in Toronto. It will be the first game on home soil since 2019. Two sold-out games scheduled against Trinidad and Tobago in 2020 at Starlight Stadium in Langford were cancelled due to the pandemic.

“It’s time. You could feel the energy and environment even in practice. This is our home,” Canadian team head coach Herdman told reporters Wednesday.

“A win at home is very important and sets the tone. We are building belief.”

Canada is in the final stage of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying for the first time since 1998.

The task on home turf is a big one, as it always must be for Canada in CONCACAF, where points on Latin American pitches are hard to come by. The ambitious goal is nothing less than earning the full 21 points in the seven games of the final round to be played in Canada.

In a South American news report, Honduras said drones were flying over their practices in Toronto. “Lots of people in Canada fly drones,” said Herdman, when asked about the Honduran claims by a reporter. “[That’s why] we are not going into road games early. CONCACAF can be a tricky place.”

Herdman labelled Canada, U.S., Mexico and Jamaica as the four teams of the eight in the final CONCACAF round with the most depth. Canada’s is a golden generation with four players playing for European clubs in this year’s Champions League and three with teams in the Europa League.

They include Alphonso Davies of Bayern Munich and Jonathan David of Lille OSC, the two youngest players in the Canada squad at 20 and 21. Davies is a Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League winner while David is a Ligue 1 champion in France. Davies and David are two of five Canadians ages 23 or younger on the roster, along with emerging star and Europe-bound Tajon Buchanan of the New England Revolution of MLS.

“We won’t fear anyone in the final round,” said Herdman.

Canadian player Stephan Eustaquio concurred: “It’s normal to be anxious for the first game but we have to take care of business. We believe in each other and have trust in our ability to take this country to the next level.”

Canada has not qualified for the World Cup since 1986 when the national side had four players from the Vancouver Island Soccer League.

After today’s final-round opener, Canada meets the U.S. on Sunday at Nissan Stadium in Nashville and hosts El Salvador at BMO Field next Wednesday in the three-game opening set of the 14-game final round. Qualifying runs through March 30. The top three teams of the eight in the CONCACAF final round will qualify for World Cup Qatar 2022 while the fourth-place team will advance to an at-large, last-chance world qualifier.

“We have a clear picture of what we want from this window. And then a clear picture of the next window,” said Herdman. “We want to win all games at home and make that a fortress in accumulating 21 points. That’s the mission.”

Eustaquio said : “It’s going to be an amazing feeling with our crowd here. We know away games will be really tough. If we don’t win [at home], we’ve got to get it on the road and that’s hard.”

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com