The men’s national soccer team is hoping Westhills Stadium can help lift it to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Emerging international Alphonso Davies of Bayern Munich will lead Canada against Trinidad and Tobago at the Langford facility March 27 with crucial qualifying points available. Tickets go on sale Feb. 20.
“Alphonso Davies, if not injured, will be running up and down the wing on that pitch,” said Canadian team head coach John Herdman, pointing to the Westhills turf during a news conference on Friday.
Herdman vividly remembers being in the stands of a jammed Westhills Stadium last year for the first game in Pacific FC club history in the Canadian Premier League. He said the national team plans on plugging into that energy. “We want that electricity pulsating through the fans and through the players on the field next month,” the Canadian bench boss said.
Herdman described the qualifying points on offer in the Langford game as being “critical.”
“Trinidad and Tobago is a tough opponent,” Herdman said.
“The fans will play a massive part in this. We usually go into hostile environments. We can create a packed house and maybe get Trinidad and Tobago thinking: ‘We don’t want to be here.’ ”
Greater Victoria used to be a go-to home site for Canada in World Cup and Olympic qualifying because many of the national team players from former eras were from the Island and Lower Mainland. But this will be the first Canada game on the Island since 1985 at Royal Athletic Park.
Herdman noted that fact in saying: “This is a big game on our journey to the [World Cup]. And you don’t have to get on a ferry to see it. We have been inspired by what [PFC co-owners and former pros and Canada players] Rob Friend and Josh Simpson have done for soccer in the Victoria area.”
Canada wants to hook into that.
“We are proud of this stadium and the CPL,” said Friend, who was capped 32 times for Canada and Simpson 43 times.
“Ultimately, it’s about Canadian soccer. We will do anything we can to support young Canadian players getting to the World Cup. Hopefully, there are a lot more Alphonso Davies coming up behind him. We are looking to get a good result against Trinidad and Tobago and be a venue for more Canada games in the future.”
The top six national teams in the CONCACAF region (North and Central America and Caribbean) by the cut-off period in late June will advance to the CONCACAF Hex, out of which the top three will advance to the 2022 World Cup. The 29 CONCACAF teams not making the Hex face a much longer route, and far longer odds, of making the World Cup through an arduous at-large worldwide qualifying process.
Canada is No. 73 in the FIFA world rankings and No. 7 in CONCACAF. It must catch FIFA No. 69 and CONCACAF No. 6 El Salvador in order to make the Hex.
Canada was 30 points behind El Salvador last summer and has closed the gap to 14 points. Every point from every game matters. There are no longer such things as friendlies in international games involving CONCACAF nations. (Trinidad and Tobago is ranked No. 104 in the world and has only an outside chance of making the CONCACAF Hex round).
Canada hopes the Hex doesn’t become another hex as it looks to qualify for its first World Cup since Islanders Ian Bridge, George Pakos and Jamie Lowery played at the 1986 tournament.
“We were disappointed not to be qualified for the Hex [by now]. It’s been one step forward and one step back,” Herdman said.
“But that’s made our Canadian players even more hungry.”
That hunger will be fed next month in Langford.