Straith, Canada to face Mexico at B.C. Place

Adam Straith of Victoria was brought across the strait for the necessary B.C. content Thursday to announce what could be the most consequential Canadian men’s soccer game in several years.

Straith, who has grown into a reliable back-line player with 32 caps, labelled the March 25 fixture against Mexico at B.C. Place Stadium a “massive game and so close to home.”

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Mexico has the full six points and Canada has four after their first two games of the fourth round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. El Salvador has one point and Honduras none. The top-two teams from the pool will advance to the final round of CONCACAF qualifying, also known as the Hexagonal round.

Canada’s recent success has seen a move from 102nd to 88th in the FIFA world rankings. Mexico is the highest-ranked CONCACAF nation at No. 22.

“Mexico is the top team in CONCACAF, but there is no reason why we can’t win this game, although a draw would not be bad, either,” said Straith, who came out of Bays United and the Lower Island Metro programs.

“We have confidence as a group. Anything is possible,” added the 25-year-old defender, who is back home during the Norwegian pro league off-season.

The Canadian Soccer Association came back to B.C. Place for the key Mexico game after 20,108 fans, including many from the Island, created a terrific din there Nov. 13 in Canada’s 1-0 victory over No. 101 Honduras to open the fourth round of qualifying. Canada went down the following week to record a scoreless draw in San Salvador against No. 99 El Salvador.

“The atmosphere at B.C. Place was electric against Honduras, so this decision was a no-brainer,” said Straith, by phone from Vancouver, after the announcement.

“It was a very pro-Canadian crowd, which you don’t always have in parts of the country. Mexico does travel well in terms of fan support, but we expect a very pro-Canadian crowd, and a good amount of that will be from the Island because it’s a long weekend.”

Canada will need to make the most of this home opportunity, considering it will be travelling to Mexico City for the return leg March 29 in the decidedly less friendly and famously cacophonous Azteca Stadium.

If there is any game that could create a demand to open the top deck of B.C. Place, this could be it.

“The more people we get out, the tougher it is for Mexico,” said Straith.

His Canadian teammates concur.

“[The Honduras game] was probably the best Canada crowd in front of which I have played in my career,” said veteran national team midfielder Will Johnson, in a statement.

“The fans were unbelievable. It was a real treat to come in and see a lot of red everywhere.”

The round concludes with Canada visiting Honduras on Sept. 2 and hosting El Salvador on Sept. 6 at a venue to be determined.

Canada has not qualified for the final CONCACAF Hexagonal round since 1998 nor the World Cup since its lone appearance in 1986.

The emerging Straith has played more minutes than any Canadian player over the six games to date of CONCACAF World Cup Russia 2018 qualifying, including earlier-round two-game sets against Dominica and Belize, and is one of nine nominees for Canadian men’s player of the year.

Also part of the 22-player Canadian roster in the fourth round has been fellow Oak Bay-product and Norwegian pro Simon Thomas, among three Canadian goalkeepers.

Tickets for the Mexico game go on sale Dec. 15 through ticketmaster.ca or 1-855-985-5000. Past purchasers have a pre-sale window from Dec. 8-14.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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