Straith eager to shine as B.C. Place to host World Cup soccer qualifier

Team Canada central-defender Adam Straith of Victoria hopes Active Pass is just that on Nov. 13 as the route to the 2018 World Cup of soccer in Russia sails through his home province.

It was announced Monday the CONCACAF fourth-round qualifying opener against Honduras will be played that night at B.C. Place Stadium. Tickets go on sale Friday for the first Canadian national men’s team soccer qualifying game in B.C. since a 3-1 loss to Costa Rica in 2004 at Swangard Stadium in Burnaby.

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Canada is looking to shake things up by departing from its recent permanent home at BMO Field in Toronto as it looks to get to the fifth and final round of CONCACAF qualifying, also known as the Hexagonal, for the first time since 1998. In order to get there, Canada must finish in the top-two of a fourth-round Group A that includes traditional regional power and world No. 26 Mexico, No. 81 Honduras and No. 107 El Salvador.

“It’s a bit of an odd feeling, to be honest. I have been with the national team for over five years now and have been so used to playing mostly in Toronto, but have always hoped to be able to play close to home,” said Straith, who has played every minute on the backline in the four second- and third-round CONCACAF qualifying-round victories over Dominica and Belize.

“There isn’t any greater honour in sports than playing for your country so close to where I grew up. I’m very excited to be able to have the chance to play in front of family and friends. B.C. Ferries will probably benefit most on the 13th [of November].”

The 24-year-old Straith, who plays pro with Fredrikstad of the Norwegian Premiership, came out of the Bays United and Lower Island Metro programs before joining the Vancouver Whitecaps development system.

“I think the people on the West Coast deserve to get such a big match for us,” said Straith, who attended Oak Bay High.

“I see every week the support the fans give to the Whitecaps, it’s great to see that stadium [B.C. Place] packed every single weekend and goes to show how much the game has grown in the province. It was also shown for the women this past summer at the World Cup — the place looked incredible.  Hopefully we will get a good turnout from the crowd and make it a very difficult game for Honduras, and get off to a fast start in the fourth round.”

The Islander Straith and Marcus Haber of Vancouver are the only two B.C. players to have played so far for Canada in 2018 World Cup qualifying, although Niagara Falls’ Russell Teibert and Calgary’s Samuel Adekugbe play in B.C. Place for the MLS Whitecaps

The elusive quest continues to add to Canada’s lone World Cup appearance in 1986. Monday’s announcement came on the 30th anniversary of Canada clinching its first and only World Cup berth thanks to two goals in the final qualifying round by amateur call-up George Pakos of Victoria.

World No. 102 Canada will need points out of all its three home games in the fourth round to stand any chance of advancing to the CONCACAF Hexagonal for 2018. Extracting points on the road is extremely difficult in CONCACAF, especially for Canada in Latin American settings. Canada will visit El Salvador on Nov. 17. The next games are March 25 against Mexico at a home venue to be determined, followed by a game March 29 at giant Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. The closing games are next Sept. 2 at Honduras and Sept. 6 at home against El Salvador.

“Playing at home has been our strength over the past number of years, and because the upcoming away games [in Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador] will be so tough, we need to get as many points at home as possible,” said Straith, who has 28 caps.

Gaining the full three points at home against both Honduras and El Salvador, and at least a home draw against Mexico, are considered crucial musts for Canada.

The eventual top-three out of the CONCACAF Hexagonal will advance to the 2018 World Cup in Russia, with the fourth-place finisher playing Asia No. 5 for an at-large berth.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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