There’s a saying in the theatre about there being no small parts, only small actors. It’s the same in World Cup soccer qualifying. There are no small countries, only small players. Defender/midfielder Adam Straith of Victoria certainly isn’t one of them, as he looks to earn his 27th and 28th caps in the two-game Canada-Belize set in the third round of CONCACAF qualifying for Russia 2018.
The total-goal set, which begins today at 4:30 p.m. Pacific at BMO Field in Toronto, looks to be a glaring mismatch, even with world No. 128 Belize only a fairly respectable 26 spots behind No. 102 Canada. That, however, could be a deadly assumption Canada can’t afford to make.
“There are no easy games in CONCACAF, especially away from home,” said Straith, referring to the second leg Tuesday in the Belizian capital, Belmopan.
There may be a bit more of a comfort zone than usually experienced in CONCACAF, in terms of language and culture, since Belize is the lone Commonwealth nation in Central America. But Canada still wants Belize done and dusted by the time the final whistle sounds tonight at BMO Field and the attention shifts to the flight down to Belmopan. Pouring in goals at home tonight will be the mission.
“Our goal is to put in a strong, concentrated performance at home and try to go down to Belize with a favorable result,” said Straith, a Bays United Youth Soccer Association and Lower Island Metro product.
“That right now is the only thing to focus on, and not to look too far ahead to the future. This will be our last game in Toronto for a while. We always enjoy playing there so we also hope to allow the fans who come out to leave the game happy.”
The 24-year-old Islander, who plays pro with Fredrikstad of the Norwegian Premiership, played the full 90 minutes in both home-and-away games in June as Canada dismissed Dominica in the second round of CONCACAF qualifying after having a bye for the first round. Belize, meanwhile, defeated the Dominican Republic in the second round.
Straith and Marcus Haber of Vancouver are the only two B.C. players selected for the Belize set, although Niagara Falls’ Russell Teibert and Calgary’s Samuel Adekugbe play for the Vancouver Whitecaps among the nine MLS players selected for the 23-man Canadian roster.
“It’s an honour, as always, to be called up,” said Straith.
Canada won 8-0 on the aggregate in the last two-game set it played against Belize in 2004 but is guarding against complacency.
“We must treat them with respect, because in eliminatory games like this, there are no small teams,” warned Canadian head coach Benito Floro.
Only 12 of the 35 CONCACAF teams will remain alive after this third round. The Canada-Belize winner advances to a fourth-round CONCACAF qualifier group in November that includes Mexico, Honduras and likely El Salvador.
CONCACAF has three berths into the 2018 World Cup in Russia, with the fourth-place CONCACAF finisher still having a chance through an at-large qualifier.