Adam Straith of Victoria, so solid on the backline in the earlier rounds of CONCACAF qualifying for Russia World Cup 2018, must now overcome Canada’s hex of the Hex.
Canada has not been to the six-team final round of CONCACAF qualifying, known as the Hexagonal, since 1998. In order to get there, Canada, ranked No. 102 in FIFA, must finish in the top-two of a fourth-round Group A that includes traditional regional power Mexico, No. 81 Honduras and No. 107 El Salvador.
It will begin in November, with final dates and venues not yet set. The U.S., however, has announced that its fourth-round Group C games against Trinidad/Tobago, St. Vincent/Grenadines and Guatemala will begin Nov. 13-17 and continue into 2016 on March 25-29 and Sept. 2-6. The Group A windows will be the same, so it will be a busy year ahead for Straith and his Canadian mates as they chase down what has been an elusive dream since 1986 to add to Canada’s lone World Cup appearance.
Straith said taking care of business at home, likely BMO Field in Toronto, will be of utmost importance in the upcoming fourth round, when things get truly serious in CONCACAF. Canada will need points out of all its three home games to stand any chance of advancing to the Hex. Extracting points on the road is extremely difficult in CONCACAF, especially for Canada in Latin American settings.
“The home games are going to be extremely important because those three countries [Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador] are probably three of the toughest places to play in CONCACAF,” said Straith, a Bays United Youth Soccer Association and Lower Island Metro product.
That was evident last time, when Canada needed only a draw in the final game of the fourth round to advance to the Brazil World Cup 2014 CONCACAF Hexagonal round but collapsed 8-1 in Honduras. Canada paid dearly for not taking advantage of its chances in a scoreless draw earlier at home against Honduras at BMO Field when a win would have assured it passage to the 2014 Hex, regardless of the outcome of that notorious final game in Honduras.
This time around, gaining the full three points at BMO against both Honduras and El Salvador, and at least a home draw against Mexico, are considered musts.
The 24-year-old Straith, who plays pro with Fredrikstad of the Norwegian Premiership, has played every minute so far in the earlier-round two-leg combined score qualifying victories over Dominica and Belize. But now it broadens from the less-than-modest 1,800-seat field in Belmopan, Belize, to the monumental 104,000-capacity Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. From the minnows to the mighty.
“It’s been great to play consistently for the last number of games, even if Tuesday night wasn’t our best game,” said Straith, of his 28th cap in the 1-1 tie in Belmopan against 128th-ranked Belize that advanced Canada to the fourth round 4-1 on aggregate.
“I feel like we are still getting better. Which we will need to be for the next round,” added the Islander.
The eventual top-three out of the CONCACAF Hexagonal will advance to the 2018 World Cup in Russia, with the fourth-place finisher playing South America No. 5 for an at-large berth.