By Sonny Sachdeva, November 17, 2015 —
The Canadian men’s national soccer team remains well on the outskirts of legitimacy — they’re currently ranked 102nd in FIFA’s world rankings — but the club recently took one significant step closer to raising their international profile.
Canada is currently in the midst of the fourth round of qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, set in a group with Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico. After putting together a solid 2015 that saw the boys in red and white amass five wins, five draws and only two losses, the Canadians stepped up with a fine performance in their first World Cup qualifying match against their new group.
In front of a record 20,108 fans at Vancouver’s BC Place, Canada earned a crucial 1–0 victory over Honduras on Nov. 13, placing them atop their group alongside Mexico, who also emerged victorious from their first game.
More impressive than their win, though, was who allowed them to do it. Twenty-five-year-old winger Junior Hoilett was exceptional for Canada throughout the match, playing a key role in driving his club’s attack, and setting up the lone goal with a brilliant cross that finished with a well-placed header from midfielder Will Johnson.
Eligible to play for either Canada or Jamaica internationally, Hoilett — originally from Brampton, Ontario and now playing for England’s Queens Park Rangers — finally elected to represent his native country in September of this year. His addition could be a game-changer for the usually lacklustre Canadians, giving them a legitimate playmaker to suit up along the team’s other rising offensive stars.
Twenty-year-old striker Cyle Larin leads that promising young group. Larin — who earned Major League Soccer Rookie of the Year honours earlier this month — proved to be the difference-maker for Canada in their bid against Honduras, as he was credited with the game’s only goal after Johnson’s header deflected off of him and into the net 38 minutes into the match.
The meeting was the first time Canada faced Honduras since the latter club embarrassed them with a 8–1 drubbing in 2012 — a loss that ended Canada’s bid to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. A seemingly flawless performance allowed the Canadian team to earn a satisfying bit of revenge this time around, while allowing them to clear a difficult hurdle in their quest to return to the World Cup for the first time in over three decades.
With Hoilett and Larin in tow, the Canadians seem to be on the cusp of something special. Their victory against Honduras might just be the first step in that progression.
However, much still stands in the way of Canada’s World Cup dreams. Next up are two matches apiece against Mexico and El Salvador, and a rematch against Honduras — a line-up of tests that should serve as meaningful gauge of whether or not Canada has truly grown as a national team.
Should Canada navigate their way out of the fourth round of qualifying matches, they’ll move on to the fifth and final round — carried out between Nov. 2016 and Oct. 2017 — for a chance to advance to the World Cup.