“We know what’s at stake”: CanMNT ready to turn BMO Field into a fortress ahead of must-win World Cup qualifier vs El Salvador

Canada Soccer’s Men’s National Team is getting set to play a pivotal CONCACAF World Cup qualifier vs El Salvador on Wednesday night. Here’s how they’re feeling ahead of that one. 

After 2 good battles, they’re ready for one last showdown. 

Heading into their match with El Salvador at BMO Field on Wednesday night, Canada Soccer’s Men’s National Team are prepared for absolutely anything in that one, as the Octagonal, the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers, continues to roll along this week. 

Having reached the final matchday of this September window, it’s already been a grind for all of the 8 teams participating in the Octo, and that’s been no exception for Canada, who had to fight for a 1-1 draw at home vs Honduras in matchday 1, before clawing out another 1-1 draw away vs the United States in matchday 2. 

Now, one last matchday remains in this September window, before all of the players get to return to their club for a few weeks before reconvening to do it all again in October, and that last matchday comes on Wednesday, where Canada is ready to host a resilient El Salvador side in Toronto.

As they continue the 14 game grind that is the Octo, a grind in which Canada is hoping to emerge on the other side from as one of the 3.5 teams heading to the 2022 World Cup, it’s a reality they were prepared for heading into it, and they’re just getting a taste of that now, as they get set to play their 3rd game in 6 days.  

“We’re playing qualifiers,” Canadian defender, Doneil Henry, said on Tuesday. “14 games, where every single one is taken a game at a time, and every game is going to be a battle, what you’re seeing is that we’re growing, other teams are continuing to grow, the games are getting better, and we’re trying to get clever and find a way”

But make no mistake – while this grind is long, keeping teams in it to the very end, it also rewards those who come out flying, doing well to pick up points right from the get-go. 

So while Canada is sitting pretty nicely after 2 games despite their 2 draws, currently in a top 3 spot in the Octo standings, they’ll want to pick up all 3 points against El Salvador, allowing them to head into that October window with a bit of wind in their sails. 

They’re doing alright from themselves right now, as the disappointment from their opening day draw with Honduras was balanced out by the satisfaction of drawing a good American team, but this window can go from decent to pretty darn good with a win on Wednesday. 

In the Octo, it’s said that those who win their home games and pick up points on the road have the best chance at getting to the World Cup, so having already dropped 2 home points, Canada knows that it’s imperative to make sure they come out on top in this one. 

“We know the importance of performing and picking up points, especially at home, on home soil,” Henry continued. “Of course, we would’ve loved to win the first game against Honduras, or when we picked up a point in Nashville, as we could’ve won that game, but it was a good point. We won’t be satisfied with anything but a win tomorrow, no added pressure but we know what we need to do, we’ve done our homework, and this is a confident group, and by confident, we don’t mean overly confident, we don’t think we’re going to come here and walk all over them, but we’re a team that knows what it takes to win.”

“Of course, we all know what’s at stake here,” Canadian midfielder, Junior Hoilett, added. “And we have to get maximum points for our goals, for what we want to achieve, we’ve got to take advantage of our home games, and we want to make a fortress at home, the whole group and whole nation knows what at stake.”

Canada’s Richie Laryea in action vs Honduras last week (Canada Soccer/Martin Bayzl)

So returning to the game itself, though, what can Canada expect from their plucky visitors?

It’s a question many are wondering, as El Salvador remains one of the more mysterious teams of this Octo, having hired a new coach, Hugo Perez, earlier this year, which along with the addition of a bunch of new dual-national recruits, has them looking like quite the solid team. 

Originally expected to be the afterthought of this group, they’ve gotten off to a good start, copying Canada by picking up 2 draws through their first 2 games, which ironically enough, also came against Honduras and the United States, too. 

Both of those games were at home, which will mean that in the overall scheme of the Octo, they’ve dropped 4 points instead of gaining 2, but they showed that on their day, they’re a team not to be messed with, and Canada is expecting a tough game from them on Wednesday. 

“They’re a good team,” Canadian head coach, John Herdman, said of El Salvador on Tuesday. “Every game is a battle, it’s clear that there has to be a level of commitment, an intensity that our players will bring. 

“From what we’ve seen from El Salvador, the sum of the parts is a better of a whole, they really really operate in a cohesive way, they can run all day, and they’re a real threat in transition, so we’re going to have to be on our game tomorrow to get a result.”

But at the same time, this Canadian team is still the favourites in this game for a reason, especially at home, as based on the talent that they’ve got at their disposal, they should have no reason to fear what El Salvador can bring to the table. 

Even though Canada will be without their star player, Alphonso Davies, who was ruled out of Wednesday’s game with a knee injury, they’ve still got plenty of star power, with names such as Jonathan David, Cyle Larin, Stephen Eustaquio and Tajon Buchanan, among others. 

Along with some very versatile players, such as the likes of Alistair Johnston, Sam Adekugbe, Mark Anthony Kaye and Junior Hoilett, they’ve also got a very flexible group, one that can beat down teams in many ways, which will come in handy against this pesky El Salvador team.

Sometimes in games, they’ll even switch around formations multiple times just to mess with teams, seeming comfortable in no matter what shape they play, acting as shape-shifters at times.  

So although they’ve just shown a small percentage of their potential to date in the first 2 games, having found flashes of good play here and there, they feel that they have what it takes to put together a complete performance in this one, and they’ll look to prove that when the whistle blows on Wednesday. 

“The guys are embracing that adaptable approach,” Herdman said of his team. “They’re embracing being able to focus intently on a specific way of playing for a period of time and then shifting focus, and I think they’ve enjoyed that, they feel like they’ve got a bit of a weapon in our arsenal.”

Because of that, it’s setting up to be a special night at BMO Field on Wednesday, as this game promises to be a good one on many fronts. 

Plus, with the game now officially sold out, meaning that there will be 15 000 fans in the stands in Toronto, it will also be a cracking atmosphere to match, too. 

Considering that BMO was rocking for the Honduras opener at a capacity of just over 14 500, 15 000 is going to be rocking, even though a smattering of El Salvador fans, of which Toronto has a sizable population of.

But that won’t bother Canada, who is ready to feed off of as much of the crowd as they’re able to, as they look to overwhelm El Salvador with a sea of red, both on and off the field. 

“We want to see a sea of red,” Herdman said in a plea to Canadian fans. “A red sea around this stadium, and let it feel like our fortress.”

“It’s time (to compete), we’re not getting this time back (in our lives).”

Up Next: Canada vs El Salvador, Wednesday, September 7th, 2021, 16:30 PDT, 19:30 EDT (BMO Field, Toronto)

Cover Photo via: Canada Soccer/Tagwa Moyo

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