For Jonathan Osorio, Richie Laryea, and the rest of the Canadian Men’s National Team Sunday night’s match in the Concacaf Nations League Final against the USA will be the end of an era.
Brampton, Ontario’s Atiba Hutchinson, Canada’s captain, has announced it will be the final international match of his career.
“This is going to be my last kick at it,” said the 40-year-old midfielder on Saturday. “The Nations League, these two games, us playing for a trophy. Tomorrow is going to be my last time putting on that shirt, representing Canada.”
“It's a very big game, that's the most important for tomorrow,” he continued. “I'm going to enjoy every moment of that.”
Asked to explain what Hutchinson has meant for his nation, for the sport in Canada, John Herdman looked back at the day Canada qualified for the 2022 FIFA World Cup at BMO Field against Jamaica on March 27, 2022 at BMO Field in Toronto.
“He’s at his home stadium, he just played 90 minutes against Costa Rica, and I remember having the conversation to say, ‘You won't be playing this match. I need some fresh legs in there.’” recounted Canada’s coach. “What he means is just what he is: humility; whatever it takes, whatever the team needs.”
“But then when he comes on the whole stadium erupted: ‘Atiba!’ And that's what he means to our country,” Herdman continued. “He's probably the greatest Canadian football player not many people know about. That was the reality until this World Cup and people got to see him for who he really is, that Belgium game, leading his team in a really fearless way.”
“He's ‘everything for the team, everything for the country, everything for the people, the players, and nothing for him,’” he outlined. “He wants nothing else but to see this country do well. And he's willing to sacrifice for that as well. It'll be a privilege to spend tomorrow night with him. And our gift to him will be to help him put his hands on that silverware. That would be a special moment.”
Hutchinson earned the first of his 104 caps for the Canadian senior side in 2003, a friendly against the USA. His 105th and final could come against that same opponent with a trophy on the line.
“A lot of emotions,” reflected Hutchinson. “It's been 20 years of representing Canada and I've enjoyed all of it, every single moment.”
“Coming into these camps, getting together with the boys, playing the games we've played, traveling to so many different countries,” he continued. “A lot has been going through my mind over the last little while, but tomorrow's a really important game so that's where my main focus is right now: doing what I can in any way to help the team prepare and be ready for that game. It's been a great journey.”
Sunday will also be the beginning of a new era, one in which Canada has not just hope at their backs, but also expectation.
“It's necessary. You have to embrace that,” said Herdman. “The expectation is on the US, but for Canada there’s a big expectation for us. We believe that this group, this team, can deliver, so you can't hide from that. We're going to have a home World Cup in three years. The biggest opportunity in any of these players lives, my life as a coach.”
Top of the qualification table in Concacaf, turning heads at the World Cup in Qatar, and the innumerable moments along the way seared into the hearts and minds of Canadian soccer fans were amazing. But none of those is a trophy.
“We've been climbing the ladder, we've been getting better and better, we’ve really closed the gap,” said Hutchinson. “[World Cup] Qualifying was a real example of where we can be. We've really set the bar high for ourselves.”
“We want to be the best in Concacaf, so to go out there tomorrow and get the trophy would be a huge step,” he continued. “We really want to show that we are here and we want to stay here. Qualifying was great, but now we need to start winning trophies. That's what we all believe that we can do and tomorrow’s a perfect time to go out there and put that on display.”
While Canada dispatched Panama 2-0 in one semifinal on Thursday, the Americans defeated Mexico 3-0 in the other, a contentious match that featured four red cards.
“It was a great game for the fans. It had a little bit of everything,” said Herdman. “All that spice and energy that's always there when Mexico and the USA play. Usually there's a bit of spice and energy with Canada and the US, that rivalry has been getting stronger.”
“The US have done some amazing things over the last 20-odd years, picked up a lot of hardware and are now the leaders in Concacaf,” he continued. “So when I look at this game and compare it to the other night, I know there won't be 70,000 Canadians in the stadium, winding it up, but I think you can expect it'll be heated.”
“It's a final,” Herdman levelled. “Both teams will just be pushing each other to their limits.”
Said Hutchinson: “I don't know if I expect it to be like that.”
“We've been in some games where it has been really feisty, but our main focus for tomorrow is going out there playing our football,” he continued. “Obviously we're playing against a very good team who's got the experience of playing in these type of games, but we focus on ourselves, we really lock in on what we've been working on – we've put in a lot of preparation and all the small details that go into it – and just be prepared to go out there and give our best.”
“Hopefully that ends up with a trophy,” Hutchinson added. “Let's see how the game goes.”
Canada won the last meeting between the two sides: 2-0 in Hamilton, Ontario in January 2022. The two drew 1-1 in their other Concacaf 2022 World Cup Qualification clash in September 2021 – 1-1 in Nashville, Tennessee.
The match at Allegiant Stadium in Paradise, Nevada is scheduled to kickoff at 8:30 pm ET.
Canada has come a long way in the last few years; the next few, building up to the 2026 FIFA World Cup in North America, promise to be just as thrilling.
“When you’re playing in Canada at a home World Cup, you've got to win big matches, bigger than this one,” said Herdman of the years ahead. “So the starting point is just bringing that future to the now and making sure that what they feel after the game in the dressing room is that it was a performance.”
“That they just left everything out there, that they played fearlessly; they played to win; they gave themselves the best chance to win and there's no regrets on that,” he continued. “The Football Gods will decide whether they want to give us this trophy now or make us wait another year or two, but we know what we can control. There's some things in that Panama game that we needed to tighten up and take more control. Hopefully there's some improvement in this game that gives us a shot at the trophy.”