The Concacaf Nations League Finals get underway in Paradise, Nevada on Thursday night and for the first time the Canadian Men’s National Team will be among the four sides competing for the regional title.
According to Toronto FC’s Jonathan Osorio, the mission is simple: “To win.”
“To win. I mean, it’s that simple,” he explained on Saturday night following the 1-1 draw with Nashville SC. “I don't know what else to say. The aim is to win. We're going there to win. The national team has come a long way. We can say with everything that we've been through in the last few years that we can go there and say confidently that we're going there to win.”
The Nations League Final is the first of two trophies that Canada has their eyes set on as the summer heats up. The 2023 Concacaf Gold Cup kicks off at the end of the month, Canada will open their tournament at BMO Field on June 27.
Canada finished top of the Concacaf pile in World Cup Qualification, but that didn’t come with a trophy. The last time the men lifted silverware was the 2000 Gold Cup.
“Our country's been waiting for a trophy,” said John Herdman when his squad was announced earlier this month. “When we finished top of Concacaf, you don’t have that trophy celebration for World Cup Qualifying, the World Cup was the trophy, but these players have certainly earned the right to be two games away.”
“Those Nations League games are tough and they've worked hard,” he continued. “This is groundbreaking. We're very close and you can feel the excitement. This year is about pushing to lift a trophy, pushing to allow our fans to feel that experience with us. We are very close: two games away from doing something pretty special for Canada.”
Canada faces Panama in one semifinal – kickoff at 7 PM, while the USA and Mexico meet in the other three hours later. The winners and losers then meet each other on Sunday in the Final and third-placed match, respectively. All four matches will be played at Allegiant Stadium.
Osorio will be lining up with one TFC teammate in Richie Laryea, while another, US goalkeeper Sean Johnson, may await in the second match.
“You've got to get past Panama first,” underlined Herdman, asked if Canada would rather face the Americans or the Mexicans in the Final. “They're a tough team. You cannot underestimate Panama.”
“That's an aggressive, hungry team. There's a little bit of bad blood there from some of our previous matches. We know that that's a big test and we've got that target on our back going into a game like that,” he added. “You can't look past Panama. They're a difficult and dangerous opponent.”
The two sides met twice in the Third Round of Concacaf Qualifying, each winning the home match.
Canada won 4-1 at BMO Field, a match that featured that goal from Alphonso Davies, dancing along the touchline before slotting past the goalkeeper in a sublime piece of individual effort. Panama won 1-0 at Estadio Rommel Fernández Gutiérrez in Panama City on the final matchday of qualification with Gabriel Torres scoring the only goal.
“He always has a very clear plan and you can see his players are so committed to live in that identity,” said Herdman of Thomas Christiansen’s side. “They play as one, a very collective mindset, and tactically sound.”
“I always enjoy these matches, they're very technical games and then they become physical as well because they have great team spirit,” he continued. “This is one of the hardest teams to play in Concacaf, so when you get a semifinal against Panama you know this is going to be a hell of a game.”
“We’re excited,” Herdman added. “There’s always something there, it’s a bit feisty. Yeah, looking forward to this one.”
Having reached the summit of one climb with their first World Cup appearance in 20 years in Qatar, Canada have their eyes set on the next challenge.
“The memory will never leave us – that memory is forever, but it's in the past now,” said Osorio. “We're looking forward to the Nations League, to the Gold Cup.”
“For us it's about the present,” he continued. “It can’t be, ‘Okay, we made a World Cup and now we think everything is going to fall in place’. No, the work keeps going, we keep our heads in the present, and try to bring a trophy to this country.”
Said Herdman: “We're clear on our vision.”
“There's a mission – there's always been a mission – to take this country to the next level,” he continued. “We reached new levels in Concacaf, we reached new levels at the world stage, and another level for us is the trophy.”
“You want that in your hands. You want to feel it. And with that you build more trust that you can win in big moments and we need more trust in big moments if we're going to compete at a home World Cup with the vision of winning it,” Herdman added, 24 hours before kickoff. “It’s important to take this moment and say that the future is tomorrow. We can't talk about winning big matches at a World Cup at home if we're not willing to win big matches tomorrow.”
“And so our future is tomorrow,” he closed. “We've got to bring it forward and get it done.”