Some three months removed from the conclusion of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, Canada are reassembling to go again.
The Canadians will face Curaçao at Ergilo Hato Stadium in Willemstad on Saturday (9 PM kickoff) and Honduras at BMO Field on Tuesday (8 PM kickoff) in the final two matches of Group C action in League A of the Concacaf Nations League.
“It has been a while,” said Mark-Anthony Kaye following Toronto FC’s 2-0 win over Inter Miami CF on Saturday. “It's good to get a break sometimes. This window comes at not a great time because we miss a game with TFC, but great to reconnect with all those guys that we created history with and to continue our development on where we want to bring this program.”
“This year is important for us,” he continued. “To win trophies, to establish ourselves as a top Concacaf team, if not the best, so happy to be going into camp and get to work there.”
Kaye is one of four TFC representatives called into camp, joined by Jonathan Osorio, Richie Laryea, and Ayo Akinola.
The World Cup marks the end of one cycle and the start of a new one. Canada made some noise in Qatar and as joint hosts with the USA and Mexico of the next one in 2026 they are aiming to continue that trend.
“There’s an excitement building,” said John Herdman last week when the squad was announced. “Over the last three months I've had a chance to connect with a lot of players, talking about the past, what we've learned over the last four years, understanding what we need to see for this next four years to get this country to the next level.”
POSTGAME SOUND | Mark-Anthony Kaye - March 18, 2023
“It was a four-year process to lay a foundation,” he continued. “[One that], hopefully, we can all stand on to reach another level in world football, another level of respect, and another level of achievement. There's a real energy that I'm sensing and a desire and a commitment to want to win things for Canada.”
“We finished top of Concacaf on that journey and we've got to ensure that there isn't any complacency going [back] because there's just no easy games. We’re the hunted now, not the hunters,” Herdman stressed. “There’s a lot of added motivation for this group, but right at the core of it, they want to experience lifting trophies, they want to experience winning and pushing up the rankings at the world level. Those are messages that I've heard from the players and what they're excited about coming back in.”
“It's been too long now,” he added. “We've had enough time to let the World Cup go and the excitement and the feelings from that, just to get ready to go.”
For Akinola, who suffered a knee injury with Canada at the Gold Cup in 2021, the call from Herdman was much appreciated.
“It feels great. An honour,” he said on Friday. “Very happy, very excited.”
A fit-again Akinola was part of the wider squad as Canada prepared for the World Cup and made his return to the international pitch in the warm-up friendly against Bahrain in November. He then watched his teammates grab the world’s attention.
“Proud moment,” he said. ‘The way they played against Belgium really says a lot. Obviously didn't get the job done, but it puts the world on notice that Canada is for real, that Canada can actually play.”
“We're not just a hockey country, that we got some ballers too,” Akinola smiled. “I would hope that other countries will take Canada a lot more seriously now.”
A 4-0 win over Curaçao last June was followed by a 2-1 loss away to Honduras. Honduras and Curaçao split their head-to-head matches, each winning at the other. Heading into these final two matches the Canadians trail the Hondurans by three points, but have a two-goal advantage in goal difference.
The winner of the group will advance to the Concacaf Nations League Finals.
“Very, very important,” said Osorio of the upcoming fixtures and securing a spot in the final four. “The Nations League is something that we're looking forward to. We want to, first of all, take care of these two games, get these wins and win performing well, to get ourselves to the next round, into the semifinals, and then yeah.”
“First is focusing on these games, but this is a tournament that we have our eyes set on winning,” he continued. “After the World Cup, we want to keep moving this program forward and keep raising expectations.”
2026 is fast approaching after all. That new journey begins this week.
“The start of a new cycle, a new campaign, is always exciting. It's refreshing in many ways,” said Herdman. “Having a bit of time post-World Cup has given us all time to breathe, to reflect, to review, to look at what's available over this next quadrennial in terms of our player pool, but then the reality hits that we're still in competition.”
“Nations League qualification that’s important, not only for Gold Cup, not only for an opportunity to get into the Nations League Finals, but also for ranking points to ensure that Canada maintain a top four ranking for Copa America,” he continued. “There’s so much to play for in March. Sometimes, starting a new cycle, you get a couple of friendly games, but that’s not to be. We have to pick up from where we left off.”