After a drama-filled week away from the field, Canada’s men’s soccer team will finally play in front of hometown fans tonight.
The 38th-ranked Canadians are kicking off CONCACAF Nations League play against No. 79 Curaçao at B.C. Place.
Canada was scheduled to have play warm-up game against Panama in Vancouver on Sunday but the friendly match was called off at the last minute when players refused to take the field due to heated contract talks with Canada Soccer, the sport’s national governing body.
The players issued a statement saying they want more transparency from the organization, an equitable compensation structure for both the men’s and women’s national teams, and World Cup compensation that includes 40 per cent of prize money and a “comprehensive friends and family package” for the 2022 tournament in Qatar.
Canada Soccer has yet to reach a new deal with the athletes, but players returned to training on Monday, and yesterday, the organization’s interim general secretary, Earl Cochrane, said negotiations have been positive.
Canadian captain Atiba Hutchinson says missing a game and valuable training time is a setback as the country prepares for its first World Cup in 36 years.
“Every session is important for us. Obviously the coach wants us on the pitch and working on every little detail,” the midfielder said yesterday.
“So there’s setbacks, but we’ve had a couple of training sessions to prepare for this game and that’s our mindset right now, to just do the best that we can. And from here on out, everything’s going to be important going forward.”
Curaçao opened its Nations League campaign Monday with a surprising 2-1 win over Honduras.
Canada’s head coach John Herdman says the Caribbean nation isn’t a team his squad can afford to underestimate.
“This is going to be a tough match, a really tough game against this team,” he said. “If they’re not ready, a lot hard work starts slipping away, that dominance that we want to keep stepping forward with, it starts to slip away and questions get asked.”
Canada has not played on home soil since they clinched a World Cup berth with a win over Jamaica in Toronto on March 27.
The Canadians topped the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying with an 8-2-4 record — and went 14-2-4 through three rounds of qualifying. Their last game was a 1-0 loss in Panama on March 30.
It’s been a long time since Canada played at B.C. Place. They beat French Guiana there in CONCACAF Nations League qualifying back in March 2019.
Playing in front of Canadian fans again is important for the team leading up to the World Cup, Hutchinson said.
“Although things are not done, are not settled, we just thought of the bigger picture,” he said. “We feel like things will get taken care of, we’ll get back on the pitch and do what we have to do.”
Canada continues its Nations League journey at No. 82 Honduras on June 13.
—Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press