There is an air of change around the Canadian soccer program right now. It began when Junior Hoilett finally pulled on a Canadian kit, but was confirmed with a win over Honduras in November. In a matter of months the team's two biggest heartaches were remedied: the 8-1 loss to Honduras to end 2014 World Cup qualifiers, and the fact that they could not attract players with other options.
With all the momentum that this has built for the program, a rivalry game against their rival United States provides Canada a chance to make a statement tonight. A win would be Canada's first over their "rivals" to the south since a friendly in 1984, with rivalry being a loose term considering Canada hasn't truly rivaled the states in a long time.
A win tonight would serve notice to the rest of CONCACAF, and to the Canadian public, that this Canadian team is to be taken seriously. Certainly considering the team that the United States are playing tonight it is a possibility, however small, but it isn't the reason for this match.
Canada aren't playing the United States tonight because of their historical significance, they are playing them because they are the closest thing to Mexico. This match is all about preparing for March World Cup qualifying: trying out new players, and working on their tactics for that match.
The result is important still, no matter how anti-attacking Benito Floro's style can be winning is always the end goal. But it is secondary to preparing the team for games that mean more than just pride. There's no sense in playing offensively open like they did in a 1-1 draw against Ghana, because this isn't how they are going to get a result against Mexico.
With this in mind don't expect to see many of the new faces in camp get significant minutes. Anyone who normally starts for Canada: Adam Straith, Karl Ouimette, Marcel De Jong, Julian De Guzman, Will Johnson and Cyle Larin will see significant minutes. Even guys like Steven Vitoria may not get much of a look depending upon how he did in camp.
This is a good thing: Floro has now expanded and evaluated his group of players and has whittled them down to his favourites. As a result Canada has had a consistent lineup for recent games, which has helped them achieve the impressive string of games they have put together of late.
Last year Canada only lost two games, winning six and drawing six more. Defensively the team only conceded 6 goals, while scoring 18 of their own. They haven't lost in their last six games, and took 4 points from their first two World Cup qualifiers putting them in second place in their group.
Any points against Mexico in their next two qualifiers would put them in a very good place to advance to the final round of qualifying for the first time since 1998 World Cup qualifiers. That would be a real step forward for the national team, significantly bigger than a one off victory against a weakened United States squad.
The match goes tonight at 10:45 PM Eastern and can be watched on TSN. The game will be played in Carson, California at StubHub Center which is the home of the LA Galaxy.