The qualification cycle for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia was supposed to be a transition period for the Canadian men's national team. Instead, it has become a massive opportunity for the program.
After beating Honduras 1-0 at home, and getting a 0-0 draw on the road to El Salvador, Canada are in a far better position than most expected. With 4 points after two games, they sit second in their group, a position that would see them advance to the Hex.
Friday night against Mexico at BC Place, Canada has a chance to significantly increase their odds of advancing with a result on home soil. Canada hasn't advanced past the fourth round of World Cup qualifying this decade, and doing so would be a game changer for the Canadian program.
"Just one game at home could change futures for Canadian soccer," said Canadian captain Julian De Guzman of Friday's match. "[It could change] future careers, it could change the respect that we've been getting in the past. It will open up opportunities for Canadian players in the future."
Indeed, it could, and the impact of a string of good results for the national team are already being felt. The team are expecting a record number of supporters to show up to BC Place on Friday, somewhere in the neighbourhood of 45,000. The program has already seen an influx of new players join the ranks.
Despite this momentum, Canada will come into Friday's game as the significant underdog. Canada have not beat Mexico since the 2000 Gold Cup, and Mexico are fresh off of winning the 2015 Gold Cup and CONCACAF Cup.
"It's going to be very difficult, but it's not impossible," said De Guzman in a recent media call. "We are playing against a top team, but we have been able to produce positive results at home. I think today we aren't concerned about getting positive results, we want to win."
Recent results for Canada certainly back up the fact that beating Mexico isn't impossible. In the past few years they have lost close 1-0 games to the United States and Colombia, and have earned draws against Ghana and Costa Rica.
De Guzman feels that this group is even stronger than the camps for those games. In fact, he says this may be the best Canadian team he has ever been a part of, a sentiment echoed throughout the camp.
"It's one of the best teams that has been put together in a long time on paper," said De Guzman. "It's really good to see, and I think the guys are really excited."
The team has only continued to improve, as this year has seen an influx of players commit to the Canadian program. Junior Hoilett finally pulled on a red shirt in October, Steven Vitoria did the same in January and now Burnley's Scott Arfield has joined the team as well.
"It's really good to see the commitment now for the national team players, which is different than it has been before," explains De Guzman. "It becomes a domino effect down the road as long as the results keep coming."
This isn't the only difference that De Guzman has seen in the Canadian camp lately. Under Benito Floro he has seen a shift in the team's mentality, and how they prepare for games.
Going up against a side like Mexico is a daunting task, especially with what is potentially on the line. But there is a new this group that might just see them pull off something spectacular.
"There's no fear, it's a different feeling than it has been in the past," said De Guzman. "We're really confident to step up to this challenge ahead of us, not just confident but we are well prepared."
If that preparation pays off, the national team have an opportunity to turn a World Cup qualifying campaign that was supposed to be a write off, and use it to write a new future for the program.