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Marcus Haber and Canada Ready for Final Stepping Stone Ahead of September Qualifiers

Canada is currently in camp in Austria preparing for a pair of friendlies against Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan.

John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

In September, Canada will have a chance to do something that the country has not done since 1998: make the final round of World Cup qualifying. It is something that few thought possible when a "rebuilding" Canadian team began trying to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Now, Canada sits two positive results against Honduras and El Salvador away from that becoming a reality. It would be an incredible accomplishment, and one that undoubtedly would put Canada soccer into a rarely seen spotlight from coast to coast.

In that sense, it is easy to look ahead to Canada's biggest games in several years. But before that, Canada still has a pair of preparation friendlies coming up this week in Austria. They play Azerbaijan on Friday, before taking on Uzbekistan next Tuesday.

"It's the last stepping stone before the big matches in September, we are just trying to go over certain things," Canadian forward Marcus Haber tells Waking the Red. "Trying to clean up a few areas from the last camp. Obviously, against Mexico, the results didn't really go our way."

Canada could be even closer to making the next round if those matches had gone differently. The team lost 3-0 at home before falling 2-0 on the road. It was a pair of sobering results for a national team that had plenty of momentum going into the matches.

"I think we sort of played into Mexico's hands in the two matches, the first game especially," said Haber. "It's just about fixing that when we don't have the ball."

This is something that Haber expects to be tested when Canada play against Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan. Neither are household names in the soccer world, but Uzbekistan especially has had some good recent results. They currently sit 66th in the world, 29 spots ahead of Canada, who are 95th currently.

Canada has never played against either country internationally. Haber admits to not knowing much about either team, outside of the region in which they play, but says Canada won't be taking either team lightly.

"You've just got to expect that they are going to be fairly good technically and probably difficult to play against," said Haber. "I mean there are no easy international matches."

The harder the better, likely, because Canada's visit to San Pedro Sula in September isn't going to be easy by any means. The host Hondurans torched Canada 8-1 the last time the two countries met, a result that set the Canada's soccer program back a couple of years.

But if Canada can revise history and get a draw, or even better a win, against the host Hondurans, they will have a final round berth in their sights.

"The goal is to make the World Cup, there is no hiding that," said Haber. "But [qualifying for the final round] would be a huge step in the right direction and I think we've got the best squad of players we've had in a long time. So now is as a good a chance as ever."

After playing Honduras, Canada comes home for a must-win game against El Salvador. The match, like the other two home fixtures of this round, will be played at BC Place in Vancouver. The city is Haber's hometown, and playing in front of friends and family, as well as record-breaking Canadian crowds, has been incredibly special for him.

"It was amazing to see the stadium with that type of atmosphere," Haber said of Canada's home fixtures. "It just goes to show that the west coast is a great place to play."

Haber used to play on the west coast himself, for his hometown Vancouver Whitecaps prior to them joining Major League Soccer. He has since taken his talents overseas, playing for a number of clubs in the United Kingdom. He spent this past season with Crewe Alexandra, who were relegated to League Two in England this year.

He has a hard time separating personal and club accomplishments, and was bitterly disappointed when a young Crewe side was relegated. However, he had his best season in England yet, scoring 9 goals.

"It was probably my best season in terms of goal production and probably the most consistent I've played in a while," said Haber. "I'm always trying to score goals and scoring can only mean I've got a better chance of playing for Canada."

He is out of contract currently, however, and therefore is currently just trying to stay healthy ahead of his next opportunity.

"I've just got to sit back and make sure I'm healthy and ready and hopefully my agent finds me somewhere," Haber said of what's next for his career. "It looks like that will probably be in the UK still. Right now I've just got to sit tight and hope for the best really."