TORONTO, Canada— It’s a date which Canadian soccer supporters won’t soon forget. October 15th, 2019. Canada two. USA nil.
One year onward and the energy in the BMO Field stands feels as euphoric as ever watching back the highlights.
While the air was filled with plenty of excitement and energy before kickoff, albeit mostly nervous energy, the pre-match narrative in the media focused only on one statistic. Thirty-four: the number of years since Canada beat the United States in Men’s soccer.
If the pressure of such a significant dry spell wasn’t enough for John Herdman and Co. in the build-up, losing key midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye just five minutes into the match did little to calm the nerves early on. The LAFC star had become one of the first names on the game sheet in Herdman’s midfield thanks to his passing range and versatility.
Kaye’s pain ended up being Liam Fraser’s gain as the Toronto FC youngster was thrust into action for his first cap with the senior team. Fraser was tasked with cancelling out his club teammate and American captain Michael Bradley, a job he did formidably on his international debut.
The first big chance of the game came to Canada and Jonathan David as the Ottawa product had two great looks at goal, the first turned away by keeper Zack Steffen before dragging the rebound inches wide of the far post.
Despite the dominance continuing for Canada through most of the first fifty minutes, it was Chelsea winger Christian Pulisic who had the next big chance to break the deadlock for the Americans.
Veteran GK Milan Borjan bailed out the Canadian backline with a huge stop to keep the game level. Pulisic’s night would be done shortly thereafter when he was replaced by Paul Arriola on the hour mark.
One of the big question marks for Canada was how Richie Laryea would handle the 1v1 matchup with Pulisic given his limited minutes for both club and country to that point. Ultimately, Laryea passed the test with flying colours and hasn’t looked back since.
After an hour-plus of relentless pressure and high tempo pressing, Canada’s efforts were finally rewarded by none other than Bayern Munich golden boy Alphonso Davies.
Davies’ 63rd-minute goal stands among the crown jewels of Canadian soccer, not for its craftsmanship but for its context.
The pass from the substitute Fraser, the cross from captain Scott Arfield, and the finish from Canada’s most exciting men’s player in recent memory. Be it a touch scrappy, it’s a goal that will hang in the Canadian soccer Louvre as it sure felt like poetry in motion in that moment.
It was always going to take a full squad for Canada to complete the upset and as such, how fitting it was that Lucas Cavallini came off the bench to put the nail in the coffin and secure a famous victory in the dying moments.
Had there been a roof on BMO field that night, Cavallini’s half-volley to make it 2-0 Canada would have blown it off. Terry Dunfield’s call or lack thereof as the colour commentator embodied a whole country’s stunned realization that this thing was really going to happen.
With a year to truly process just how significant a win this was for Canadian soccer, the novelty of the occasion has far from worn off.
Alongside the 2000 Gold Cup victory, the 2012 Olympic Bronze for the Women’s team in London, and Christine Sinclair scoring her 185th international goal to stand alone as the top scorer for their country amongst men and women, the 2-0 victory over the US last fall feels worthy of a place on the Mount Rushmore of soccer moments in this country.
Thanks in large part to the COVID-19 outbreak, Canada has had limited chances to build on what was one of the defining moments for the men’s program to date.
Save for a disappointing effort in the reverse fixture down in Orlando back in November as well as a trio of friendlies early in 2020, men’s international soccer has been all but shelved for the past calendar year in this country.
Set to once again face against the Americans next July after the familiar foes were drawn together into Group B of the 2021 Gold Cup, next summer could be the stage where this new crop of Canadian talent takes their game to new heights all over again.
And, WTR’s own Jeffrey P. Nesker made a little documentary on the evening, featuring some familiar faces. It’s pretty ace, if you can stand the beforetimes footage of happy crowds.