There was a time not that long ago when it was all about the path of least resistance for the Canadian Men’s National Team. Draws like yesterday’s for the 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup tournament meant hoping the team would be paired with the worst teams from Pot 1 and that the rest of their group opponents weren’t going to be too tricky.
After all, Canada hasn’t won a knockout game at the tournament in 13 years, since 2007 when they beat Guatemala. They didn’t even score a goal in back-to-back tournaments in 2013 and 2015.
Canada’s draw for the 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup, scheduled to kickoff in July of next year, definitely doesn’t make their road easy. They will be matched up against the United States, Martinique and likely Haiti, the team who eliminated them in 2019, in a highly competitive Group B. But whereas in the past that would have been a concern, it should now be a welcome sight.
The level of talent on this current Canadian team is more than well documented at this point. But it is also a team that hasn’t been tested nearly enough, and likely won’t be outside of this tournament early next year given it opponents in the preliminary round of Concacaf World Cup qualifying.
This group guarantees them at least one heavy-weight tilt, against a United States side who they recently beat for the first time in 34 years. The win reignited a dormant rivalry that will likely serve as the most interesting group match at the 2021 tournament. Canada should be relishing another opportunity to measure themselves against one the top teams in the region.
Martinique, who aren’t even a FIFA nation, will almost certainly be the easiest opponent for Canada. Les rouges defeated them 4-0 in their most recent meeting at the 2019 Gold Cup, and Martinique has only made it out of their group once in the competition’s history back in 2002.
Haiti, it should be mentioned, isn’t a guaranteed opponent for Canada. But they are the overwhelming favourites to reach the tournament from a qualifying bracket that also includes Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Bermuda and Barbados. Aside from their comeback win over Canada at the 2019 Gold Cup, Haiti is also a team that Canada will likely have to overcome in 2022 Qatar World Cup qualifying. An early chance to play them at the Gold Cup could prove crucial both for confidence and scouting purposes.
What exactly the tournament will look like also isn’t clear. It is a safe prediction to say that it will likely be played somewhere in the United States in a bubble-type setup, but predicting even weeks ahead in the current pandemic format has proven to be a fool's errand. What is almost certain is that these games won’t be played in front of fans, which in some ways could be an advantage for Canada but also might rob them of a chance to gain experience in difficult Concacaf atmospheres.
But with yesterday’s draw, what Canada will certainly gain is competitive matches against very good sides in their region. At this point, for a young and talented Canadian team the more of those they can play, the better.