“How in the world did he get to that ball?”
Variations of that question echoed through the concrete, plastic, steel and humanity at BMO Field last night, as Alphonso Davies sprinted nearly the length of the pitch to calmly rescue a loose ball that he had no business getting to in the first place. Davies sure didn’t stop to contemplate, blowing by another defender before calmly slotting the ball into the back of the net.
Best. Player. In. CONCACAF.— Waking the Red (@WakingtheRed) October 14, 2021
The goal gave Canada a 2-1 lead against Panama in the biggest World Cup Qualifier they have played in decades, and would eventually win 4-1. But as important as all that sounds, it also meant so much more. Because at that moment, as much as many people were in disbelief as to how the goal was scored, they started to truly believe.
They started to truly believe that this team could finally push aside a history of disappointment, underachievement, and heartbreak. Believe that Canada could be on the verge of getting back to the biggest tournament in sports. Believe that this was finally a soccer country, not just on the women’s side of the game but now on the men’s side as well.
“After the game, a lot of guys said ‘I never felt that way in a Canadian shirt’”, John Herdman told the media. I think that probably applies to most people in the stands. Because nearing the halfway point of Concacaf Qualifying, Canada has one foot into the Qatar World Cup.
Many came to the stadium ready to believe. A near-capacity crowd braved brutal lines and a Toronto Maple Leafs home opener across the downtown core that in the past would have hijacked all the attention, to turn the house on the Lakeshore to a true Canadian fortress for perhaps the first time ever.
They were greeted with an early Panama goal, and the worry that this was going to be another false dawn. But just as they have done in the other three World Cup qualifiers where they trailed, Canada didn’t quit.
This team doesn’t quit, because just like us in the stands, they believe. You can see it when they belt out the anthem, when they consistently dig deep to deliver improbable results and incredible moments. In the past, so many good players have pulled on the Canada shirt and played well below their level. Many more have decided not to pull on the shirt at all.
This group is different, there is a clear pride in playing for Canada. Many of these players have played the best games of their careers while wearing the maple leaf on their chest. They don’t shy away from international duty, they thrive during it. This group truly feels like a national team, not just a club team made up of Canadians.
Canada erased that early Panama goal last night, then went ahead, They dominated, and that self-belief could not have been more evident.
As the smoke clears, on a day where the men’s team is finally getting its due, it is worth noting that it was the women’s team who first allowed this country to dream. John Herdman led that team to a wonderful performance at London 2012, which they eventually built into a Gold medal win this summer. The men’s team has been caught up in that wave and last night delivered an iconic performance of their own.
More and more people are starting to take notice. Drake texted Davies last night, and photos are starting to trickle out on social media of the international music star hanging out with various members of the national team. Drake even posted a picture of Davies’ kit to his Instagram story.
Now, in many ways, the work really starts. To make sure that nights like this aren’t isolated, but become the new normal for this sport in this country. Canada still has to prove that they can do this in Edmonton next month, in San Pedro Sula, in Panama City and elsewhere.
But just like Alphonso Davies chasing down that loose ball on the sidelines last night, nothing seems impossible for this team anymore. That mentality changes everything. They Believe. Do you?