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Rewind: Canada strikes Gold to claim top CONCACAF honours in 2000

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Ahead of Canada’s new generation looking to lay claim to the Gold Cup, let’s take a look back at Canada’s moment of glory in the competition 21 years ago.

Jason De Vos... Getty Images

It was the year 2000, the millennium was here. We had all just finished Livin’ La Vida Loca and stopped being afraid that our computer’s clocks were going to crumble global infrastructure and usher us into some sort of post-technological, road-warrior apocalypse. Everything was shiny and frosted tipped and my friends and I had just figured out how to burn games for the Sega Dreamcast.

Somehow, more heroically, Canada won the Gold Cup.

The new millennium brought the fifth interaction of the Gold Cup, and in true CONCACAF fashion, they got creative with it. This was the first tournament to be expanded to 12 teams, with the federation deciding to invite Peru and Colombia from CONMEBOL and South Korea from the AFC to join the tournament. As the lowest ranked member of the North American Football Union (NAFU), Canada’s route into the Gold Cup came through the qualification round where they played Cuba, Haiti, and El Salvador. Canada topped their group by taking 7 points from their three games, with striker Carlo Corrazzin leading the charge with three goals. Qualification led them to land in Group D along with Costa Rica and the newly invited South Korea.

Canada took a squad chock-full of some of the most notable names in Canadian men’s soccer, and certainly the strongest they could draw from at the time. In goal they took Craig Forrest and Pat Onstad, in defence they had Paul Fenwick, Tony Menezes, captain Jason de Vos, Jeff Clarke, Mark Watson, and Robbie Aristodemo, in midfield, Davide Xausa, Jim Brennan, Richard Hastings and Martin Nash, and in attack they opted for Paul Stalteri, Carlo Corazzin, Garret Kusch, Paul Peschisolido, Elvis Thomas, and some kid named Dwayne De Rosario. With a squad that included players from such clubs as West Ham United, Botafogo, Werder Bremen, Dundee United, Nottingham Forest, and Fulham, this Canada squad certainly contained players of some quality, but still remained a side that stood in the shadow of it’s North American counterparts, and of the squad of ‘86.

Matchday one kicked off for Canada in front of a 22,131 crowd in San Diego against a tricky Costa Rican side led by then West Ham United, and later Manchester City, Malaga and Chicago Fire, striker Paulo Wanchope. Canada were once again led by the scoring exploits of their qualifying-round hero Carlo Corrazzin, who at this time was turning out for Northampton Town in England’s League Two. Corrazzin twice fired Canada level, once from the penalty spot and the other from a quickly worked response in the 57th after Costa Rica went ahead in the 54th. A well earned point by the Canadians against a side that they had only been able to best twice in their previous ten meetings.

In their second match, Canada took on a talented South Korean side comprised of several players just making, or on the precipice of making, the jump to Europe, like Lee Dong-Gook, Seol Ki-Hyeon, and future Vancouver Whitecap Lee Young-Pyo. Canada was able to hold the Koreans to a well earned 0-0 draw, setting up a final group stage match between the Costa Ricans and South Koreans to decide who would be going through. On two points, Canada was in position to clinch 2nd place in the group and advance to the quarterfinals with a win by either of their Group D rivals, a low scoring draw would also see them advance ahead of South Korea on goal difference.

Of course, with this being CONCACAF, the game finished in a 2-2 draw, leaving all three teams tied on two goals, with Costa Rica edging into first place on goal difference. This left Canada and South Korea with identical records in every regard forcing a tie-breaker, which consisted of… a coin flip.

Canada’s chances for advancement were now in the hands of head coach Holger Osieck (well, literally, I suppose they were in the hands of the tournament official performing the flip). Players and team officials from either country crammed into a small media tent with tournament officials and camera operators to decide who would advance. Korean coach Huh Jung-Moo was given the option to make his call on the flip, and because of a language barrier, his decision had to be relayed through a translation chain from Korean, to Spanish, to English. Jung-Moo opted for heads, forgetting that tails never fails.

After a wild toss was wrangled in by the organizer, the stoic Osieck’s poker face didn’t betray his emotions and the room was suspended in a brief moment of tension until he turned and gave a slight nod, a thumbs up and a gestured “1” with his forefinger to his players, who erupted into celebrations inside of the tent.

Canada captain Jason de Vos remembers the moment well.

“In the back of the media tent, our team huddled together as we waited for a signal from our head coach, Holger Osieck. The coin went up, came down, and after a quick glance at the result, a thumbs up from Holger sent our team into celebrations.”

Canada was through to the knock-out rounds. Their opponent? The mighty Mexico.

Mexico advanced through group C in top spot on 4 points, and were led by a 20-year-old Rafael Marquez, and the likes of Gerardo Torrado, Ramon Ramierez, Claudio Suárez, and Luis Hernandez. No one was giving the 85th ranked Canadians much of a shot in this one, in fact no one gave Canada much consideration as anything beyond cannon fodder in this tournament, and with two wins from 20 matches against El Tri, Canada hadn’t given them any reason to break from that belief.

Canada had to frustrate the Mexicans with organized defence and hit them on the counter-attack or through set-pieces. In the 35th, Mexico took the lead through Ramon Ramirez and were giving the Canadians plenty of grief, Carlo Corazzin especially, who took a swift kick to the undercarriage from Rafa Marquez for his efforts. Despite Dwayne De Rosario stating that he “didn’t think he was going to stand up again”, Corazzin was able to recover, dust himself down, and pull Canada level in the 83rd minute off of an excellent cross from Martin Nash and sent the match into extra time. Now, these were the days of the ‘golden goal’, so there were no chances for redemption if you went behind after 90: score and you’re through.

Still buzzing from Corazzin’s late equalizer, Canada went for the jugular without any hesitation. Starting a quick counter from a Mexican corner, Martin Nash picked up the ball just inside Canada’s half and charged forward. After taking two strong touches to eat up the open real estate in front of him, Nash spotted the run of Richard Hastings tearing down the left wing and hit him with a cross field pass in stride. Hastings was able to corral the pass without missing a beat and fire it past Oscar Perez in the Mexican goal to send Canada through to the semi-finals.

In his book, “DeRo: My Life”, Dwayne De Rosario remembers how the goal felt inside the very pro-Mexico Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.

“While we were celebrating on the field, trying to process what just happened, I turned to look at the stands. They were empty. All those green shirts had vanished. You could hear the person yelling from row 50: ‘Way to go, eh?’”

The belief was building within the underdog side, with the players now seeing a clear route to glory in the tournament. Jason de Vos certainly recalls this victory as a singular moment for the squad.

“February 20, 2000. In a bus outside Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, a group of men looked at each other in disbelief. One of them spoke up and said what the others were thinking to themselves. “You know what? We could actually win this thing.”

This victory set up a semi-final showdown with Trinidad & Tobago. As the other semi-final was down to invitees Colombia and Peru, the Soca Warriors were all that stood in Canada’s path to being the top-team in CONCACAF and heading off to represent the federation at the 2001 Confederations Cup. While a good squad, Trinidad were without their star man, Manchester United striker Dwight Yorke, through a thigh strain and were looking to the likes of renowned party boy Russell Latapy to pick up the offensive slack. They came out strong, and by all accounts were the better side, but were left frustrated by Canada’s resolute defending and a tour-de-Forrest in goal.

Canada found their breakthrough in the 68th minute through a well worked goal for Mark Watson. After a Davide Xausa corner for Canada evaded everyone, Jim Brennan was able to pick it up on the left wing, set himself, and whip a teasing cross into the box, finding the head of Carlo Corazzin. Corazzin was able to nod the ball into the six yard box where Mark Watson had found himself onside and wide open and was able to head Canada into the lead. It was a well worked goal for Canada in their impossibly shiny Adidas kits, and a lead they would defend with every ounce of ability and collective will they had left to the final whistle. They were now the top team in CONCACAF and were headed to the Gold Cup final.

Despite this run, many still didn’t believe in this Canadian side, with the unimpeachable President of CONCACAF, and Trinidad & Tobago native, Jack Warner stating that “Canada was by far one of the weakest teams in the tournament,” and that they were “unworthy champions”. Class, as always, from Jack Warner. I wonder what he’s up to now?

The plucky underdogs from the north weren’t satisfied with the billing as CONCACAF’s best, they wanted the hardware to go with it. In their way was another more renowned side, Colombia. The Colombians finished second in their group on three points, beating Jamaica and losing to Honduras before going on to beat the United States in an exceptionally poor penalty shootout. After a 2-2 draw, the shootout saw four misses from the US Squad, Eric Wynalda, Claudio Reyna, Chris Armas, and Ben Olsen, and saw the Colombians edge them 2-1 to advance. In the semi-finals, Colombia edged out fellow invitees Peru 2-1 to set up their date with the Canadians in the final.

With both the US and Mexico out of the tournament, the final at the Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles wasn’t exactly the hottest ticket in town, drawing just 7000 spectators, but that couldn’t have meant less to the Canadians at this point. Tinkering with his lineup for the first time in the tournament, Holger Osieck brought Paul Fenwick and Martin Nash into the starting XI for Davide Xausa and Paul Peschisolido, with the latter inclusion certainly making his presence felt in the first half.

A good start for the Canadian seemed to catch the Colombians on their heels and Osieck’s men were able to grow in confidence as the half wore on. On the stroke of half time, Canada were able to capitalize on their good play. From a corner, Martin Nash lofted a cross into the far post where it was met by a charging Jason de Vos who was able to thunder a powerful header down and just through the Colombian goalkeeper Diego Gomez’s grasp and across the line with the last action of the half.

A surprisingly composed Canada came out for the second half, looking to build on their lead and in the 68th minute, they found their dagger. After some smart possession and ball movement, Canada looked to spring a surging Jeff Clarke into the box. Clarke evaded his defender and was hauled down by a Colombian keeper clearly caught between two minds. The man of Canada’s campaign, Carlo Corazzin, stepped up to take the penalty and fired it right down the middle to put victory within grasp for the Canadians.

After the goal, the Colombians weren’t able to build any sustained attack until the 84th minute when Faustino Aspirilla was brought down in the box, ironically, by Jeff Clarke. Aspirilla stepped up to take the spot kick himself, but was bested by his Premier League adversary Craig Forrest, who was able to outwait the striker to make the save and hold on to the ball on the rain-slicked pitch. Forrest, clearly fired up by the stop and the occasion, held firm to the ball and passionately damanded his mobbing teammates forward to see out the match. With only minutes left at this point, the Colombians were left wanting by a resolute Canadian side that was not to be denied en route to the biggest moment in Canadian Men’s soccer since 1986.

At the final whistle, an ecstatic Canadian side celebrated their monumental victory as captain Jason de Vos and goalkeeper Craig Forrest lifted the obscenely large trophy to a chorus of cheers and “oles!”. Forrest, now beyond secure in his status as a Canadian soccer legend, remembers the emotions of the moment well.

“It was unreal. It was just pure joy. Jason [de Vos] and I just looked at each other and were laughing and screaming. We didn’t have to say anything to each other. We knew what a special moment it was and what we just achieved. It was a proud moment for soccer in Canada.”

To go along with their new hardware, the Canadians swept the individual awards at the tournament, with Carlo Corazzin claiming the Golden Boot, Craig Forrest being named Most Valuable Player, Richard Hastings winning the Rookie of the Tournament, and Jason de Vos being honoured with the Fair Play Award.

Despite showing so much promise in this tournament, the champion Canada squad, or any following it, were never able to build on this Gold Cup victory. In what should have been a watershed moment for men’s football in this country, the team set the mark for the men’s side and the program has yet to find a way to get close to the achievements of the 2000 squad.

Heading into the 2021 iteration of the tournament, the year 2000 holds different significance and signs of hope for John Herdman’s squad, as talisman Alphonso Davies was born just a few months prior to de Vos and Forrest lifting the Gold Cup. With a squad with more talent than any Canadian side ever before, 2021 holds the best chance yet for Canada to finally reclaim the trophy and get their own call as iconic as Gerry Dobson’s “Canada! 2000 Gold Cup champions! How does that sound?”.

The class of ‘00 would surely be just as enthused to see them do it.

Canada begins their campaign to bring the Gold Cup north again on Sunday, July 11 at 6:30pm ET against Martanique at the Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas and can be streamed on OneSoccer.

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