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Photo Essay: CANMNT vs USMNT—January 30, 2022

History, through the lens of Waking The Red photographer Sean Pollock.

A sunny Sunday afternoon in Hamilton, Ontario saw our Men’s National Team beat the United States Men’s National team 2-0. If you’ve grown up in Ontario, or rather, Canada, there’s a lot to question in that sentence. Sunny? Hamilton and the GTA historically only see the sun for 86 hours in January. Hamilton? Yes, Hamilton, was home to a Canada Soccer game for the first time since the 2015 Pan Am games and a first for our Men’s National team. Beat USA? 2-0? Yes, yes, and yes.

I was fortunate enough to have been there Sunday, photographing everything we originally come to question. Through this essay, I’m hoping to share what I felt and captured on that historic afternoon in Hamilton.

Sean Pollock

The cold, Covid and restrictions. All reasons for supporters not to show up on Sunday but that just wasn’t the case. I was outside Gate 3 for a half hour before the bus showed up and you could tell, the energy was already building - the city had a buzz.

Sean Pollock
Sean Pollock

Smoke and streamers greeted the team bus as it turn down Melrose Avenue. It wasn’t until some of the wind blew the smoke away that anyone could tell there was even a bus there. Kudos to the crew for guiding it in safely. As soon as it appeared, I began to shoot a few frames, ending up with the image below.

Sean Pollock

The boys began exiting the bus, the supporters took it from here as I found a position along the right side of the barriers and grabbed a few shots of the team walking in.

Sean Pollock
Sean Pollock
Sean Pollock
Sean Pollock

Fast forward an hour and a half and the whistle blew starting the first half. I picked a spot closer to the east stands and watched the game unfold. It’s not often you get a true afternoon game, most games you begin with some natural light but they almost always finish under floodlights given their scheduling, so a 3pm start on a mostly sunny day was amazing for a photographer. Canada attacking to the north-east first allowed the sun to seep through over the pitch, offering some beautifully back lit scenes.

The run of play stayed mainly in front of the 16 yard box, with a few runs on both sides of the pitch.

Sean Pollock

Richie tussling for a ball that eventually went out of touch. It’ll mean more to photograph Laryea now that he’s moved on from TFC. Always electric and expressive to photograph at pace.

A few minutes later, Matt Turner misjudged the wind on his goal kick, and with a few passes in an attacking position, the ball found its way onto Cyle Larin’s feet and was in the back of the net.
I picked up on the ball from David and tracked Larin from shot, to scoring, to celebrating. 7 minutes in and I’m shaking, did I really just photograph Larin taking Canada 1-0 up in the 7th minute?

Sean Pollock
Sean Pollock
Sean Pollock

Cyle then took off behind the net to celebrate with the rest of the team and I ran with him, trying to get at least one decent group shot.

Sean Pollock

What a moment. Truly.

Now, back to that back lighting I mentioned earlier. After the goal I switched sides, now along the west stands and parked right next to Beau, one of the Canada Soccer photographers and decided to catch up while the play wasn’t venturing within the reach of our lenses. We were pleading for the players to enter the light even just for a moment to capture that dynamic light. Thankfully, Tajon made a couple runs and did what he does best, balling around a few defenders. Halftime commenced shortly after.

Sean Pollock
Sean Pollock

The 45th minute kicked off and with much of the game in the midfield and Canada’s half, there wasn’t much to shoot. Being a sports photographer, you have to expect this, you’ll have down time throughout the game and especially with soccer, the pitch is so long that you don’t always have the reach in your kit to get anything meaningful.

Running into the sun, Canada was perfectly illuminated. For all the years I’ve been taking pictures, putting yourself directly between the sun and your subject is usually a no-no, it can create harsh, washed out images. Given the angle of Tim Horton Field and my positioning along the east stands, the light was that perfect blend of direct yet dynamic.

A ball was played to Sam Adekugbe in space and he launched one just over the bar. I looked down at my camera and I completely underexposed it, not even usable. What if it went in? I would have shot subsequent frames of him celebrating that would be completely unusable. A bit of a wake up call given the light was ever changing that late in the day.

90+5’ and we’re collectively awaiting the final whistle. Kamal Millar cleared a ball long, which Adekugbe took on a one hop, then deked a defender to take Turner on 1:1. Tracking him the whole way I watched the kick through my camera and waited for cheers, and cheers we got.

Sean Pollock
Sean Pollock
Sean Pollock

I don’t normally carry a wide angle lens on me when photographing soccer. Manifesting some celebrations before this half, I brought it out for exactly those moments in stoppage time and afterwards. Not gonna lie, I shed a tear and let out a “Let’s goooo” while the team celebrated Adekugbe’s goal.

Sean Pollock
Sean Pollock

The final whistle blew shortly after the restart and it was over, Canada has beaten the United states in a World Cup Qualifier for the first time in 11 years and are now one step closer to their 2nd ever World Cup.

Sean Pollock
Sean Pollock
Sean Pollock

This team is so likeable. The emotion they show on the field, their “next man up” attitude to play their hardest in the absences of some of their best players, it’s truly inspiring.

Thank you Canada Soccer for giving me the privilege of shooting this game and hopefully more to come. See you in March.

All images shot on a Canon 1Dx MK2 w/70-200 and a 5d MK3 w/17-40mm.

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