|Carlos Bocanegra (R) of the U.S. takes control of the ball next to Canada's Simeon Jackson during the first half of their CONCACAF Gold Cup soccer match in Detroit, Michigan June 7, 2011. (REUTERS/Rebecca Cook)
Despite displaying overwhelming support when the Canadian women’s team hosted last month’s Olympic qualifying tournament at Vancouver’s B.C. Place, the Canadian men’s team announced Thursday it will host all of its 2012 home dates at BMO Field in preparation for the third round of World Cup qualifying this summer.
In addition to a pre-announced friendly against Armenia in Cyprus on Feb. 29, the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) also confirmed that Toronto will host a blockbuster friendly against the U.S. less than a week before the team kicks off 2014 qualifying on June 8 in Cuba.
“The schedule for our national teams in 2012 will continue the momentum from (the second round) of FIFA World Cup Qualifying,” said Peter Montopoli, the CSA’s general secretary.
Canada was thoroughly undressed by the Americans at last summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, falling 2-0 before failing to qualify for the knockout stages in a group it was favoured to advance from. After failing to be tested in the previous round of World Cup qualifying, an extra friendly against a CONCACAF giant is a step in the right direction.
But with arguably its best chance to secure passage to the region’s final round for the first time since 1998, the question remains whether two quality exhibitions, spaced four months apart, is enough to adequately prepare for a crucial stretch of six difficult third-round qualifiers – the stage it failed to get beyond leading up to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Although there are concerns surrounding the team’s pre-qualifying fixtures, after expressing an interest to play each of its three home dates on a grass pitch at a location that simplifies air travel for non-domestic players, the decision to host at BMO Field could provide a comfortable venue that most, if not all, of Canada’s players will be familiar with.
“We will need the full support of the Canadian soccer community as we work towards the collective goal of reaching a FIFA World Cup,” head coach Stephen Hart said. “The Canadian Soccer Association’s centennial year (2012) is a crucial season for our team as we continue towards our goal.”
Canada advanced from the second round of qualifying last November after easily handling a group that contained St. Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis and Puerto Rico.
The Reds now enter the region’s 12-team third round in Group C alongside Panama, Cuba and Honduras this summer. Should the Canadians finish in the top two after a six-game, home-and-away slate they will advance to CONCACAF’s six-team final round, from which the top three finishers will automatically qualify for the 2014 World Cup.
The Association, in conjunction with Umbro, also unveiled its 2012 kits the men and women will wear throughout World Cup Qualifying and at the London Olympics.
Men’s National Team 2012 Schedule
Feb. 29 @ Armenia (In Cyprus) – Friendly
June 3 vs. USA (BMO Field) – Friendly
June 8 @ Cuba (TBA ) – FIFA World Cup Qualifier
June 12 vs. Honduras (BMO Field) – FIFA World Cup Qualifier
Sept. 7 vs. Panama (BMO Field) – FIFA World Cup Qualifier
Sept. 11 @ Panama (Panama City) – FIFA World Cup Qualifier
Oct. 12 vs. Cuba (BMO Field) – FIFA World Cup Qualifier
Oct. 16 @ Honduras (TBA) – FIFA World Cup Qualifier