With meaning

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:57 AM ET

It's simple, really.

To get soccer fans out to watch a World Cup qualifier at Commonwealth Stadium in mid-October, the contest has to be meaningful.

With four games scheduled for the Canadian national team prior to hosting Mexico here on Oct. 15, it's conceivable the 2010 World Cup in South Africa could be out of reach.

"We're hopeful that it means a lot, that would make the night even a bigger occasion," said Canadian head coach Dale Mitchell.

"Ideally, it could be a night where if we got the three points, it could get us into the next round.

"You don't want to get too far ahead. But certainly we're very optimistic of the Canadian team still being alive when we come to Edmonton."

SINCE 1986

In order to qualify for their first World Cup since 1986, Canada has to get past this current round of qualifying by finishing among the top two teams in their group.

The campaign started with a 1-1 draw in Toronto against Jamaica on Aug. 20th. Canada hosts Honduras on Sept. 6th in Montreal, travels to play Mexico four days later, then goes to Honduras on Oct. 11th. They'll finish the round with the game in Edmonton and a trip to Jamaica on Nov. 19th.

Yesterday, Mitchell was in town to promote the contest at Commonwealth Stadium. Tickets go on sale starting Tuesday.

"The main reason that the game is here is because of the size of the stadium," Mitchell said.

"If the game is as meaningful as we are hoping that it will be, then we need a pro-Canadian crowd, we need a majority of the seats to be full and we need a good atmosphere here.

"If we get that, that can really be a boost for the players, for our team and maybe it can be something that makes the difference."

In their opening game against Jamaica at BMO Field in Toronto, the national team was backed by a strong pro-Canadian contingent.

"It was a great atmosphere," Mitchell said. "Compared to what we had in the past in terms of World Cup qualifying, to have a stadium like that sold out was great.

"There was a lot of talk about how many Jamaican fans would be there, but certainly the Canadian fans were in greater numbers and were very loud behind the Canadian team."

Against Jamaica, Canada started off slow and did not chase the victory until the second half. Julian De Guzman put the Canadians up a goal in the second half, but Jamaica scored shortly after as a corner kick eluded goalkeeper Pat Onstad.

Tying that first game in Toronto hurt Canada's chances of qualifying for the next round. With three points awarded for a win and one for a draw it's important for teams to win their home games.

HOSTILE TERRITORY

Now Canada has to try and earn points on the road in hostile territory.

"Ideally, you would like to win all your home games and get as least a draw in your road games," Mitchell said. "But the reality is that it rarely works out that way. This team will be able to go on the road, I think, and be competitive in all the games and get results - whether it's ties or whether it's wins.

"If we play like we did against Jamaica, I think we'll be competitive in our five remaining games."

Its been 22 years since Canada played in it's one and only World Cup. Three spots are allotted to teams in the North, Central American and Caribbean zone at the 2010 World Cup.

A fourth spot in the tournament will be contended with a team from South America.

Following this round of qualifying, the top two teams in each of the three groups will play a home-and-home series with each other for the right to go to South Africa.

This year's edition of the Canadian team is considered to be one of the most talented ever put on the field.

"This team has a lot of talent," Mitchell said. "I think that the teams that we're playing have a lot of talent as well. It's a different era within CONCACAF, our region. Honduras has five players that are playing at the top level in Europe and that was never the case before.

"I think we are better, but I think the other teams are better too and that's the challenge in front of us."


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