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Wait, the Canadian men’s national soccer team is good now?
This is a thing that has not happened in my lifetime, and I have teenage children, one of whom is technically an adult now. World Cup qualifying campaigns are generally a time for the team’s humiliation and regret. Canada, a big wealthy country, sends its best men to a small, impoverished nation in Central America and gets embarrassed on a dusty pitch that features 18 blades of grass and is surrounded by a moat. Somewhere along the way they get drubbed by Mexico and the United States. A manager is fired. So it goes. The Canadian men have made just one World Cup, in Mexico in 1986.
But something remarkable happened Wednesday night in Toronto. Tied in a crucial qualifying match against Panama, Canada’s Jonathan David looped a hopeful ball up toward the centre of the pitch and his teammate Tajon Buchanan. It looked promising for a moment, but then skittered away toward the sideline. The moment seemed gone.
Except Alphonso Davies, the 20-year-old bolt of lightning from Edmonton, raced toward the ball from deep in his own end. He reached it at full speed, pulled it inside with his right instep — almost a back-heeled pass to himself — and then reoriented before bursting toward the Panamanian goal. The shot that followed almost had to go in: any move that audacious, that brilliant, deserves a finish. The play made it 2-1, Canada.
A crowd of more than 26,000 roared, partly at the spectacular goal and partly out of relief. This was a game we had to win. The home side was on their way to three big points, following two draws in this qualifying window, and, most important, holding on to one of the top spots in their group on the way to Qatar 2022.
It was a wild night for the Canadian men, an arrival as a team that is not yet close to being a world power but is turning into an honest-to-goodness threat. Panama made the World Cup in 2018, and after Davies sliced them open, his teammates Buchanan and David added goals on the way to a 4-1 final. Job done.
But it was that Davies goal that will go down in Canadian soccer lore. His incredible pace, the deft touch at the sideline — it is not hyperbole to say that very few players in the world could have pulled off that combination of athleticism and skill in a blink.
“It was pretty cool,” said Canadian goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau, in a tremendous bit of understatement.
Davies said he was just concentrating on digging toward the ball, and once he had kept it in bounds, he knew he wanted to cut past the Panamanian defender. “In my mind, I was just like, ‘Shoot the ball’,” he said. The picture he painted, it must be said, does not at all live up to the action on the field.
The moment felt like a defining one: all those failures of the past? They were not authored by players like this.
It is not just that the men’s team hasn’t made a World Cup since Glass Tiger was on the airwaves. It’s that the team has struggled to be even the least bit relevant on the global soccer stage. Other than a shocking Gold Cup win 20 years ago, the Canadian men have all but lurched through World Cup qualifying cycles with painful regularity. And in the rare moments when they have achieved a spot of success to give themselves a decent chance at advancement, they have been smacked down in a dispiriting loss.
Canada reaches World Cup qualifying final round after ‘worst’ own goal from Haiti
How Canada got to the women’s soccer final: A journey that was a decade in the making
In qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, they needed just a draw against Honduras in San Pedro de Sula to move on, but lost 8-1. On the way to the 2018 tournament, they pulled a record crowd of almost 60,000 to a match against Mexico in Vancouver in what was setting up to be a landmark night — and were promptly spanked 3-0. The years since haven’t been much kinder, with the team shuffling through managers before eventually bringing in John Herdman, the Englishman who had led the Canadian women’s national team to such great effect.
Herdman finally has the team clicking. Buoyed by the addition of spectacular young talent such as Davies, David, Buchanan and Cyle Larin, this is a group that seems capable of setting a whole new Canadian standard. They tied Mexico in Azteca Stadium last week, an extraordinarily rare feat for a visiting team. Canada’s goal in the 1-1 draw was the first it had scored on that storied pitch since 1980. A 1-1 draw on the weekend in Jamaica wasn’t as impressive, but it kept the undefeated streak alive in the qualifiers and set up a match at BMO Field, in front of a big home crowd for the first time in forever, that gave them a chance to reach an excellent position in their group after six games.
But when Panama scored early, off a counter-attack in the fifth minute that felt like the first time the visitors had touched the ball, there was an uncomfortable familiarity to it all. Canada had ushered in a new era with dazzling stars — and then thrown up a little on themselves just at the worst time.
Except this time really was different. As the Panamanians celebrated their goal in the corner, the men in red took their positions and Davies was raring to get going in the centre circle. They had conceded a shocker, but they looked anxious to get it right back. And they almost did.
A beautiful sequence of passes sent David rushing toward the Panamanian keeper, but the forward made one pass too many, directing the ball backward instead of trying a shot. Canada attacked in wave after wave, with Davies in particular flashing dizzying skill on the ball.
Though it was late at night back in Munich, if his coaches with Bayern were watching they were probably having a serious rethink about playing the kid, as they do, as a fullback. The eventual equalizer came when Davies blasted a series of swinging corner kicks and the third eventually spilled in off a defender. It was a wholly different Canada, playing with flair and skill and, in every way but the score, running their guests off the pitch.
It would be Davies who eventually did the literal running that sent Canada on its way, and ultimately sent all those red shirts out, fat and happy, into a warm fall night in Toronto. This is a thing that, for this program, just doesn’t happen.
But this team is here now, and as they try to make it to Qatar, they are going to be a problem for anyone.
Alouettes trade for QB Trevor Harris – CFL.ca
MONTREAL — The Montreal Alouettes announced on Sunday that the team has acquired veteran quarterback Trevor Harris from the Edmonton Elks in exchange for American defensive end Antonio Simmons.
In six games this season, Harris completed 135 of 192 passes, collecting 1,568 yards, adding six majors.
Harris (six-foot-three, 212 pounds) is in his ninth season in the CFL after playing in Toronto, Ottawa and Edmonton. In 139 career games, he completed 1990 passes for 23,750 yards, adding 126 touchdown passes. The 35-year-old quarterback has hoisted the Grey Cup twice (2012, Toronto; 2016, Ottawa). The Waldo, OH native was selected on the East Division All-Star Team in 2016. The former Edinboro University Fighting Scots suited up for the Jacksonvile Jaguars in 2010 and the Buffalo Bills in 2011.
“Trevor is a veteran who knows the league well and what it takes to win”, said Montreal Alouettes General Manager Danny Maciocia. “We are pleased to have been able to complete this transaction. We are confident that Trevor will work well with our quarterbacks. We thank Antonio for his services and wish him well.”
In 23 career games with the Alouettes, Simmons made 52 defensive tackles, five quarterback sacks and forced a fumble.
Simmons is currently in his second CFL season and joins the Elks after originally signing with Montreal in May of 2019.
The Georgia Tech product played all 18 regular season games for the Als in 2019, recording 45 defensive tackles, three sacks, and a forced fumble. In five games this season, Simmons has registered seven defensive tackles and two sacks.
A native of Jacksonville, Florida, Simmons played four years (2014-17) at Georgia Tech, collecting 83 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, and seven quarterback sacks. He spent time in 2018 with both the Denver Broncos and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Flames D Andersson fined $5K for roughing Oilers F Yamamoto – TSN
Calgary Flames defenseman Rasmus Andersson has been fined $5,000 for roughing Edmonton Oilers forward Kailer Yamamoto.
Andersson was fined the maximum allowable under the collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and the Players’ Association.
The money goes to the players’ emergency assistance fund.
Andersson was assessed minor penalties for both roughing and elbowing at 14:33 of the first period Saturday in Edmonton.
The Flames lost their season-opener 5-2 to the Oilers.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 17, 2021.
Report: Maple Leafs to ease up on dress code restrictions for game days – Sportsnet.ca
The Toronto Maple Leafs are apparently planning to loosen up on dress code restrictions for players on game day.
Players are required to wear jackets, ties and dress pants to and from the arena, as outlined in the CBA, however, teams can ease up on the mandate if they choose.
The Arizona Coyotes were the only team that opted to do so entering the season, but the Maple Leafs now plan to follow suit, according to Lance Hornby of The Toronto Sun.
The decision comes just a few days after ESPN published an article on Toronto Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews, who has shown a flair for unique fashion while away from the arena, discussing his displeasure with the NHL’s strict dress code.
“I don’t mind wearing a suit, but it gets old pretty quick,” Matthews said. “I think it’d be fun to wear different things and be able to express yourself, similar to what the NBA does or even the NFL a little bit.”
The 24-year-old Matthews, who led the NHL with 41 goals in 52 games last season, missed the first three games of the season while recovering from wrist surgery and is expected to make his 2021-22 debut Monday night against the New York Rangers on Sportsnet.
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