Star Trek II, one of the greatest films ever made, Khan Noonien Singh, hell-bent to fulfill his decades-old vendetta against James T. Kirk, prepares an ambush. When his crew of space pirates ask him about revenge, Khan, played by the late Ricardo Montalban, quotes the Klingon proverb:“Revenge is a dish best served cold.”
Then, he wryly adds, “It is very cold in space.”
Revenge will be on the minds of Canadian soccer supporters this November. Revenge for decades of failed opportunities to qualify for the men’s World Cup. Revenge for years worth of poor results to regional rivals. And, they will have what will likely be a very cold stage on where to play — Commonwealth Stadium.
Night games. In November. Bundle up.
Canadian men’s national-team coach John Herdman was in Edmonton Tuesday to promote his team’s upcoming World Cup qualifiers — Nov. 12 vs. Costa Rica and Nov. 16 vs. Mexico. Canada has not qualified for a men’s World Cup since 1986, but, led by Edmonton’s soccer hero, Alphonso Davies, things feel much different, now. Canada is undefeated in this World Cup qualifying cycle, and even was able to get a 1-1 draw in Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium, one of the most foreboding away trips any team can make in any sport. If the qualifying process ended today, Canada would be in the World Cup in 2022.
Davies has won the Champions League and Bundesliga titles with Bayern Munich. But he has yet to play for Canada’s men’s team in front of his Edmonton family and friends. Not only is it Davies’s homecoming, Herdman feels that Canada will get six points out of the two games.
“This kid is becoming a rare hope for not only young people in Canada, but for our entire country,” Herdman said of the Edmonton star. “For the football community, he is our shining light. Last year, he did things you would never believe a Canadian would ever achieve. He won everything. He became noted as the best player in his position [left back] in the world. In the world. In the WORLD. And he’s coming back here.”
Herdman said Davies has lobbied hard to get Canada to return to Edmonton to play. So far, through the qualifying process for the 2022 World Cup, Canada has played all of its previous home matches in Toronto’s BMO Field.
“A big part of the decision [to play in Edmonton] was to bring him home. This is his home. This is the place he loves … He’s always trying to sneak a trip back to Edmonton — on his way into a camp or on his way out of a camp — just to catch up with his friends and family. He’s a proud Edmontonian. I just hope the fans really represent.”
This won’t mark the first time Canada has tried to play one of the big boys in the region on artificial turf — and in cold weather. In the qualifying cycle for the 2018 World Cup, Canada hosted Mexico at B.C. Place in Vancouver. It was cold — at least in B.C. terms. The roof was opened at the behest of then-national team coach Benito Floro — who believed the combination of artificial turf and cold would hamper the Mexicans. Just the opposite. The Mexican side relished playing on the fast surface, and they were able to sustain their energy because of the cool temperatures. Mexico dominated the match.
Canada is a much different team now, and proved it with a result in Mexico. But, the question had to be asked: How to prevent a repeat of B.C. Place?
“It’s a bit different [in Edmonton],” Herdman smiled, noting there’s a big difference between Vancouver “cold” and Edmonton “cold.” “Even pulling the roof off, it’s about 15 degrees inside [B.C. Place]. I think the reality for us is that it’s deeper than that. One, it’s Alphonso’s home town. Two, it’s a passionate home-town crowd that have shown up when we’ve needed them. In 2015 [Women’s World Cup] and 2002 [FIFA U-19 Women’s World Championship, where Christine Sinclair announced herself to the world], this stadium was sold out.”
As well, he admitted the fact that there were thousands of green-clad Mexico fans in Vancouver played into the decision to play in Edmonton. Mexico has fans wherever the national side goes, and Herdman said he’d even talked to U.S. National Team coach Gregg Berhalter about strategies to stop a large surge of road fans from showing up. The U.S. is playing Mexico in Cincinnati, far away from the border.
“It really is about creating a fortress and an environment that’s difficult for the opponent,” Herdman said, who coached the women’s national team in the Edmonton cold against Japan and South Korea in the past.
“Both times, I couldn’t move my lips on the sideline. I know it’s not easy, mentally. It takes an adjustment… Every team is fragile. Knowing what we’ve just experienced in Azteca, with the altitude and pollution, knowing what we’ve just experienced in Jamaica, with humidity and heat, those little bits of advantages for the opponent, they get into the minds of players. So, for us, we could have been comfortable. We could have went to B.C. and kept the roof on. We could have went back to Toronto. We believe this is the place where we’re going to make some history.”
Pre-sale for tickets, from $20-$60, is set for Thursday through Ticketmaster, with general sales on Friday. There is a 25 per cent discount if fans order tickets for both matches together.