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Canadian men’s soccer roster set for final 3 World Cup qualifying games

In July 2019, Canada coach John Herdman decided to see the glass half-full as CONCACAF revamped its road to the World Cup.

The Canadian men were faced with qualifying the hard way — slogging through the second tier of teams in North and Central America and the Caribbean to get to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

“If we look at it the right way, it just could be one hell of a story,” Herdman said at the time.

The pandemic forced more delays and revisions.

But the Canadian men, who have risen to No. 33 in the FIFA rankings from No. 78 when Herdman made the comment, have still had to take the long road. And on Thursday, they can add a historic chapter to that story by sealing qualification for Qatar with a victory in Costa Rica.

“I don’t think anyone wants it to end. We’ve really enjoyed the experience,” Herdman told reporters Sunday from Florida after naming his roster for the final three qualifying games.

“If you’d asked was I enjoying it as I was entering the stadium in Haiti, no,” he added with a laugh. “But when you look back, there’s been some amazing moments that, I think, have shaped the team. As a staff, as a coach, as a player group, we’ve grown. We’ve grown massively through this period.”

With three games left, Canada (7-0-4, 25 points) has a four-point cushion over No. 12 Mexico and the 13th-ranked U.S. (both 6-2-3, 21 points) in the eight-team final round of CONCACAF qualifying. No. 63 Panama (5-4-2, 17 points) stands fourth, with No. 42 Costa Rica (4-3-4, 16 points) fifth.

The top three countries will represent CONCACAF in Qatar. The fourth-placed finisher will face an Oceania team in an intercontinental playoff to see who joins them.

The Canadian men play Costa Rica on Thursday in San Jose before hosting No. 62 Jamaica next Sunday in Toronto. They then wrap up qualifying play versus Panama on March 30 in Panama City.

While a win in Costa Rica will seal qualification for Canada, so will a draw if Panama fails to defeat Honduras.

While this international window presents another demanding travel schedule, Herdman says it also represents “what you get out of bed for.”

“It’s what we’ve hoped for — that we play these type of matches and can just keep writing new chapters in this story,” he added.

The Canadian men started their qualifying journey with a 5-1 victory over Bermuda in Orlando in the midst of the pandemic on March 25, 2021. They are now 13-0-4 through three rounds of qualifying, outscoring their competition 50-6.

Herdman’s 25-man roster for the final stage of the qualifying road draws on players from clubs based in North American and nine European countries.

It includes 10 MLS players including Alistair Johnston, Ismael Kone And Kamal Miller from CF Montreal, Lucas Cavallini and Cristian Gutierrez from the Vancouver Whitecaps and Jonathan Osorio from Toronto FC.

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