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Cold Commonwealth Stadium what Canada ordered for World Cup qualifier vs. Mexico

There is a long, sordid history of dirty tricks in CONCACAF, a soccer confederation known for staging the beautiful game on the least level of playing fields. No country has mastered the dark art of odds-stacking quite like Mexico. After inconveniencing their visitors with mysterious late-night fire alarms and bus breakdowns, the Mexicans then usher them into storied Azteca, where the heat, high altitude, and nearly 100,000 screaming fans make it one of the world’s hardest places to play.

And that’s before the bags of urine start raining down from the crowd.

Canadian soccer fans aren’t quite so committed to the cause of home-field advantage, but they haven’t been above their own shenanigans.

When the Canadian men qualified for their only World Cup in 1986, they played their deciding match versus Honduras on a freshly laid cow pasture in St. John’s. Their guests were cold and tired from their long journey, and the vanquished Hondurans were among those rare visitors who have left Newfoundland complaining about the hospitality.

For Tuesday’s all-important World Cup qualifier against highly ranked Mexico, Canada Soccer has made another considered — and inconsiderate — choice of venue: Welcome to sunny Edmonton, where the team is hoping chilly, cavernous Commonwealth Stadium becomes something like Canada’s Azteca, perhaps minus the bodily fluids.

“There’s a great opportunity for the people of Edmonton to be part of history,” head coach John Herdman said before the match. “That’s what this is.”

Edmonton hasn’t always been such a positive choice. For decades, Canada was one of the few international sides that had to endure hostile atmospheres at home, at least whenever it played in its most cosmopolitan cities.

But Commonwealth Stadium has made an awesome turn from quiet sanctuary to noisy cathedral, beginning in earnest with the Women’s World Cup in 2015. Herdman coached the Canadian women at the time, and he can close his eyes and still hear the sound of the place when Christine Sinclair scored her late penalty against China. He hasn’t forgotten which city made that roar.

“It felt like a fortress,” he said. “When you go to Edmonton, you genuinely feel as though the whole city is behind you … Everyone is trying to find a way to help the team. Getting into that stadium, and potentially feeling 50,000 people at your back…” He trailed off, unable to find the right words to describe the ecstasy.

Edmonton offers a further enticement for Canada Soccer these happy days: It’s home for Alphonso Davies, this team’s undisputed star, and he was clearly buzzing to play in front of hundreds of family and friends for the first time in his international career.

“It means a lot,” Davies stated in advance of last Friday’s 1-0 victory here over Costa Rica. “I’m just excited for the occasion. I’m excited to play in front of my hometown.” The Mexicans will no doubt be less enamored with their surroundings, having been CONCACAF’d in back-to-back matches.

When they played the United States last Friday — the same night Canada shivered the Costa Ricans into submission — El Tri were beckoned to delightful Cincinnati. Not coincidentally, of the 22 American cities that have Major League Soccer franchises, Cincinnati ranks last in the percentage of its population that claims Mexican ancestry, and the ticket lottery was openly rigged versus Mexican supporters.

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