Canadian men set to begin 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign against Dominica

Julian de Guzman was there when Canada’s bid to make the 2014 World Cup went up in smoke.

The veteran midfielder experienced the embarrassing 8-1 loss in Honduras first-hand, a game where the men’s national team only needed a draw to advance to the final round of CONCACAF qualifying.

The result has dogged the program ever since, but Canada will finally begin to turn the page on Thursday when it visits the tiny Caribbean island of Dominica in a first step towards earning a spot at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

“This is a very important moment for the national program,” de Guzman said on a conference call Tuesday. “We definitely have a lot to prove going forward. I think a lot of guys are very excited to finally start this campaign against Dominica. So far the way the team seems to be looking is very positive. We want to get off on the right foot.”

Led by head coach Benito Floro, in charge for his first competitive match, the Canadians will be taking on a country with a population of about 70,000 that is ranked 168th by FIFA. Canada currently sits 109th after a string of good performances in friendlies, but de Guzman said the players won’t be looking past their opponents.

“It’s something you definitely don’t want to overlook,” he said. “It’s important to get everyone on board and understand the importance of this game.”

Should the Canadians advance after the second leg in Toronto on June 16, they will move on to the third round of CONCACAF qualification. That stage will see 10 second-round winners join Jamaica and Haiti — the seventh- and eight-seeded teams — in six home-and-away series to be played Aug. 31 to Sept. 8.

The third-round winners will move on to the group stage — a point the national team has failed to get past since the buildup to the 1998 World Cup.

While many Canadians are focused on the Women’s World Cup being played on home soil at the moment, the country’s men’s team also has this summer’s Gold Cup to look forward to in the U.S., meaning that Floro will get a chance to see some of the young players he has brought along in a number of competitive fixtures.

One familiar face who won’t be on the squad for the qualification campaign or the Gold Cup is Dwayne De Rosario, who retired last month as both a professional and national team player.

“(De Rosario’s) done an exceptional job for what he’s contributed to the national program,” said the 34-year-old de Guzman. “Now at this point it’s time to move on and look towards the future with the potential prospects who could fill in his shoes.”

But unlike De Rosario, de Guzman has a chance to make amends for the fiasco in Honduras some 32 months ago and is encouraged about the future of Canada’s men’s team.

“You can see it’s a different approach in every camp,” said de Guzman. “There’s always room for improvement, but we’re more on (Floro’s) page and what he wants from the guys. It seems to be working out so this will be a good test for us in an official match. I believe in every camp we’ve had so far there’s been progress.

“That’s one of the best ways to overcome that horrible memory.”

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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press