Over a decade ago, Doneil Henry made his professional debut with his hometown club Toronto FC in Canada Soccer’s Canadian Championship at BMO Field in Toronto. Still only 17 at the time, Henry was one of the trailblazers for homegrown talent at the time, in fact his club’s first-ever MLS Homegrown signing in August 2010. The Brampton centre back had gone from playing his youth career across the Greater Toronto Area to TFC Academy and all the way to the lineup with the big club Toronto FC.
He may not have known it at the time, but Henry was unwittingly opening the door to the generation of talent that would come after him at the professional level in Canada. From Toronto, Henry continued his career in Cyprus, England, back in Canada (Vancouver and Ottawa), and now in Korea Republic as the first Canadian player in the K-League with the Suwon Bluewings. With Canada Soccer’s Men’s National Team, Henry returns to his “first home, first love” to play in FIFA World Cup Qualifiers this week at BMO Field in Toronto.
Canada’s matches throughout the Concacaf Final Round of FIFA World Cup Qualifiers are broadcast live on OneSoccer and Sportsnet. After back-to-back draws against Honduras and USA, Canada face El Salvador on Wednesday 8 September at 19.30 local / 19.30 ET / 16.30 PT. Fans will find extended coverage across Canada Soccer’s digital channels on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube featuring the hashtags #CANMNT and #CANWNT.
Henry is one of 16 players in the Canada lineup who grew up in Ontario, including Atiba Hutchinson (Brampton), Steven Vitória (Sudbury), Milan Borjan (Hamilton), Junior Hoilett (Brampton), Jonathan Osorio (Brampton), and Lucas Cavallini (Mississauga). In the opening match of the Concacaf Final Round on 2 September at BMO Field, younger players Tajon Buchanan (Brampton), Stephen Eustáquio (Leamington), Alistair Johnston (Aurora) and Scott Kennedy (Calgary, Alberta) all got to play their first international match at home in Canada.
“We’re a confident group and not that in we’re going in there expecting the three points, but we do know what it takes,” said Henry when speaking to the pressure of a home game in front of a sold-out crowd at BMO Field. “Every game is pressure and we know the importance of performing, especially at home.”
Much of this confidence stems from the depth of talent head coach John Herdman has at his disposal. With an unprecedented three FIFA World Cup Qualifiers in seven days, this depth will prove critical, something Henry sees as a bit of a challenge, not for the players, but for Herdman.
“With 23 guys ready to surrender their jersey anytime they step on the pitch the hardest job is for the manager (Herdman) when you have three games in a week,” said Henry.
Henry’s comments point out a good conundrum for Canadian management in who they start and who they have ready as finishers. Regardless of that challenge, Henry commends Herdman, saying that, “he has everyone under a certain belief. This Canada team is whole and we are one.”
With 14 matches in the Concacaf Final Round from September 2021 to March 2022, Canada are approaching each match with a “one match at a time” mentality. Unbeaten with two points from their first two matches, Henry described his team’s mood as “satisfied so far [but will be] satisfied with nothing less than a win” on Wednesday against El Salvador.
Henry aptly pointed out that it “comes down to who wants it more in these international games” which is something the feistiness of the Honduras matchup and the caginess of the USA showdown proved. Canadians in attendance and watching on TV can feel confident that Henry’s homecoming will see him and the generation he led give everything to make friends, family, and fans proud.
Story by Casey Dobson
CANADA SOCCER’S MEN’S NATIONAL TEAM PROGRAM
Canada has built plenty of momentum in a landmark year for the Men’s National Team Program that will feature a record 19 international matches including FIFA World Cup Qualifiers and the Concacaf Gold Cup. Canada have already played 13 of those 19 matches, posting a record of 9-2-2 with six clean sheets and a record 44 goals scored. Earlier this year, Canada set a record with eight consecutive wins and reached the Concacaf Gold Cup Semifinals for the first time since 2007.
Canada will play eight of their 14 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers in the Concacaf Final Round from September through November 2021: three matches in September, three matches in October, and two matches in November). In 2022, Canada will play three more matches in January/February and three more matches in March. Along with Honduras, USA and El Salvador, Canada’s other opponents in the Concacaf Final Round are Costa Rica, Jamaica, Mexico and Panama.
To reach the Concacaf Final Round, Canada won their First Round group against Aruba, Bermuda, Cayman Islands and Suriname, then eliminated Haiti in a head-to-head Second Round series. This marks the first time since 1997 that Canada have reached the Concacaf Final Round of FIFA World Cup Qualifiers. From the Concacaf Final Round of eight nations, the top-three nations automatically qualifying for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and the fourth-best nation advancing to an inter-continental playoff for additional FIFA World Cup Qualifiers.
Canada Soccer’s Men’s National Team are two-time Concacaf champions, previously winning the 1985 Concacaf Championship and 2000 Concacaf Gold Cup. This year marks Canada’s 15th participation at the Concacaf Gold Cup since 1991. Along with their first-place finish in 2000, Canada reached the Semifinals in 2002, 2007, and 2021. Across the past five years from 2017 to 2021, Canada are one of only four nations that have finished top-six across all three Concacaf major tournaments: fifth place in Concacaf Nations League A and sixth place at both the 2017 and 2019 Concacaf Gold Cups.
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