Canada favoured in Copa America qualifier, but Trinidad and Tobago no stranger to upsets

The numbers favour the Canadian men in Saturday’s high-stakes Copa America qualifier with Trinidad and Tobago in Frisco, Texas.

Canada is ranked 50th in the world, compared to No. 96 for Trinidad. And the Canadians’ all-time record against Trinidad is a commanding 7-2-2.

But the Soca Warriors have broken Canadian soccer hearts before.

On Sept. 3, 2000, before a sun-drenched crowd at Port-of-Spain’s Queen’s Park Oval, Trinidad thumped Canada 4-0 to end its bid to qualify for the 2002 World Cup. Current Trinidad coach Angus Eve provided the final nail in the Canadian coffin, scoring in the 90th minute to complete the rout.

Canada had been dealt a tough hand in the penultimate round of CONCACAF qualifying, placed in a group with Mexico, Panama and Trinidad. And Canada found its back to the wall ahead of the game in Port-of-Spain, having opened the round by losing 2-0 to Trinidad in Edmonton, drawing 0-0 in Panama and losing 2-0 in Mexico City.

The World Cup qualifying elimination, with two games remaining, came just six months after coach Holger Osieck’s team shocked the soccer world by winning the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

The game was front-page news in Trinidad with fans packing the stadium hours in advance. It was a cultural event as much as a sporting one.

Twenty-four years later, Trinidad midfielder Andre Rampersad is hoping to trigger more celebrations back home.

“If we can get through this game on Saturday, it’s going to be huge for Trinidad and Tobago football, putting Trinidad and Tobago on the map,” he said.

‘Guys are confident’

Rampersad, who is captain of the CPL’s Halifax Wanderers, says a 2-1 win over the United States in November was a “big confidence-booster” for his team.

“Going into this game against Canada, of course now we know we can actually beat a big team. So yeah, that’s going to help us, for sure.”

“Everyone is ready to go. Everyone is excited,” he added. “I think guys are confident.”

The Soca Warriors are led by midfielder Levi Garcia, who plays in Greece for AEK Athens.

“He’s a great leader,” said Rampersad.

He pointed to Garcia’s performance in a 6-0 loss to the U.S. last July in Charlotte at the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

“Even though we were down and out, getting smashed, he was still trying his best,” said Rampersad. “And that’s all you can ask in a great leader. He’s definitely shown that by example.”

WATCH | Canada falls to Jamaica in Nations League:

Jamaica eliminates Canada from Concacaf Nations League in the quarterfinals

3 away goals by Jamaica including a penalty kick by Bobby De Cordova-Reid is the difference as Canada falls 3-2 in Toronto, and does not advance in Concacaf Nations League play.

Gacia also makes those around him shine. He set the table for Rampersad’s lone national team goal to date, sending in a low cross that Rampersad flicked home with a nifty backheel in a 4-1 loss to Jamaica that preceded the U.S. Gold Cup defeat.

Canada and Trinidad fell into Saturday’s play-in after losing CONCACAF Nations League quarterfinals to Jamaica and the U.S., respectively.

The Canadians were upset by the Reggae Boyz in November on the away goals rule after blowing a 3-1 lead and seeing the two-legged series end knotted at 4-4. Trinidad was beaten 4-2 by the U.S. despite winning the second leg on home soil.

Qualification crucial for Canadians

Making the Copa is considered crucial for Canada, a valuable opportunity to play elite teams as it starts its buildup towards the 2026 World Cup. Plus 2026 co-hosts Mexico and the U.S. are already qualified as Nations League quarterfinal winners, as is No. 44 Panama.

No. 15 Mexico and the 13th-ranked U.S. meet in Sunday’s Nations League final in Arlington, Texas.

The Canada-Trinidad winner slots into Group A at this summer’s Copa America alongside top-ranked Argentina, No. 33 Peru and No. 42 Chile. No. 54 Costa Rica plays No. 78 Honduras on Saturday, also in Frisco, to decided the sixth CONCACAF guest team in the 16-team field.

Saturday’s game also comes with consequences for interim coach Mauro Biello, who is a candidate for the permanent job to succeed John Herdman as coach. Biello has chosen plenty of youth in his 23-man roster, saying a “cultural reset” is needed for the team.

Canada won 2-0 the last time it met Trinidad, in August 2012 in Lauderhilll, Fla. Canada was ranked 79th at the time while Trinidad was No. 80.

The Soca Warriors are coming off a pair of friendlies against Jamaica, losing 1-0 on March 1 before playing to a scoreless draw two days later.

Rampersad is joined on the Trinidad squad by CPL newcomer Reon Moore, a forward who signed with Pacific FC earlier this month.

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