Canada defender Doneil Henry and coach John Herdman address the media on Tuesday before Wednesday night's match against El Salvador.

FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Qualifiers Canada vs. El Salvador September 8, 2021 at 7:30 pm ET BMO Field, Toronto, Ontario Watch live on OneSoccer and Sportsnet One

Home sweet home.

The Canadian men's national team returns to BMO Field for the second time in just under a week on Wednesday night, taking on El Salvador in their third match of this Concacaf Octagonal stage of FIFA World Cup Qualifying. Canada enters the last game of this window with two points already banked thanks to draws with Honduras and the United States, but they've got eyes on all three points this time around to capitalize on their home field advantage.

This match, to be played in front of a sold-out crowd in Toronto, is an important opportunity for Les Rouges to end the window on a high (and, most likely, in the top three of the 'Oct' after three games). The Salvadorans are currently 64th in the FIFA World Rankings -- five behind Canada, and one behind Honduras -- although they, like the Canadians, have two points from two matches so far, having drawn 0-0 with both the United States and Honduras (both games at home). So, they haven't conceded a goal yet, but they also haven't scored, compared to Canada who have two of each.

So far in this round of World Cup Qualifying, teams all around the Concacaf region have had bumpy starts. Only Mexico has won both their games so far, with four teams sitting on two points and qualification hopefuls Jamaica left empty-handed after a shock home defeat on Sunday to Panama. So, a win for Canada on Wednesday could put them in very good position compared to some of their foes coming out of this first round of matches.

Canada has played El Salvador in 17 official matches throughout their history, holding a record of eight wins, five losses, and four draws. The Canadians have been even better on home soil, with a 3-1-1 record. These sides met in the fourth round of the 2018 World Cup Qualifying cycle, when they were both drawn into a group alongside Honduras and Mexico. Canada went undefeated in two games against the Salvadorans that year, winning 3-1 at BC Place in Vancouver and scraping a 0-0 draw in San Salvador. However, the last meeting between these two teams was a 1-0 friendly win for El Salvador in October 2017 -- a match that featured four current CPL players (Michael Petrasso, Dejan Jakovic, Fraser Aird, and Keven Alemán).

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El Salvador took a similar route to the Octagon as Canada did, having to go through a five-team group stage followed by a two-legged qualification tie (which they won 6-0 on aggregate over Saint Kitts and Nevis). They won Group A ahead of Montserrat, Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, winning three and drawing one of those matches.

One of the prevailing narratives for Canada entering this game is the possible absence of Bayern Munich star Alphonso Davies. The 20-year-old, who assisted Canada's only goal in Nashville on Sunday, didn't train on Tuesday after apparently picking up an injury during the match against the Americans. He was still with the team at the time of coach John Herdman's press conference, but he was still undergoing evaluation. Canada have plenty of options to change things up without him if necessary, having done so during the Gold Cup this past summer, but losing a star like Davies is always a blow.

In the Canadian camp, players and staff are certainly excited to return to the electric BMO Field atmosphere after playing away from home. That said, they also know there's pressure on Canada to come away with all three points.

"Every game is pressure because we know the importance of performing at getting points, especially on home soil," defender Doneil Henry said on Tuesday afternoon.

"We'd be satisfied with nothing less than a win tomorrow. It's added pressure but we know what we need to do, we've done our homework too. This is a confident group -- and when I say confident, not overly confident thinking we're gonna walk in and get three points, but a team that knows what it takes to win, that knows it's gonna take sacrifice on both ends. We're looking forward to it; we definitely know that our supporters are behind us, so we want to make sure we play some attractive football while doing it."

Herdman reflected on the team's excitement to come home, though, having gotten a brief taste of the Canadian fanbase last week against Honduras. He revealed that players had been genuinely spurred on by the crowd's energy as they looked to mount a comeback after trailing at halftime.

"They came alive and created the sort of atmosphere these boys have been dreaming of playing for their country," Herdman said. "The away team started to feel it, I think the ref started to feel it. But the most important part was they brought the urgency, they really got us into a sixth gear and onto the front foot... So we want to see a sea of red around this stadium, and let it feel like our fortress. It's time; we're not getting this time back and the fans could really make this happen for us. So, louder, more red, just keep giving the opposition hell."

There's plenty on the line for Canada this week, who are always looking to prove themselves in difficult tests. They haven't lost in Canada to El Salvador since 1992; certainly, they'll be expecting to add another win to their total this time around.

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  • Canada must diversify attack, especially if Davies out: As mentioned, Canada might be without their best player for this match. It's possible he wasn't going to start anyway, having played so many minutes the past week, but not having him as an option even off the bench will hurt. Nonetheless, if Davies is indeed ruled out, this is a good chance for Canada to focus on other dimensions in their attack. El Salvador will almost certainly look to sit in a low block tactically (perhaps not too unlike what Canada did against the United States, but maybe even to a more extreme degree). That would make life very difficult for Canada to attack, even with Davies on the pitch, if they don't have a variety of options to try and create scoring chances. Cyle Larin has scored both of Canada's goals in this window, so Wednesday might be a good opportunity for Jonathan David (who didn't start Sunday) to have his moment in Davies' absence -- or, perhaps, Lucas Cavallini, if he is indeed fit enough to return to action.​
  • What threat does young El Salvador side pose? This El Salvador team had a relatively successful Gold Cup over the summer, coming second in their group (with wins over Trinidad and Tobago and Guatemala and a loss to Mexico) before going out in a closely-fought quarter-final against Qatar. In total, 16 players from the Gold Cup squad have returned for World Cup Qualifying, including all 11 of their starters from the knockout match. They've played 15 matches already in 2021, and they've scored 25 goals -- however, leaving out the first two WCQ rounds where they primarily played Concacaf sides well below them in the rankings, they've scored just six in their last nine. Canada, by comparison, have scored 14 goals in seven fixtures after those last two WCQ rounds. There are, certainly, some questions over where the goals might come from for El Salvador, especially without productive striker David Rugamas; no player on their young roster has more than four international goals (although they have just eight players with more than 20 caps). Joshua Perez, a 23-year-old forward playing for Miami FC in the USL Championship, might be an option, and in the Gold Cup they often went with a striker pairing of Joaquin Rivas (FC Tulsa) and Jairo Henriquez (Aguila). The Salvadorans may not intend on pressing Canada too much, but they would certainly like to get one of those attackers into form. Said Canada coach John Herdman on Tuesday: "They really do operate in a case of, they can run all day, and they're a real threat in transition. So we're going to have to be on our game tomorrow to get a result."​
  • Herdman managing minutes, squad rotation: So far, just four of Canada's 20 outfield players in this camp have yet to see the pitch. With three games in a week, squad rotation and player management have been major focuses for John Herdman, who has tried to put out as strong a lineup as possible in each game while ensuring most players get at least some rest. Of the four who haven't yet featured -- Samuel Piette, David Wotherspoon, Liam Fraser, and Lucas Cavallini -- the only one likely to start on Wednesday is probably Piette, but all of them could see minutes (especially if Cavallini is healthy enough to play half an hour or so). Jonathan Osorio also hasn't started either game, coming in as a substitute against the U.S. He seems almost guaranteed to start as well, to help break down the El Salvador block through the middle. Herdman has managed to get most players in the squad at least a few minutes' rest, but a handful of players (Stephen Eustaquio, Richie Laryea, and Alistair Johnston) have played all 180 so far. Will they be able to start a third straight game? "It's important to have a roster that's completely focused, committed, so when they're called on they're ready to go," Herdman said on Tuesday. "(There's) just a desire to get this team to Qatar. Behind the scenes, they're just committed, doing everything that's required... Every man's ready to play their part."​


Canada wins: 8 || El Salvador wins: 5 || Draws: 4

Previous match:

October 8, 2017 — Canada 0-1 El Salvador (Friendly)

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