This Canadian men’s national team, the one that advanced to the final round of Concacaf FIFA World Cup qualifying for the first time in over 20 years, is just different. York United coach and former Canada fullback Jimmy Brennan sees that as clearly as anyone. "I don’t think we’ve had a squad like this in a long time, if not ever," Brennan told John Herdman’s side dispatched Haiti 4-0 on aggregate earlier this week to reach the eight-team "Octagon" and put themselves in the mix to qualify for their first World Cup since 1986.

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Brennan, who made 49 appearances for Canada from 1999 to 2008, helped take Canada to its greatest achievement of the millennium – a 2000 Gold Cup title and subsequent invite to the 2001 Confederations Cup in South Korea and Japan. "I’ve been watching them play these matches," Brennan said before pausing. "And I’m just so excited for this national team and the program. We have fantastic players and they are exciting to watch. I haven’t seen a national team be that dynamic and exciting in attack in a long while. Canada has a great chance to get to a World Cup with this squad. "There’s also a great balance and a level of depth about this group too that’s really special."

York set to arrive in Winnipeg on Saturday

Meantime, Brennan is set to start his third CPL campaign with the rebranded York United FC. Along with a new look and kits, York has seen its roster flip over this offseason – 14 new players have taken up crucial roles all the way from goalkeeper to striker. York is set to arrive in Winnipeg on Saturday – a few days after Ontario rivals Atlético Ottawa (Wednesday) and Forge FC (Thursday) made the trek. For Brennan, it’s about striking a balance between proper match fitness and mitigating the demands a four-week, eight-game bubble can bring. "We need to maintain good balance in the group and keep folks in good spirits. That’s the hard part about going into a bubble," Brennan said. "We’re leaving seven days before the first game to give us a chance to get acclimatized and sorted out. Really its about getting our whole team together and help build up that team. We didn’t wanna go too early because you end up something like seven weeks in a bubble. That’s draining and demanding."

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Nicholas Hamilton, who wrapped up a loan spell with Scottish side Dundee FC, is already in Manitoba adhering to Canadian COVID-19 international travel restrictions. Michael Petrasso, who was named Barnet FC’s player of the year following a stint with the English fifth-tier side, only passed his quarantine this week. Dominick Zator will join the team from his native Calgary. York has been hard-done, to say the least, by Ontario’s COVID-19 situation and following protocols. The team got three days’ worth of training sessions before the Ontario government barred football in addressing its third wave. "We’ve had them on a nine-week fitness program because that’s how long we’ve been on lockdown," Brennan said, having returned to team training recently. "It’s hard on the players… But we managed to keep them fit. This helped because when we got back on the pitch again you could see they were back on the program. "Obviously it's night and day; you could run all you want but the match fitness will carry you through the season and that’s where our need is, really." York United’s bizarre pre-season is an apt distillation of many things during the tail end of a global pandemic; Whether the circumstances are ideal or not, the important thing is it’s happening and, in this case, very soon. Brennan and co. open their 2021 CPL season on Sunday, June 27 when they face Cavalry FC (5 pm ET/4 pm CT).

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