MOSCOW (June 22) —Basking in the glow of the finest achievement in Canadian men’s soccer for, well, far too long, Steve Reed was asked how he planned to celebrate.
The president of Canada Soccer was sitting at the head table in Moscow’s Expocentre on the eve of this FIFA World Cup as the united North American bid team had won the rights to host the 2026 running of the planet’s biggest sporting event. Reed revealed that, in contrast to his United States counterparts, he was going to hang around a while in Russia.
He’d already bought match tickets and planned to take in some venues. Having struck up something of a bromance with his Mexican equivalent, Decio De Maria, he’d also been invited to El Tri’s World Cup opener here in Moscow and joked about even wearing Mexican green for the occasion.
We don’t know if Reed followed through on the dress code promise, but we’re pretty sure the top figure in the Canadian game would have been some shade of green at the Luzhniki last Sunday as Mexico turned the World Cup on its head just four days in. Reed is an affable sort, but even he must have been envious of the performance Juan Carlos Osorio’s team turned in as they hounded Germany into a startling defeat.
The world champions had no answer and in truth the 1-0 scoreline did Mexico’s swashbuckling, dominant display little justice. Reed must surely have sat and marvelled … but then wondered. Wondered how far removed Canada currently resides from this kind of stage and this kind of performance.
At least he knows the men’s national team will return to a World Cup in 2026 at the latest. While FIFA hasn’t confirmed how it will all shake out, it’s unthinkable all three hosts won’t secure automatic berths to the expanded tournament they will host.
Of course, Canada could also qualify for the 2022 World Cup that will take place in Qatar in between, but given the country has made it to the finals exactly once in its history it’s better not to assume. The more pressing concern for Reed — and for that matter the U.S., which didn’t qualify for Russia either — is whether Mexico is now moving to a higher level than everyone else in the North American confederation, somewhere out of reach.
Osorio’s side will look to underscore its stunning opening victory Saturday and secure rapid passage to the knockout stage with another win against South Korea in Rostov-on-Don.
As Brazil broke the stubborn resistance of Costa Rica with a 2-0 victory in Saint Petersburg on Friday, it meant the other two CONCACAF representatives here (Costa Rica and Panama) had now played three and lost three, conceding six goals and scoring none for bad measure.
What was most striking about Mexico’s breathtaking beating of Germany was how blindingly positive it was for the country’s future as well as its present. Match-winner Chucky Lozano was irresistible, his relentless roasting of the German rearguard sparking instant rumours of a post-tournament move to club giant Barcelona for $50 million or more.
The winger is just 22. Behind him, left back Jesus Gallardo also starred. He’s 23. As the game became more tense, Edson Alvarez was sprung from the bench and helped see Mexico home. He’s just 20.
So while Canada looks at 2026 and hopes to see teenage phenom Alphonso Davies blossom into a World Cup talent in the intervening eight years, or the U.S. pins its hopes to Borussia Dortmund’s brilliant Christian Pulisic, Mexico already has the spine of a side ready to go, players who are already out here proving their worth on the World Cup stage.
And the pipelines are pumping through more Mexican talent.
The country has made it to all of the four most recent FIFA men’s under-20 World Cups, finishing third in 2011. The U.S. has been to three of the last four, but Canada hasn’t been to any. It last qualified six World Cups ago, in 2007, when it was given a free pass as host nation.
Go a generation deeper and Mexico’s cultivation is all the more startling. It has gone to six of the last seven under-17 World Cups stretching back to 2005. El Tri’s young brigade has been crowned champion twice (most recently in 2011), was runner-up in 2013, fourth in 2015 and made it out of its group every time. In the same period, Canada has qualified just twice and never won a game. For context, the U.S. has qualified for six of those World Cups but never made it further than a quarterfinal.
Now as a place in the knockout stages of the real thing looms into view Saturday, Osorio argues Mexico’s 2018 generation was built on the struggles of what came before.
“Failures built what we are today,” he said in Rostov-on-Don on Friday ahead of the clash with Korea. “One is always learning. We have done a good job (but) we have suffered (previously). Hopefully tomorrow we can continue with the same performance. We will not lift our foot off the accelerator.”
As Mexico threatens to disappear over the horizon, Reed, Canada and the rest of CONCACAF could be left with a very sobering thought: If defeat built this Mexican generation, what could the triumphs of 2018 mould in time for 2026 — and beyond?