Inspired by Raptors, Canada’s men’s soccer team hopes for same success in Gold Cup

With electricity pulsing through the veins of Canadian sports fans, there’s another tournament for the country to keep their eyes on.

The CONCACAF Gold Cup is set to kick off on Saturday, and the Canadian men’s squad will try to use the energy of the Toronto Raptors’ NBA championship victory and the Women’s World Cup to a successful tournament.

“The Raptors are a bit of an inspiration to a lot of our team at this moment in time,” coach John Herdman said prior to Toronto’s Game 6 victory. “These players are tuned in and hoping to emulate what they’ve been doing.”

The Gold Cup, which consists of teams from North and Central America and the Caribbean, is being held primarily in the United States (15 venues), with a few first-round matches also being held in Costa Rica and Jamaica.

The tournament runs June 15 to July 7, and Canada kicks off on Saturday night against Martinique at 7:30 p.m. ET, before playing Mexico on June 19 and finishing off their group-stage matches against Cuba on June 23.

This will be Canada’s first major test under Herdman, who took over as coach in January 2018 after previously leading Canada’s national women’s team to consecutive Olympic bronze medals. The men’s team, ranked 78th in the world, has gone 6-0-0 under his leadership so far, albeit against inferior competition.

The most important thing for Herdman is seeing continued growth from his team.

“Game to game, you want to see the players start uniting more on and off the pitch,” Herdman said. “It’s laying foundations.”

The growth is something Soccer Canada’s men’s side had trouble with in the past. After winning the tournament in 2000, recent results have seen them place ninth in 2011, 11th in 2013 and 10th in 2015, winning only one game overall. But the recent change in structure presents hope, and this year’s tournament will show where they stand among other nations in CONCACAF.

“A good tournament for us will be to go beyond where we got [last tournament],” said Herdman, referring to Canada’s sixth-place finish in 2017.

Talent beginning to show

Along with veterans Atiba Hutchinson, who will tie the national record by appearing in his sixth Gold Cup, and Jonathan Osario, an MLS champion with Toronto FC in 2017, the team will be anchored by budding superstar Alphonso Davies.

Davies, 18, is a member of revered German club Bayern Munich after success with the Vancouver White Caps of the MLS.

“Alphonso’s a very young man who’s a precocious talent,” Herdman said. ” With a player like that, when you talk about coaching them, you have to provide them some clarity on how they fit in on our structures but at the same time ensure that they’re not stifled. He’s a game-winner. He’s a player that can do something pretty special.”

WATCH| Alphonso Davies score his first goal with Bayern Munich:

The 18-year-old Edmonton native and former Vancouver Whitecaps winger became the youngest player to score for Bayern Munich since 1999, in their 6-0 win over Mainz. 0:14

As for Hutchinson, Herdman calls him a mentor for a lot of the players on the team.

“He’s not an outwardly person who’s going to tap on people’s shoulders every five minutes and give them advice,” said Herman. “He leads by example, he has a real presence, and people like Alphonso can see that.”

With Davies being a talent the team hasn’t seen in a long time, Hutchinson providing a quiet, steady leadership, and Herdman attempting to create a better system in place for all players, this is the year Canada hopes the growth begins to show.

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CBC | Soccer News