VANCOUVER—Victor Montagliani wasn’t surprised by the record crowd that watched Canada host Mexico in World Cup qualifying last month.
He expected it.
“It’s your national team. It’s your country,” said Montagliani, Canada Soccer’s president. “The reality is this is a footballing country and it’s starting to wake up and realize that. Maybe we’ve been in a coma for a while, but I expect to see that, and quite frankly I expect to see it every time out.”
Canada lost 3-0 to Mexico before a raucous gathering of 54,798 spectators at B.C. Place Stadium on March 26. The match was a setback on the pitch but established a new high-water mark for national team attendance on home soil in any sport.
Montagliani was on hand at a Thursday press conference to announce that Canada will return to Vancouver on Sept. 6 to play El Salvador in what could be another crucial test as the country continues to push to make the World Cup for the first time since its only appearance back in 1986.
“It’s about culture,” said Montagliani. “Maybe everybody’s not as crazy as I am about the game, but I do think that we have an incredible football culture in this country.”
Canada played before 54,027 fans at B.C. Place in the Women’s World Cup quarter-finals in June, while the top men’s attendance before the Mexico game was 51,936 in Edmonton in 1994.
Canada (1-2-1) sits third in Pool A in the penultimate round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2018 tournament in Russia, trailing second-place Honduras (1-2-1) on goal difference.
Mexico (4-0-0), ranked 16th in the world by FIFA, leads the group and has already qualified for the final round, followed by No. 86 Honduras, No. 95 Canada and No. 98 El Salvador (0-2-2).
Only the top two teams advance.
Following that home defeat to powerhouse Mexico, Canada fell 2-0 at Azteca Stadium in the return fixture and has little room for error with two games to go.
“We need to understand what is good, what is bad in order to prepare the team in the best way,” said head coach Benito Floro. “The majority of the mistakes on the pitch are tactical mistakes. Tactical mistakes are in relation to habits.”
Canada visits Honduras on Sept. 2 and realistically needs a draw or a victory in that one to have the El Salvador match in Vancouver mean something.
“We owe our fans a game,” Floro said with a grin. “We want to leave another good party.”
Canada’s last World Cup qualifying campaign ended 3 1/2 years ago in Honduras thanks to an 8-1 beating that badly damaged the men’s brand.
Montagliani said making the final round in this cycle—something Canada hasn’t accomplished since the lead up to France 1998—is important not only for this World Cup, but also to grab the attention of supporters the way the women’s team did at the 2012 Olympics.
“The men’s program, it’s a difficult road,” said Montagliani. “We play in a very difficult region. I’m not sure some of our casual fans understand how difficult CONCACAF really is.
“Those are the cards we’re dealt and we have to find a way to find success.”
Montagliani added that the recent attendance figures don’t really impact a potential bid for the men’s World Cup.
But they don’t hurt either.
“At the end of the day, FIFA’s not going to look at what your attendances were at your national team games,” said Montagliani. “By the same token it just shows what we can do.”