JACK: The night of Neverland that never will be forgotten

Turns out it never really was about the snow.

Fittingly, on one of the greatest occasions the sport will ever see in this country, it had to be about something far more meaningful than something that disappears quickly.

Winters in Edmonton can be long but the snow will move on, eventually. Canadian Soccer will be far more fortunate and allowed to reflect a lot on a night where they laid down the kind of seeds that will allow the game to flourish for years to come. Moving on? The team will, of course, move on to January, where points will be on the line again, but the reference points laid on a spectacular November night will stick with many across this great land.

That’s the thing about being on a journey to a new destination. Should you embrace it, the path can take you places you will never experience ever again. Open your eyes, don’t sleep and take it all in.

This was always going to be that kind of night. Win, lose or draw, the prospect of welcoming Mexico to a competitive qualifier on a winter’s night in Alberta, while attempting to qualify for a World Cup for the first time in 36 years, ensured it was truly a once in a lifetime event.

Both teams will be hosting matches at the 2026 World Cup, avoiding the next cycle of qualifying, and beyond that an inflated tournament will forever ensure that the grind that comes with a desire to claim three exclusive spots from this region establishes that clearly this will never happen again. Never.

Neverland. Home to a different Fairy Tale than Peter Pan, where the imagination of those connected to Canadian Soccer are not just simply watching their dreams come true – after all even this is too good to believe for some – but, instead, are captivated by scenes that their wildest imaginations would never have fantasized over. ‘Pinch me, are these happening moments’.

Neverland, Alberta on the night of Tuesday November 16, 2021 took them to utopia, where real life characters bring their own version of magic and happy endings, replacing past narratives to surprise and enthral new viewers and shock ones who have been tormented by disappointments for decades.

Welcome all and all are coming. Fans for decades and fans for days. Media that were there when no one else wanted to cover the sport and those that cared little until it was suddenly relevant for them to do so. Score updates announced at NHL hockey games, celebrities wanting to hang out with players and over a million people watching live on Sportsnet are signs the tide is turning. Little by little, waves of soccer momentum have been crashing on Canada shores for some years now, but here comes one the size you’ll see on a viral TikTok video. That’s what an invite to join the world’s best in the biggest sporting event in the world will do.

There are no words more powerful, placed together, in this sport than World Cup. Canada now has more than a good chance to reach the ultimate destination, which will feel warm in many different ways, but for this sport in this country, it was always going to be more about the journey than simply about the destination. When you reach your goal, there can be plenty of benefits waiting for you, but few come close to the improvised, explosive emotions that come taking the steps during the pursuit. This is what was needed to capture this country and exactly what this sport and what this group of players needed right now.

Perhaps, then, it should come as no surprise to anyone that the least surprised of all are those who saw this script before they even acted out the scenes. We are often drawn to the physical aspects that excite us about players. Skillful, quick, strong. Their mentality, though, is always the key ingredient to drive a team forward, fueled by belief and discernment for what’s happening on the pitch. Observe, scan, plan and execute in the moments you prepare yourself for before they arrive.

To tell the story of how Canada beat Mexico in a qualifier for the first time since 1976, we must remember what happened in the heat of Houston in July’s Gold Cup semi-final between the two teams. To learn how to beat El Tri, Canada had to lose and lose painfully that night. Hector Herrera’s winning strike, nine minutes into injury time, may have sunk Canadian heads momentarily, but seconds after the whistle, key players like Jonathan Osorio and Mark-Anthony Kaye, felt a reassurance come over them. They were not the only ones. Kaye told a disappointed head coach, John Herdman, on the pitch that night: ‘we will qualify for the World Cup’.

Process over outcome. Trust the process, play well, stay united on and off the field, believe it will happen and let the outcome take care of itself. Some would say the ball was cruel in the Texas night as it left Herrera’s boot and flew into the air and into the back of the net. Yet, in a game where endless amounts of good fortune can make a substantial difference when it comes to the outcome of the game, it is vital teams evaluate themselves and their performances better than anyone else. This leads to contentment in what you have accomplished, regardless of the outcome. Success cannot simply be judged on the scoreline. Success comes from real satisfaction that through all of the hard preparation and sacrifice teams know that they gave it their all and did it to their best ability. That’s how Kaye and Canada felt in Houston. They then took it to Mexico City and it ignited a performance that led them to getting a point, the least they deserved.

Third time turned out to be a charm against Mexico. This time, in Edmonton, the team believed they would win and it is that collective spirit of togetherness that continues to serve them so well. A ‘we before me’ mentality. On a night when Cyle Larin’s soft feet produced two goals, in a week when the silent assassin, Jonathan David, also won them a game, in a city where a true Starboy arrived home from Germany and a midfield maestro named Steph, did his best Xabi Alonso impression, as a magnificent midfield maestro, alongside a record-breaking midfielder, who did it in a venue fit for the king he is, it would be easy to highlight individual performances. Yet, we could go on and on.

Brilliant, individual performances will always help. Thousands paid to come watch Alphonso Davies, after all, but left thinking of many other players also dressed in black. That’s what makes this Fairy Tale such a gripping story. This group represents all of what is good about Canada, from where they have come from, to being a likeable and approachable group off the pitch and a free-flowing, brave and exciting team on it. No one knows what future episodes will look like, but if those traits remain it will allow others to relate to them while they continue their own, special journey, wherever it may take them.

“Come with me where dreams are born and time is never planned.” – Peter Pan