Junior Hoilett: CanMNT can still qualify for CONCACAF hex

EDMONTON – Junior Hoilett believes the Canadian men’s national team can get to the Hex.

The national team winger, in Edmonton with his Cardiff City teammates, said Friday that he thinks Canada can get the results needed to leapfrog into CONCACAF’s top six ahead of the June 2020 cutoff for World Cup qualifying.

CONCACAF recently unveiled a new qualifying mechanism ahead of the 2022 World Cup. The top six teams — by FIFA ranking — in the region, as of June, 2020, will be put in the Hex. The top three get berths in the World Cup. Everyone ranked seven and below is placed into a super-tournament. The winner of that competition plays the fourth-placed team in the Hex – not for an automatic berth, but for a berth in the playoffs against a wild-card team from another region.

El Salvador is currently at six, with 1342 points. Canada is eighth, at 1314. Panama is sandwiched in the middle at 1322.

But Hoilett believes that getting big results in Nations League “A” against Cuba and the United States can get Canada where it needs to go.

“We’ve seen that there’s no group stages and we have to try and finish top rankings to get into the Hex,” Hoilett said, before touring Rogers Place in Edmonton. “We just have to stay focused and take every game as our last to get maximum points and try to get up the rankings into the top six seeds. We’ve got games coming up in September that we’ll be prepared for, and I am sure that we will be all right. We have a nice young squad and I think it’s one of the golden eras for Canada.”

Canada will face Cuba twice in September, and the Americans visit BMO Field on Oct. 15.

“It’s possible,” Hoilett said, of Canada’s chances. “We’re (eighth) now, we’re not that far off. We have games against Cuba and the USA in Group A of Nations League, so hopefully if we get the right results, that will boost us up to the proper seeding.”

Hoilett said getting results against the United States would be a “massive achievement” because of the bearing those games now have on not only the Nations League, but the World Cup qualifying process.

But Hoilett knows the Canadian team will have learned from the bitter disappointment of losing 3-2 to Haiti in the quarter-finals of the Gold Cup, too.

“I think we just have to take that as a lesson and learn from it and bring it into the games for the Nations League and try to get into the top seeds and qualify for the World Cup,” he said, of that loss.

Hoilett’s Cardiff City side, relegated to the English Championship, will play La Liga side Real Valladolid in a friendly in Edmonton on Saturday. And he’s enthusiastic about what he’s seen from the Canadian Premier League so far, too.

Hoilett had to leave his hometown of Brampton, Ont. when he was 13 to chase his pro soccer dream.

Now, Canadian kids don’t have to do that.

“I think the new generation of soccer, they have more outlets to break in and be a professional soccer player, like the CPL,” Hoilett said. “Now that it’s up and going, that’s a major platform for Canadian players to play in, as well. When I was growing up, I didn’t have that. There are more outlets, even MLS is a nice outlet for Canadian players as well.”