Exploria Stadium will continue to host important international matches this year. (FrontRowSoccer.com Photo)
There is little doubt what city is the center of the North American soccer universe these days – Orlando, Fla.
The city was home to the MLS is Back tournament last July.
It is hosting the SheBelieves Cup, which has pits the USA, Canada, Brazil and Argentina women’s in a tournament, and has welcomed teams to play against the U.S. men’s national team.
Now, we can add its Canadian counterparts to the list.
Canada Soccer Tuesday announced its opening match of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers against Bermuda will be played at Exploria Stadium in Orlando, Fla. Thursday, March 25.
The closed-door match will be the first of four qualifiers scheduled for March and June from which only the group winner will advance to the next round.
The Canada-Bermuda match will be broadcast live on One Soccer (8 p.m. ET / 17.00 PT). Fans will find extended coverage across Canada Soccer’s digital channels on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube featuring the hashtag #CANMNT.
After Bermuda, Canada is scheduled to face Cayman Islands March 28, Aruba June 5 and Suriname June 8. Thirty Concacaf nations are competing in this first round with six group winners advancing to a second round of head-to-head knockout matches.
“Canada Soccer continues to prioritize the safety for all of our players and staff throughout the global COVID-19 pandemic,” Canada Soccer general secretary Peter Montopoli said in a statement. “Canada Soccer has established the international camp protocols for national teams which will be adhered to for the hosting of this all-important home match for our men’s national team in the FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar qualifiers. In addition, the game will be staged in accordance with the FIFA international match protocols supported by the relevant public health requirements in Orlando.”
The Canadian men trained and played in Orlando in November 2019 (their most recent competitive match in Concacaf Nations League A) while Exploria Stadium has most recently hosted the SheBelieves Cup matches featuring Canada Soccer’s Women’s National Team.
“We want to ensure that our best players wear the red shirt and represent Canada because those players want to change the sport in our country by qualifying for the FIFA World Cup™,” Canada men’s head coach John Herdman said in a statement. “There is a group of players that have been part of the battle these past two years, they’ve been developing together on and off the pitch and they will be the narrators of what could be an amazing story for soccer in this country.
“It is important that when competing in Concacaf, at a stage where every game has so much at stake, that we are always at our strongest. We know this a long campaign consisting of 20 matches to reach Qatar 2022 and there are various stages in this campaign for which we have to plan, but we will be taking it one game at a time with a laser-like focus on reaching the Concacaf Final Round.”
From the first round of qualifiers, the Group B winner will face the Group E winner in a second-round, head-to-head series June 12 and 15. The winner from that second round then advances to the Concacaf final round of eight nations in which each nation will play each opponent twice (once at home and once on the road).