While World Cup qualifying has already taken the Canadian men to hostile ground in Haiti, Mexico and Jamaica in recent months, coach John Herdman expects his team will get a real taste of CONCACAF when it faces Honduras in San Pedro Sula on Thursday.
Herdman says the Canadians are "looking forward to being tested by the crowd, by the Honduran team that are really fighting for their World Cup survival — and just everything that comes at us."
"We've spoken about these things a lot," he added. "And we dealt with some of this in Haiti, some really interesting things that were going on behind the scenes that probably the public and media would never have been aware of … But at the end of the day, this group are clear. They've got a clear purpose. No matter what is going to get thrown at us, I know that they're as committed to getting a result as any team I've ever worked with."
Thursday's match at the Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano is the first of three in a week during the FIFA international window, with games against the U.S. and El Salvador to follow.
Canada (4-0-4, 16 points) and Honduras (0-5-3, three points) are at opposite ends of the table in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying.
The two teams tied 1-1 when they met in Toronto last September but the 40th-ranked Canadians have gone unbeaten since, collecting 15 points, while No. 76 Honduras has added just two.
Canada holds a 13-5 edge in scoring in its first eight games while the Hondurans have been outscored 15-5.
Still Honduras traditionally has been a different team at home and the Hondurans have their backs against the wall in qualifying.
"It's going to be a hell of a fight … It's going to be a tough night," said Herdman.
And San Pedro Sula is a tough place to visit.
A decade ago, Honduras' second-largest city held the dubious honour of being designated the murder capital of the world. Even today the Canadian government recommends avoiding non-essential travel to parts of San Pedro Sula "due to instances of violent crime, increased gang activity and violent demonstrations" while advising visitors to Honduras to "exercise a high degree of caution" due to crime.
The Canadians are not spending much time there, choosing to fly in and out.
Herdman conducted his virtual pre-game media availability Wednesday from Florida where the team trained ahead of an afternoon departure.
A question-mark hangs over influential midfielder Stephen Eustaquio, who according to Portuguese reports has tested positive for COVID. Eustaquio has just completed a loan move in Portugal from FC Pacos de Ferreira to Porto,
"We're still waiting for Stephen Eustaquio's arrival — for medical reasons. He'll be day by day," Herdman said. "So we're just waiting to see if he's cleared to come in. We're hopeful. We could see him at any time."
Goalkeeper Jayson Leutwiler, who plays in England for Oldham Athletic, was already in Honduras waiting for the team, he added.
The Canadians return home to face the 11th-ranked Americans on Sunday at Hamilton's Tim Hortons Field before making the 3,400-kilometre trip to San Salvador to face No. 70 El Salvador next Wednesday.
Herdman calls its probably the trickiest part of Canada's World Cup qualifying journey with a congested schedule, challenging travel, MLS players in pre-season and a half-dozen players on yellow cards. Not to mention the "COVID time bomb," leaving coaches wondering what the morning medical update will bring.
"But I keep saying this to the group — 'This is what we're built for,'" said Herdman, citing previous travel during the pandemic.
Three games in seven days will mean rotating a roster that is without Bayern Munich star Alphonso Davies, who has been sidelined by myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, after testing positive for COVID.
Herdman said Davies will be missed on and off the pitch "because he brings such an infectious spirit to the group. You know when Phonzie's here."
Come March, the top three teams will represent North and Central America and the Caribbean at Qatar 2022 while the fourth-place side faces an Oceania country in an intercontinental playoff to see who joins them.
Canada tops the qualifying standings, one point ahead of the 11th-ranked Americans (4-1-3, 15 points) and two ahead of No. 14 Mexico and No. 63 Panama (both 4-2-2, 14 points).
Canada has had little success on Honduran soil in the past however, with a 1-7-3 career record there. The Canadian men are 0-4-1 at Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano, where their 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign ended in an 8-1 shellacking in October 2012 that prevented Canada from reaching the final round of qualifying in the region.
The Canadian men were ranked No. 61 at the time, five places higher than Honduras.
They lost 2-1 in their last visit there, in September 2016 in a 2018 World Cup qualifying match. Canada was ranked No. 100 back then while Honduras was No. 84.
Canada's lone win in Honduras was in August 1985 in the capital of Tegucigalpa with substitute George Pakos scoring the only goal of the game.
Canada's overall record against Honduras is 7-11-7.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2022
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press