Contributed by Steven Torres
Soccer Long Island Magazine rewinds this week to almost three decades ago, when a Canadian men's national team’s success of qualifying for several FIFA tournaments (Olympic Games, World Cup, etc.) helped lead them to the 1990 North American Nations Cup.
The North American Cup, that included Mexico and United States, was held entirely at Swangard Stadium in Burnaby, British Columbia from May 6-13, 1990.
"It was good for our program winning the trophy," said former striker John Catliff, in an interview in 2012. "For me, personally, I was coming off an injury that happened during a CONCACAF qualifying match against Honduras in 1985, which left me out of the 1986 FIFA World Cup. This title (North American Nations Cup) was a bit rewarding as it was nice to be back and fully recovered."
In a span of five years from the mid-to-late 1980s, Canada had achieved a string of successes: qualifying for the Olympic Games (Los Angeles 1984), two FIFA U-20 World Cups (USSR 1985; Chile 1987), World Cup (Mexico 1986) and U-16 World Cup (Scotland 1989).
The Maple Leafs recovered from the disappointment of failing to qualify for the 1990 World Cup in Italy when it captured the third edition of the North American Nations Cup. Known as the Corona 3-Nations Cup that year, the tournament was hosted by Canada for this first time.
"The atmosphere was good, and I remember the field (at Swangard Stadium) was great to play on," recalled Catliff in 2012, who scored 18 goals in 44 international appearances. "It was also one of the last internationals for our head coach Tony Waiters as we were in a transitional period because the nucleus of players from the 1984 Olympic Games had moved on.
"I was one of the younger ones from that team (Los Angeles 1984) and, along with myself, we had great new leadership moving forward for Canada such as Ian Bridge, Craig Forrest, Colin Miller and Frank Yallop."
Canada opened the three-nation event with a 1:0 victory over the U.S. on May 6th, thanks to a goal by Catliff in the 34th minute. The Stars & Stripes had sent what was widely considered to be a "B" team due to the full "A" team was hosting two international friendlies (vs. Malta on May 5; vs. Poland on May 9) in preparations for the 1990 World Cup.
Mexico, which had won the last two North American titles (1947, 1949), also posted a 1:0 victory over the U.S. four days later. Luis Flores scored the only goal of the match in the 20th minute' for El Tricolor, who were also in transition after not being allowed to participate in World Cup Qualifying due to FIFA's two-year suspension of its national association.
With Canada and Mexico each posting victories in their opening encounters, this set up the third and final match of the North American triangular on May 13.
Catliff gave the Maple Leafs' the lead in the 15th minute, but Flores equalized with a penalty kick 20 minutes after the interval. Catliff, though, proved to be the hero once again, scoring his second of the match with three minutes left on the clock.
"The first goal (against Mexico) was a header off a missed shot and then I remember it began to rain heavy, which water logged the field and that worked to our advantage," said Catliff in 2012. "The ball didn't move as it should with all the rain, so when I scored the second goal it was like I was taking a free kick and the shot went past the goalkeeper.
"Myself, along with a few other teammates, were used to playing on that field with our club, the Vancouver 86ers.We were also comfortable playing at Swangard Stadium as we had never lost an international match to Mexico there."
After the Maple Leafs competed in two consecutive CONCACAF Gold Cups (1991, 1993), Catliff led the squad to a second-place finish (behind Mexico) in the final round of 1994 World Cup Qualifying. That position earned them a play-off against Australia for a berth at the finals. All even at 3:3 after two legs, Canada failed to advance in heartbreaking fashion, falling on penalty kicks to the Socceroos.
The Canadians would eventually become the kings of CONCACAF, winning the 2000 Gold Cup. That team remains as the only side to lift the trophy besides Mexico and the U.S. in the competition's history.
Photo source Canadian Soccer Association.
Canada Roster – 1990 North American Nations Cup
Goalkeepers: Craig Forrest (Ipswich Town/ENG), Paul Dolan (Vancouver 86ers), Sven Habermann (Hamilton Steelers);
Defenders: Ian Bridge (Victoria Vistas), Patrick Diotte (FC Supra Montréal), Peter Gilfillan (Kitchener Spirit), Colin Miller (Hamilton Academical/SCO), Randy Samuel (Fortuna Sittard/NED), Peter Sarantopoulos (North York Rockets), Frank Yallop (Ipswich Town/ENG);
Midfielders: Jim Easton (Vancouver 86ers), John Fitzgerald (Toronto Blizzard), John Limniatis (Aris Tessaloniki FC/GRE), Jamie Lowery (Vancouver 86ers), Mike Sweeney (Boston Bolts/USA);
Forwards: John Catliff (Vancouver 86ers), Nick Gilbert (Toronto Blizzard), Doug Muirhead (Vancouver 86ers).
Coach: Tony WAITERS
Written by Steven Torres