Club legend Carl Valentine shares his memories playing in Mexico ahead of Vancouver Whitecaps FC's Champions League semifinal clash vs. Tigres UANL on Tuesday night in Monterrey, Mexico.
There really are no words to describe the thrill of qualifying for a World Cup, but that’s what we did back in 1985. And then, reality set in as I began to prepare for the 1986 World Cup in Mexico with the rest of the Canadian national team. I had never played in Mexico before and had no idea what to expect.
A big part of our camp was in Colorado, where we did our altitude training three times a day. It was my first experience and it’s a funny thing that happens when you get less oxygen in your blood. It was completely new to me and I spent days trying to get air as we ran and tried to adjust to the climate we were going into.
We had Hungary, Russia and France in our group and we all knew that we had to be fitter and more prepared if we were going to be competitive. If the quality of the opposition wasn’t enough, all three games were played at mid-day so we had to battle heat and altitude.
We did alright only losing 1-0, 2-0, and 2-0 and we had a few chances to score, especially against France. Overall, we felt really proud of the effort that was put into the games. And make no mistake, we left everything on the field.
I returned to Mexico a couple of times to play in a Gold Cup and qualifying match at Azteca.
This was a truly different experience as now the Canadian team were the enemies and their job was to make our lives as uncomfortable as possible. You have probably heard the stories of fans having parties outside our hotel at 3 a.m. the night before the game to make sure we didn’t get much sleep. This did happen on one of the trips, but fortunately security stepped in after an hour or so.
As I’ve said before, our ‘Caps fans are as passionate as they come but in Mexico supporting your team is like life and death.
Both times we had security escort us everywhere we went, but I always felt safe being there – even enough to venture out to meet the locals and buy some pretty neat bargains to take home.
Gameday was different.
That’s when the fans really treated us like the enemy and did everything they could to intimidate us and try to put us off our game. The funny thing is: they didn’t need to.
We already knew what we were up against.
Going into Mexico and trying to get a result was always a challenge. In fact, it's one of the toughest places to play. You knew the conditions you were going into and the hostile atmosphere that was going to be inside the stadium. Not to mention the fact that you were up against a very good team who played exceptional at home.
By the way, we lost both games 4-0. And those weren’t bad results.
Our ‘Caps are not up against the Mexican national team, but they could face some of the same conditions and will be playing against a top Tigres team who are 2016 Apertura champions.
There’s no doubt we will be underdogs going into this game, but so was Canada back in 1986 when we played one of the favourites to win the World Cup and came within nine minutes of a very famous result. That’s why you play the games, right?
Whitecaps FC Ring of Honour inductee Carl Valentine is the club's all-time leader in appearances and fourth all-time in goals scored. Currently, Valentine serves as a club ambassador and U-16 Residency assistant coach.