Bolstered by a wave of Major League Soccer reinforcements, the Canadian men's soccer team is headed to Toronto for its first game in Canada's largest city since 2000.
The September 12 game against Costa Rica at BMO Field is the first in Toronto for the Canadian men since a 0-0 tie with Mexico in a World Cup qualifier on November 15, 2000 at Varsity Stadium, which was subsequently demolished.
Since then, the Canadian men have played 53 internationals. There were games in Burnaby, B.C., (3), Kingston, Ontario (2), Edmonton (1) and Montreal (1), but the Canadian soccer road usually led overseas - with stops in Austria, Barbados, Bermuda, Czech Republic, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Guatemala, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Jamaica, Japan, Libya, Luxembourg, Malta, Northern Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, USA, Venezuela and Wales.
Lack of a proper stadium kept Canada away. But now BMO Field beckons and coach Dale Mitchell says his players are happy to be coming back to Toronto.
"If you go through the roster, a lot of our players - and a lot of our key players as well - are from the Toronto area," he said. "I know that a lot of them are excited to be playing in their home town.
"And there's obviously been a lot of support for soccer in Toronto during the last six months and we're certainly hoping that continues with the national team on Wednesday against Costa Rica."
Costa Rica is ranked 66th in the world, 15 places above Canada.
Mitchell, no doubt, will be looking to erase memories of a lopsided 3-0 loss to Chile at BMO Field on July 1 in the FIFA U-20 World Cup.
The Costa Rica game is the second for Mitchell as coach of the senior side, following a 1-1 tie in Iceland on August 22.
It is also the first game for Canada since the resignation of Colin Linford as president of the Canadian Soccer Association, leaving the governing body without a president, chief operating officer and technical director.
Mitchell opted to select European-based players for the Iceland game, saying he would turn to MLS talent for Costa Rica. He lived up to that promise by including seven MLS players in his 20-man squad.
Mitchell was unable to bring in defender Kevin McKenna (FC Koln, Germany) and defender-midfielder Mike Klukowski (Club Brugge, Belgium), saying their clubs had requested they stay at home.
"We didn't push it at this time to get them in," Mitchell explained. "We want to keep the relationship going and down the road, as it starts to get more important, we're going to want to see these guys more. But right now, their clubs were a little reluctant to release them."
Defender Richard Hastings (Inverness Caledonian Thistle, Scotland) is still out with an injury suffered in training with Canada on the eve of the Iceland game.
And midfielder Tam Nsaliwa (AEK Athens, Greece) is in limbo when it comes to Canada thanks to what Mitchell calls “an issue” with his citizenship.
Born in Malawi, Nsaliwa came to Halifax with his family when he was eight before moving to Edmonton. The Canadian international played club soccer extensively in Germany before moving to Greece.
"It's fairly complicated," Mitchell said. "He's playing as an EU (European Union) player in Europe. In order to do that, he became a German citizen and there's some question about his Canadian citizenship now. We want to resolve it as quickly as we can, if we can."
MLS players on the roster include midfielder Kevin Harmse and defender Ante Jazic (Los Angeles Galaxy), midfielder Dwayne de Rosario (Houston Dynamo), defender Adrian Serioux (FC Dallas) and goalkeeper Kenny Stamatopoulos, defender Jim Brennan and defender-midfielder Chris Pozniak (Toronto FC).
Toronto FC coach Mo Johnston was unhappy with the Canadian national team's lack of a travelling doctor when starting goalkeeper Greg Sutton was injured in early June training with Canada at the Gold Cup. But his anger appears to have subsided.
"I'm happy for them to go," Johnston said in a statement. "Hopefully, they can play 90 minutes and get a good game under their belt."
Mitchell could elect to play Lars Hirschfeld in goal against Costa Rica, keeping Stamatopoulos safe on the bench. Stamatopoulos has taken over the starting job in Toronto from Sutton, who is out for the season.
The Canadian roster includes veteran striker Tomasz Radzinski, who recently signed with Xanthi in Greece.