PASADENA, Calif. – Canada, with serious aspirations of winning their second Concacaf Gold Cup championship this summer, haven’t had to look far for inspiration.
The Canucks excitedly watched the Toronto Raptors’ run to their first NBA title, captured last Thursday in a six-game triumph over the Golden State Warriors. They see parallels with what they’re trying to achieve and the Kawhi Leonard-led group.
“They stopped a country and united it, and we see it as our opportunity,” head coach John Herdman said before Saturday’s 4-0 tournament-opening romp over Martinique at the Rose Bowl. “All it’s done is give us the belief that, man, we can do this.
“I mean, who believes the Toronto Raptors are NBA champions? Holy [crap]! A team from Canada taking the title? They did it. So who’s to say this [national soccer] team aren’t going to be the Gold Cup champions and raise the eyebrows? That’s the opportunity. That’s why we’re here.”
Herdman, an Englishman, acknowledged he was “new” to hoops – “I never grew up watching basketball; it was never a part of the culture in England” – but most of his players know the sport. Those from Toronto, such as Toronto FC’s Jonathan Osorio and LAFC’s Mark-Anthony Kaye, are die-hard Raptors fans.
“My friends were all partying in the streets all night,” said Osorio, who wore a Vince Carter jersey as a kid but mostly watched the Raptors on TV because his family “didn’t have money to spend to go to games.”
“It’s motivation, for sure,” he said. “Now it’s our turn to try and get that reaction from the country.”
Kaye called it “massive” for Toronto.
“I think they needed that,” the midfielder said. “Toronto is such a big sports city, where the demand for success is very high, so the fact that they were able to pull off this magical win, it’s great. We’re going to use that as motivation for this tournament.”
Herdman says the inspiration extends well beyond the Gold Cup. The Canucks have a tough road to get to the July 7 final, with Wednesday’s showdown in Denver against Mexico possibly the first of two meetings en route to Chicago.
“To see a team ignite a country the way they did, ignite a city, it just really sets the tone for what we can achieve as well in football,” Herdman said. “This what we’re here to do. It’s the purpose behind everything we’re doing. It’s to try to put this country on the map as a football country, and the Raptors have just showed that anything is possible. …
“Seeing the Raptors capture the hearts and minds of our country, this is what this team is aspiring to do. It’s been a Gold Cup [title] in 2000 and [qualifying for the World Cup in] 1986 since we brought that level of respect and credibility and real interest in this national team, and that’s the motivation behind this group. That’s the vision they’re going after.”