Canada will play 20th-ranked Japan in Niigata in an international friendly during the October FIFA international window.
But the 43rd-ranked Canadian men will be idle during the September window.
Organizing friendlies is a delicate balance of finding a suitable partner on and off the field. And the process is more complicated than simply figuring out when and where.
The big questions are who and how much.
Citing sources, the New York Times reported in May that Argentina was in such demand that the going rate for a single game with the World Cup champion came with a US$5-million starting point.
And Canada Soccer’s cupboard is pretty bare these days.
“The challenges that we have with respect to financial constraints are, I think, well documented,” Jason deVos, Canada Soccer’s interim general secretary, said in an interview. “We are not sitting in a situation where we’re able to spend significant amounts of money to ensure opponents.
“The reality in the international sphere now is you want play against the top teams, you have to secure their appearances and that typically comes with an appearance fee or covering some of the costs or all of the costs of their travel, their accommodations and what have you.
“We explored every opportunity for September that we possibly could.”
DeVos, a Canada Soccer Hall of Famer and former Canada captain, said Canada Soccer had a “very good opportunity” in early May to book a friendly in Europe in September.
“Unfortunately we just weren’t in a position to secure that at that moment in time,” said deVos, who was named interim general secretary on April 25. “I still needed to get my feet under the desk and get a better sense of what our financial reality.”
“Unfortunately when we went back a few weeks later to confirm that opportunity it was no longer there for us,” he added.
DeVos said Canada Soccer looked at other September options but “we just weren’t able to get the right balance of the competitive needs that the team has … with our financial reality.”
Other top CONCACAF teams are taking advantage of the September window. The 11th-ranked Americans are hosting No. 73 Oman and No. 74 Uzbekistan while No. 12 Mexico takes on No. 27 Australia and Uzbekistan, with both games also in the U.S.
The good news is that, under John Herdman, Canada has become a more attractive opponent.
“We are delighted to host Canada, one of the best teams in CONCACAF, who are well organized with highly talented players.” Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu said in a statement. “Canada will be one of the host nations for the next FIFA World Cup, so this will be a good opportunity to get a glimpse of what is to come in 2026.”
The Canadians’ style of play combined with their World Cup qualifying run in CONCACAF and subsequent showing in Qatar have added to their appeal.
“It’s a credit to the players that they’ve made that statement to the world,” said deVos.
Being co-host of the 2026 World Cup doesn’t hurt either. But Canada Soccer’s tumultuous year, given its ongoing labour dispute with its national teams, has not helped future planning.
Canada’s last outing was July 6, a penalty shootout loss to the U.S. in the Gold Cup quarterfinal in Cincinnati.
The Oct. 13 game against Japan, dubbed the “Mizuho Blue Dream Match” at the 42,300-capacity Denka Big Swan Stadium, is preparation for Canada’s November matches in the 2023-24 CONCACAF Nations League which serves as the qualifier for CONCACAF teams participating in next year’s Copa America.
The U.S. is hosting the South American championship in the summer of 2024 with 10 CONMEBOL teams plus six best CONCACAF teams as guests.
Canada, along with Costa Rica, Mexico and the U.S., has been drawn directly into the quarterfinal stage of the Nations League which will be played in a home-and-away format. The series winners move on to the 2024 Nations League final four and book their ticket to Copa America.
The four quarterfinal losers will meet in play-in games to determine the final two CONCACAF entries for Copa America.
Japan, the top-ranked team in the Asian Football Confederation, is 2-1-1 this year with all four games at the Kirin Cup where it tied No. 16 Uruguay 1-1, lost 2-1 to No. 17 Colombia and defeated No. 21 Peru 4-1 and No. 75 El Salvador 6-0.
The Japanese topped Group E at last year’s World Cup in Qatar, with 2-1 victories over Germany and Spain sandwiched around a 1-0 loss to Costa Rica. But their tournament ended in the round of 16 in a penalty shootout loss to Croatia.
“An outstanding opponent. Very challenging,” deVos said of the team known as the Samurai Blue. “And this is the type of preparation that our players need to continue their development, to continue to push towards playing those Tier 1 teams on a frequent basis.”
Canada has played Japan three times in the past, with one win and two losses.
The lone victory came last November in Dubai in the Canadians’ final warmup for Qatar with Lucas Cavallini’s 94th-minute penalty the decider in a 2-1 victory.
Japan won 2-1 in a March 2013 friendly in Doha and 3-0 in May 2001 in the FIFA Confederations Cup in Niigata. DeVos started that game, played at the same venue as the upcoming October friendly.
Canada earned its place at the eight-team Confederations Cup by virtue of winning the 2000 Gold Cup. After losing to co-host Japan, the Canadian men held mighty Brazil to a 0-0 draw in Ibaraki before falling 2-0 to Cameroon back in Niigata.
The Canadian men have won four of eight games this year with two ties and two losses, both to the U.S. But Herdman’s side has just one win in its last five outings, a 4-3 decision over Cuba at the Gold Cup.
That recent run includes the two losses to the Americans, in the CONCACAF Nations League final and via penalty shootout at the Gold Cup, and ties with Guadeloupe and Guatemala.
FIFA allows two friendlies in each of the September (4-12), October (9-17) and November (13-21) windows. DeVos said Canada Soccer continues to look at the possibility of a second game in the October window.