Walking through the tunnel at San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium for the start of their 2000 Gold Cup quarterfinal soccer match against Mexico, Canadian reserve Elvis Thomas caught a glance of Luis Hernandez laughing and having a great time.
Mexico’s fourth-leading scorer with 35 goals in 85 matches, Hernandez was rested for the match.
Ranked 10th in the world and a three-time Gold Cup champion, the Mexicans were expected to make light work of Canada – ranked 85th in the world – on their way to yet another Confederation of North, Central American & Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) regional championship.
That was not to be.
A Carlo Corrazin header in the 83rd minute tied the game at one after Mexico registered the game’s first goal in the 35th minute and Richard Hastings’ goal in the 92nd minute later sent Canada into the semifinals.
“After the match, Hernandez was in tears,” said Thomas. “A few days later, their coach was fired and I really grasped then how seriously the sport is taken in other countries. My other recollection of that match was that the majority of spectators were Mexican supporters.”
Canada went on to shut out Dwight Yorke’s Trinidad & Tobago 1-0 in the semifinals and brush aside favourites Colombia 2-0 in the championship match to achieve its greatest feat in international soccer.
Thomas and the rest of the 2000 national Gold Cup squad will be inducted into the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame on November 9.
A last-minute replacement for an injured Tomasz Radzinski, Thomas didn’t come off the bench in the Gold Cup.
That didn’t bother him.
“I was one of the younger players on the squad and I was happy to cheer the team on,” he said. “I was in the Cayman Islands trying to secure a teaching position and working with family friend Winston Chung-Fah (a Jamaican soccer coach and International Soccer Federation Order of Merit recipient) to get a soccer tryout in Europe when I got the call to join the national team. From there, it was a whirlwind. There were no cliques and I was readily accepted by the senior players who were true leaders. The camaraderie was also great throughout and that helped set the stage for the incredible wave we rode.”
Thomas’ spell with the senior national team was short-lived as he played just three matches.
After stints with the Connecticut Wolves, Toronto Lynx, Montreal Impact and the Toronto Olympians, he retired 11 years ago and returned to his alma mater – Neil McNeil Catholic Secondary School – to teach English and coach soccer.
Thomas, who just completed his national “B” coaching license exam, is on the Pickering Soccer Club’s coaching staff. The club’s members include his daughter, Savannah, who is on the Under-12 team and son, Xavier, who is on the Under-8 side.
A Toronto FC season ticket holder since the team made its Major League Soccer (MLS) debut seven years ago, Thomas attended the University of Hartford on a scholarship and was the captain in his last two seasons.