Canada came from a goal down to earn another respectable draw against a mid-weight European opponent. But if the performance showcased some positives, it also highlighted the long, uncertain road ahead for the Men’s National Team.
It was as assured a Canadian performance as we have seen in the last 19 months, but it was also a prime example of why there will be no easy solutions to the ongoing goal-scoring concerns that continue to plague the Men’s National Team.
Following a jittery start to the game that saw the Canadians go behind just seven minutes in after conceding a sloppy opening goal, Benito Floro’s troops responded well with Tosaint Ricketts scoring just two minutes later and Canada going on to assert themselves as the better team for the vast majority of the game.
Floro’s side strung together impressive spells of tidy possession, with up-and-coming left-back Jeremy Gagnon-Laparé impressing in a composed performance in the left-back role and, sincerely, there were many positives to point to in a game that Canada deserved to win.
But, and there always is a ‘but’ with this team, the Canadians simply weren’t able to produce the telling pass or the moment of individual brilliance that was required to unlock a Moldovan side that defended resolutely with two well-organized banks of four.
“I am happy because the team is progressing, and the players are happy because they can see the progress,” said Floro after the game.
The progress is genuinely evident.
This is a much better Canadian team than the one that limped through the Gold Cup and failed to inspire in a series of autumn friendlies.
But frustratingly for Canadian supporters, this re-organized version of the national team still seems worryingly incapable of putting even mid-weight opponents like Moldova to the sword.
Canada went behind early on a goal that Adam Straith and André Hainault will wish that they could have another go at defending.
Inexplicably, Moldovan front man Eugeniu Sidorenco found himself completely unmarked in the heart of the penalty area – and he proceeded to nod home the simplest of headers from a routine cross in the seventh minute.
It looked, for a moment at least, like it might be a long evening in the dreary Austrian rain for Canada.
But if Benito Floro can be credited with one major achievement thus far in his tenure as coach, it is that he has Canada looking impressively organized for set pieces, and this preparation proved to be crucial.
Floro and his staff had identified that Moldova left the back post largely unguarded on set plays and on-cue Pedro Pacheco delivered a looping cross to the back stick, Hainault rose the highest to nod it down and Ricketts stabbed it home from five yards out.
Just like that, Canada were back on level terms.
And for Ricketts – who is again out of contract owing to the fact that Turkish side Bucaspor failed to pay his wages for the final three months of the season – it was a goal that might go a long way to attracting some attention as he looks to sort himself out with a deal at a new club.
“It feels great,” Ricketts said post-match. “It’s always good to get on the score sheet and it’s incredible to score for your country. I’m just going to enjoy my vacation and see what options come in.”
From that point forward, Canada kept the ball away from Moldova for fun.
It was like a repeat of those World Cup Qualifying home games against Honduras and Panama where the Canadians strung together passes by the dozen, stretched their opponents from touch-line to touch-line, but somehow failed to break into the final third with any vigour.
Atiba Hutchinson used his thigh to direct a nicely delivered Nik Ledgerwood cross onto to the bar later in the first half and Simeon Jackson scuffed an effort just wide of the post as well – but that attacking thrust died out as the game entered the second half.
It was in fact the 19-year-old Gagnon-Laparé who came the nearest to creating any moments of incision as he combined well with Jackson, Pacheco and Hutchinson as he surged forward down the left flank on a number of occasions.
The boy looks like a real player.
Technical ability, intelligent instincts and a hunger to get forward? He’s got it all, in spades.
It’s becoming quite the mystery why he hasn’t been offered a professional contract by Montreal yet and you get a sense that he may already be looking across the Atlantic at options.
But despite his forays and no shortage of running from the likes of Jackson and Ricketts, Canada simply couldn’t find a way through.
Cyle Larin came on in place of Randy Edwini-Bonsu, but the UCONN man from NCAA looks well off the pace at international level and you would guess that he will be at least a few years in the making once he enters a professional environment.
And so it ended.
Barring a couple of late chances for the Eastern Europeans, Canada had pegged back Moldova for the entirety of the second half whilst hardly getting a look at goal.
There was positivity to be drawn from a composed, assured and controlling performance – but also worry, and a sense of dread, at the thought that despite dominating so much of the play Canada had hardly had a sniff in the Moldovan penalty area.
I asked Floro, with a sense of real empathy after the game, what, if anything, he as the Canadian coach can do to resolve the country’s long-standing shortage of goals.
He offered a sigh, a smile and a shrug of the shoulders before responding.
“We have to find a way to continue to create chances,” he said.
He also added that he, and his staff, are on the “permanent” search for a player who may be eligible to come in and add some attacking threat.
“We will continue looking for another forward similar to Cyle Larin who can come in and help Ricketts and Simeon Jackson.”
Sadly for Floro, this is not club football and Canada cannot simply go out and acquire a centre forward capable of delivering goals at this level. And barring the discovery of a hidden gem lurking somewhere overseas with ties enough to the country to acquire a Canadian passport – there may be no one-man solution to the problem.
The Spanish coach will likely be better served by trying to coax the mysteriously-absent Lucas Cavallini back into a Canada kit; and by finding a way to help up-and-comer Caleb Clarke come up with a fitness regime to stem his worryingly growing list of injuries.
Looking further down the line. Is it too soon to incorporate the likes of Jordan Hamilton and Hanson Boakai into these experimental squad lists? Only time will tell.
For now, the former Real Madrid boss will have three months to contemplate his options as he prepares for the first home match of his tenure, when Canada will take on Jamaica at BMO Field on September 9th.
With Canadian support for this team having plummeted in the wake of the ‘horror in Honduras’, the Canadian Soccer Association will have its work cut out when it sets about trying to entice its Toronto fan-base into coming out for an Tuesday evening friendly.
Barring an inspired turnout by the Voyageurs and the country’s other die-hard Canadian supporters, Floro might be in for a taste of the return to away-dominated home games that Canadian football was previously forced to endure for the better part of the last two decades.
Any way you cut it – there are no shortcuts to glory for the Men’s National Team.
Only hard work, diligent planning and committed endeavour will stand a chance from here.