Canada 0 – United States 0
The Prelude to Battle
The Canadian Men’s National Team arrived back at BMO Field in Toronto on Sunday to officially kick off the third round of World Cup qualifying with the Canadian Soccer Association’s Centenary match against the United States. Decked out in their centenary blue-and-white kits, Canada went into this one aiming to build some momentum heading into World Cup qualifiers against Cuba on June 8 and Honduras on June 12 and test themselves against a perennial CONCACAF superpower in the form of Landon Donovan and company.
As expected, Canada’s top midfielder Atiba Hutchinson sat this one out, as Stephen Hart’s lynchpin in the middle of pitch is reported to be a fitness concern for Canada match in Havana next week.
While the outcome of this fixture meant little compared to Canada’s next two World Cup qualifying matches, there was no doubt that the home side were going benefit on a number of levels if they could vanquish the big, bad Americans in Canada Soccer’s 100th Anniversary celebration. First and foremost, a strong performance would give the Canadian team a confidence boost heading into the games that really matter. Secondly, a successful result over the United States would likely generate a different type of momentum at the box office and in terms of the home support that will be vital for Canada in their match against Honduras at BMO Field on June 12th.
The Opening Forty-Five
This one kicked off with the United States dominating possession in early going, as the Americans kept Canada pinned back in their end of the pitch for much of the first fifteen minutes.
The United States came close to opening the scoring in the 15th minute when Edgar Castillo volleyed a shot from distance that Canadian keeper Lars Hirschfeld was just able to tip over his cross bar.
Two minutes later, Canada came very close with a chance of their own when right back David Edgar delivered an excellent cross that was just inches out of the reach of a sliding Olivier Occean.
As the opening half progressed, Canada got better and better and were the better team for much of the latter part of the first half, with the pace of Tosaint Ricketts, the physicality of Olivier Occean and the solid two way play of Nik Ledgerwood standing out for the home side.
Canada appeared to open the scoring in the 34th minute when Ledgerwood grabbed a loose ball and unleashed a fantastic finish to put the ball past Howard into the back of the United States net, but it was called back on a foul against Dwayne De Rosario, much to the dismay of the Canadian supporters in the south stands. Following the match, De Rosario stated to reporters that he had no idea what the foul had been called for and that he thought the goal should have counted.
Regardless, after a tough opening ten minutes, it was an encouraging display by the men in the blue kits and Canada played well enough to show that they can compete against the United States and any team in CONCACAF when they play smart, patient and positionally sound football.
||Props to GK Lars Hirschfeld & our #Canmnt on the shutout 2day. My highlight of the game was Lars Hirschfeld save at the end.#takingNOTES
The Second Half
The home side continued to pour on the pressure in the second half, as Canada pushed forward deliberately as a unit.
Canada engineered another excellent scoring opportunity early in the second half when the pace of Ricketts was too much for the US to contain and the right winger unleashed a dangerous ball through the U.S. box. Unfortunately, once again centre forward Olivier Occean just missed connecting with it and redirecting it on goal.
The Canadians had their best scoring chance of the match in the 61st minute when some excellent ball movement finished with Dwayne De Rosario unable to tuck the ball past Howard a few feet out from the goal line.
In the 68th minute, substitute striker Simeon Jackson showed some nice forward thrust that allowed him to unleash a shot that was close but several inches over the cross bar.
Canada continued to dominate play for the remainder of the game, but could not find that final ball or finish to beat Howard. The Canadian had an excellent chance to win it in injury time when some De Rosario broke down the U.S. defence and delivered a pass that Jackson should have scored on but redirected wide of the right post. Similarly, the United States had their best scoring chance of the game in injury time when Lars Hirschfeld made the save of the game to preserve the victory.
The Final Word: Plenty of positives for Canada
It wasn’t a win for Canada, but it was pretty much the next best thing, as this was an all around solid performance against a high quality opponent. Stephen Hart’s side can now take some much needed confidence and momentum from this draw into their World Cup qualifiers over the next week and a half.
At the keeper position, Hirschfeld was rarely tested but he came up with an absolutely huge save in injury time to preserve the draw and the clean sheet. That one play alone essentially qualified the veteran keeper for Man of the Match.
The back line of David Edgar, Kevin McKenna, Andre Hainault and Ante Jazic was excellent and very strong in all facets of the game. While McKenna spoke pointedly after the match about the importance of team defense as a whole and the midfield work of Julian de Guzman, Will Johnson and Nik Ledgerwood in particular, the fact is that play of the back four was the base upon which this performance was built. If Canada can keep up the strong play defensively, then it doesn’t need to be said that good things are possible in this next round of World Cup qualifying.
Up top, Olivier Occean showed plenty of flashes as to why he has been the hottest Canadian goal scorer in Europe over the last couple of years, Dwayne De Rosario showed flashes of his usual brilliance and Tosaint Ricketts continued his upward progression as a contributor for Canada. The pace of the latter in particular caused issues for the United States and he played a solid two way game in which he added extra defensive coverage and got back to defend when the U.S. pressed forward on the attack.
The starting midfield trio of De Guzman, Johnson and Ledgerwood worked quite well as a unit and their play also bodes well for the next couple of matches. De Guzman again looked in his element for Canada, linking up the play and always making himself available to receive a pass and to keep the ball moving. Johnson was positionally sound and brought intelligence, strong passing and the ability to break up the American attack. Starting in place of the injured Atiba Hutchinson, Ledgerwood was probably the strongest of an excellent midfield trio. After playing regularly at right back in recent matches for Canada, he was something of a revelation for Canada in this game and delivered close to a standout performance with a solid, two way game.
In terms of the substitutes, Simeon Jackson came on a made a huge impact to Canada’s attack in the second half. While he missed one in injury time that he probably should have put away, the Norwich City striker was generally very active and had the United States on their back heels on several occasions in the second half.
Ultimately, the story on this day wasn’t so much about the individual performances. It was about Canada playing in a very controlled manner as a unit, as they built their game from a solid defensive base and generally played well enough to come away with a win. In fact, if you look at the foul call by the referee on the Ledgerwood goal as a missed call, this was really another game in which Canada should have won and had a goal against the United States taken away due to suspect refereeing.
If there was one drawback to this game from a Canadian perspective, it was Canada’s inability to be clinical in finishing their chances. It doesn’t really need to be stated that they will need to be better in that regard against Cuba and Honduras.
Very positively, Canada was all business in this very professional performance and there was no sentimentality when it came to Hart’s lineup decisions. 100th year celebration aside, this was Canada’s final tuneup before the resumption of World Cup qualifying and the team sent the message that they are ready to go in the games that matter.
Whether or not some of Canada’s question marks at certain positions on the flanks were answered or not, several players did not do their chances of starting in the next two games any disservice. Expect to see Dwayne De Rosario playing in place of the injured Josh Simpson against Cuba and Honduras. Ante Jazic was very solid at left back and it would be a surprise if Hart did not stick with his experience in the games that matter. David Edgar got the start at right back and, one bad back pass aside, did very well for himself. At right wing, Tosaint Ricketts again showed that his pace is genuine weapon when it is used in a controlled manner.
6 De Guzman
14 De Rosario
(65) Jackson in for Occean; (72) Pacheco in for Ledgerwood; (86) Hume in for Ricketts; Piette in for De Guzman; (88) Klukowski in for Jazic.