June 13, 2012
Email Steve Bottjer
|Read this on your iPhone/iPad or Android device
Canada 0 – Honduras 0
The Prelude to Battle
Fresh off a win away against Cuba in their opener of the Third Round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying on Friday, Canada arrived back at BMO Field on Tuesday with only one goal – to defeat Honduras and earn six points from two matches while at the same time engineering a result that would put the Hondurans behind the eight ball with zero points from their first two games.
Honduras had been the team that had put the put boot to Canada in a similar situation four years ago in Montreal and this game presented Canada with an opportunity to earn a little bit of revenge against the team that now looks like it will be Canada’s main rival for a spot in the final round of qualifying.
Canada received a huge boost in the form of midfielder Atiba Hutchinson’s return to the starting eleven. Interestingly, this move did not result in Nik Ledgerwood – a hard working high performer in Canada’s previous two matches – going back to the bench. Instead, Head Coach Stephen Hart elected to start Ledgerwood at right wing in place of Tosaint Ricketts, possibly with an eye towards using the lightning quick attacker as someone to come on and run at a weary Honduran back line in the latter stages of the game.
The Opening Forty-Five
It became clear early on that this match was going to be a hard fought battle between two fairly evenly matched sides. While Canada would look more dangerous offensively, likely due to the confidence brought on by the majority 16,000 plus pro-Canadian crowd, Honduras very quickly asserted that they were at least more organized and technically proficient than Canada’s previous opponent, Cuba.
Keeper Milan Borjan would be tested early on a 2nd minute cross into his box on which he showed sure hands and a confident command of his penalty area.
Canada’s first genuine scoring chance came in the 7th minute when David Edgar delivered a low ball through the opposition box that Honduran keeper Noel Valladares just corralled before a sliding Dwayne De Rosario could redirect it into the back of the net.
In the 18th minute, De Rosario kept Valladares on his toes with a dipping shot from distance that Honduran keeper confidently handled.
Honduras defender Maynor Figueroa earned the first yellow card of what was at times a chippy and physical first half when he took down Olivier Occean just outside the Honduras penalty area.
This match evolved into a more traditional CONCACAF affair as the opening half played out, with Hondurans diving and sometimes feigning that they had been shot at the slightest touch.
Canada came close again in the 29th minute when De Rosario cut into the box and opened up space for himself. Unfortunately for the home crowd, he got under his shot and delivered it high over the net.
The men in red came close again a couple of minutes later when midfielder Atiba Hutchinson made a breathtaking and dazzling run through the centre of the pitch and was brought down just outside the Honduras box. On the ensuring spot kick, the silky smooth attacking midfielder could not keep his shot down and it sailed high over the crossbar.
In a nice bit of irony, Olivier Occean would earn the first yellow card for diving on a play that neither warranted a card or a penalty kick.
After an impressive first half by Canada, the two teams would leave pitch deadlocked at 0-0.
The Second Half
||Piss off. I don't agree with Hart's decision to leave Jackson off that long. Our inability to score will continue to haunt us.
Some sloppy passing would hinder both sides in the second half, with neither team able to find that killer pass needed to break the deadlock and Canada unable to duplicate the impressive form the team had shown in the opening half for stretches of the second forty-five.
Canada came within inches of opening the scoring on a 68th minute corner kick that David Edgar headed just inches wide of the right post.
The Canadians continued to struggle offensively as the half went on, with the game progressively looking like it was going to end in a scoreless draw. Canada was generating chances but could not find that final dagger that would result in a crucial goal.
Head Coach Hart would bring on Tosaint Ricketts, Iain Hume and Simeon Jackson to spur the Canadian attack, but ultimately to no avail.
Honduras had a decent chance to score a winner when Roger Espinoza sailed a dangerous shot over the crossbar in the 89th minute. Other than that chance, the Hondurans sat back and looked very much like a team that was content to earn a draw away from home.
In the final minutes of a frustrating second half, Canada oh so close again in injury time on a corner kick that Kevin McKenna was able to get a head on but was unable to get on target.
The Footy Show's Jame Sharman spoke to Jonathan de Guzman:
Following the match, Head Coach Stephen Hart lamented the fact that his team was unable to earn three points from a game in which they were the better team and in which they generated the majority of the scoring chances.
“I’m not happy with the point. I thought we moved the ball well in the first half and passed the ball well. We got into good situations and at times the final pass was just missing and/or some quality on the finish. In the second half I thought we were a bit tentative and were trying to play too fast at times and not dictating the tempo of the game. Funnily enough, we created the better chances and unfortunately we didn’t score,” said Hart.
When asked about Canada’s continuing struggles to finish their chances, Hart could only state that the team has to be better in that one facet of the game.
“I keep saying the same thing. That if we keep creating chances, then hopefully somebody will hit form. But I thought we missed some easy chances and we need to better on that,” stated Hart.
Forward Tosaint Ricketts echoed the obvious while at the same time providing his thoughts on the performance of Honduras and the positive manner in which Canada has been defending.
“I think they were in trouble. We were keeping the ball and I don’t think they are used to teams keeping the ball against them. Defensively, we have been incredible throughout the whole camp with a clean sheet. Overall it was good, but we just have to be a little sharper in the final third and put some of those chances away” said Ricketts.
Team captain Kevin McKenna continued on a similar theme and expressed his belief that Canada was going to need to be forceful going forward when they face off against Panama in their next two qualifying matches.
“We have to accept the result. But if I look at all three games, I think we should have won all three games that we have played so far. In the end, we also only scored one goal in those three games and that’s our biggest problem. I think for the next game we really need to take the initiative and go at Panama and grab the result,” said McKenna.
Midfielder Will Johnson parroted his captain and expressed his belief that Canada is still progressing in the right direction.
“There is definitely a sense of disappointment. We left two points out there. Two important points at this stage. We are going to have to put that behind us pretty quickly and start to look forward to the September games. Obviously, we have been really good defensively with three games and three shutouts. But at the end of the day I think we all really believe that we should have won all three of those games. We’re disappointed. We are making strides but probably not as quickly as we all would like,” said Johnson.
The Final Word:
A missed opportunity for Canada but still a start to build on
On the evening of one of the most important matches in the recent history of the Canadian Men’s National Team, it’s not hard to take a glass half full, half empty view of the final result. On the positive side of the equation, Canada is undefeated through its first two matches of the Third Round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying and the squad earned its third straight clean sheet against CONCACAF opponents.
Realistically, soccer can be a cruel game and if the Canadians had been able to deposit one of the headers that missed by inches into the back of the net, the analysis of the match likely would have been universally jubilant and positive from a Canadian perspective.
However, due to the missed chances, it is hard not see this result as something of a missed opportunity. Realistically, Honduras was there for the taking. They were the second best team on the night and at times looked like a mere shadow of the team that had qualified for the World Cup back in 2010. Four points from two matches is not a bad start to this round of qualifying for Canada but you also have to take into account how much Stephen Hart had previously emphasized winning at home and earning nine points from the team’s fixtures at BMO Field. Furthermore, it is a major warning sign for any team when you are held scoreless at home in such an important match.
As has been the case too many times for this iteration of the Canadian National Team, the Canadians could not find that final breakthrough pass or finish that would have guaranteed the result and that would have rewarded the excellent performance they displayed in all the other facets of the game.
The Hondurans did not really attack with authority and sat back for large stretches of the match. It’s not a major stretch to think that they reviewed Canada’s matches in the previous round and took a specific approach in this game that was meant to capitalize on the Canadian’s previous struggles against teams that bunkered down and only endeavoured to attack on the counter attack.
None of that is say that there aren’t positives to build on. Once again the back line and team defense as a whole was rock solid. Hart looks like he has found an excellent back four mixture in Edgar, McKenna, Hainault and Jazic that makes up for what it might lack in pace with strength, height, experience, excellent positioning and steely determination.
Canada was also the better team in the midfield, as Will Johnson, Julian de Guzman and Atiba Hutchinson won the majority of the midfield battles and provided an excellent shield for the back four. De Guzman was again one of Canada’s best players, as his technical ability and movement off the ball made him an especially effective engine for Canada in the middle of the pitch.
The return of Atiba Hutchinson to the starting eleven was another very positive happening. Simply put, when Hutchinson is match fit and on his game, he brings a genuine X-factor to the Canadian attack. He was probably the best player on either side in this game and all Canadian supporters should be praying to their deity of choice that he is fit and at his best for Canada’s remaining four matches in this round (and hopefully beyond).
Canada’s situation in World Cup qualifying now shifts to the type of dogfight that this round was always going to be. Hart and his team will need to regroup and rebound from this draw at home and discover a way to earn results in September against Panama, who now top the group with six points after two games.
18 Milan Borjan
2 Nik Ledgerwood
5 Andre Hainault
21 Ante Jazic
6 Julian de Guzman
13 Atiba Hutchinson
8 Will Johnson
4 Kevin McKenna
15 David Edgar
17 Olivier Occean
14 Dwayne De Rosario
Substitutions: (71) Ricketts in for Ledgerwood; (84) Hume in for Occean; (89) Jackson in for De Guzman.