If ever there was a broad spectrum of cautious optimism (let alone overuse of the term), Canadian National Team supporters are now fully intimate with it. Coming home to BMO Field after starting the Third Round of World Cup Qualifying with a 1-0 win over Cuba, the team is halfway there to achieving the potential many have predicted but rarely seen.
Arriving in Toronto with possibly thousands of supporters in tow will be arguably Canada’s biggest rival in the region in Honduras. A team that looks to be a shell of the group who qualified for South Africa, are still dangerous player for player and boast some of Central America’s best up and coming talents.
Canada have been consistent in the last two matches, being well organized and appearing to be fully committed to the strategies Stephen Hart is implementing. Honduras will present a much different, and possibly more difficult challenge than seen over the last week, and if Canada are to come out of this game with all three points it will be through their best performance over the last year.
One of the toughest parts of breaking down this fixture is Canada vs. Honduras has become a rivalry on the level that recent form often is not an accurate indicator of who will come out on top. The emotions each nation has been developing, especially with Canada, for one another on the pitch supercedes what happened last week, month or year before.
Canada comes into this match on the back of two impressive displays that saw eleven players fully dedicated to an approach that was defensively secure and tenacious in physically battling in the midfield. This is possibly the first challenge for Stephen Hart when preparing for this game because a team from the US and the Caribbean are drastically different in their approach than those from Central America.
Caribbean teams have proven to be physically and athletically sound, which bodes well for Canada, but Central American teams, who are strong with technique but not as much in strength, will pose a real mental challenge to remain disciplined in what, almost without question, will be a scrappy affair. Not only will soft fouls be a major factor to watch for, but the backing of thousands of away supporters could influence the referee as is often the case with loud objection to calls.
Honduras come into this game appearing to be a team past their due date, which was the summer of 2010. Not only are they missing some key faces in Andy Najar, Hendry Thomas and Amado Guevara (retired), the spine in which they employed against Panama in their 2-0 loss is woefully out of form. Their most dangerous players in Celtic’s left-back Emilio Iziguirre and Tottenham’s Wilson Palacios did not seen enough games this year and former Houston Dynamo striker Carlos Costly is currently without a club.
If there is one thing to be wary of with Honduras it is the unknown. For several years now, they have been the nation in Central America that has been producing some excellent talent that has been able to step up and leave the Liga Nacional and succeed from MLS to the Premier League. Motagua, Olimpia and Marathón all have an impressive track record and Canada should note that the likes of Anthony Lozano, Alfredo Mejia and Johnny Leveron could all be players that could make an impact.
For Canada the approach is simple. They have been presented with an opportunity where should they come out on top, it would mean being halfway there to qualifying to the next round of World Cup Qualifying. Without underlining it with too much pressure, this is perhaps the most critical game in this round. Six points on the bounce would be absolutely essential to a surge of momentum and also support that has been luke warm over the last year.
The mantra that Stephen Hart will likely be preaching is more of the same. Canada has impressively been putting forth a display of unity in their last two games that has been anchored by a strong group of defenders who have been supported by the likes of Julian De Guzman, Will Johnson and Nik Ledgerwood. Legerwood might be a casualty to Atiba Hutchinson on this game, but with this group locking down the back line and midfield, there is plenty to be positive about that they can match up with a tricky Honduran attack.
The one area to keep an eye on for Canada is between the sticks. Lars Hirschfeld’s red card almost certainly puts Milan Borjan into the spotlight. One of Hirschfeld’s biggest strengths is his experience as well as shot stopping ability, while Borjan has proven to be an excellent distributor of the ball. His lack of experience will be the major question mark on how tall he can stand in such a critical game, but if his form from playing with FC Vaslui is any indication, as long as he gets the support up front, he should be able to get the job done.
A last area to watch for is obviously the attack and whether Canada can begin to shift into another gear when it comes to finishing. Olivier Occean’s goal against Cuba was a thing of beauty and the likes of Dwayne De Rosario, Tosaint Ricketts and Simeon Jackson will need to provide support if Canada are to win this game. Occean was absolutely huge in Havana, but more often than not, alone in the wilderness. De Rosario’s near misses without question will have to be converted as Honduras will likely take the chances Cuba missed and find a way to bury them.
In the end
When breaking it all down, this is perhaps Canada’s biggest match in since Jamaica came to BMO Field in 2008. An opportunity to sit atop the group and find themselves well en route to the Hex cannot be understated. So often with either the National Team or domestic teams in Canada, these games present themselves where the team can either make it easy or hard for themselves going forward. Canada must see this opportunity and go for it with everything they’ve got. The next set of matches is not until September, so there is no excuse. Honduras present a true rival that have dashed hopes before and now is a genuine chance to return the favour. With so much on the line, and emotions at play, at home in front of a voracious crowd, Canada should rule the day and provide real optimism to move onto the Hex.
Canada 2 – Honduras 1