Canada unofficially kicks off the Third Round of World Cup qualifying with their Centenary friendly against the United States on Sunday, June 3 at BMO Field. Decked out in their 1912 blue-and-white kits, Canada will be in tough against an in-form USA who were just recently humbled by Brazil 4-1.
The story per usual is Canada coming into this match, and round of qualifying, with not many friendlies under their belt and questions of cohesiveness will certainly be raised against teams who often find a way to play three times as many matches in a calendar year.
Fortunately, this is not a match with real repercussions and the reality of it is part celebration and part working through ninety minutes in preparation for Cuba and Honduras the following week.
The U.S. might have looked poor against Brazil via the scoreline, but played very well at points and in 2012 have looked very good. Canada know their opponent well and what they need to get from this match – which might not be a win, but enough of a display to give themselves and supporters confidence heading into Havana, Cuba.
It is always difficult to come up with any accurate prediction of what to expect when Canada takes the field. With so few matches between international competitions, it is hard to gauge where the team stands as a unit and what to expect when the best players are finally together in one line-up. Individual form from domestic leagues and clubs, as seen from Olivier Occean, Dwayne De Rosario, David Edgar and Milan Borjan is one thing, but coming together for the Red and White with their first game in three months is quite another.
Julian de Guzman
Their last result was at the end of February where Stephen Hart could barely put together a full compliment of players and in the end lost 3-1 in their friendly against Armenia. Their last match prior was a 4-1 win in November against St.Kitts to finish off the Second Round of qualifying. While the team did get six games through the fall, only three over the last half a year is tough build something off of.
But Stephen Hart has gotten on with it, and with a solid camp in Florida ahead of this match, Canada will have to make due. Unfortunately they have already had to overcome their first set back that those who follow the team closely would now be aware of is the loss of attacker Josh Simpson to a leg fracture. One of the standout players from the 2008 qualifying round, Simpson brings intense pride and determination for Canada and will be tough to replace.
The United States are coming off what appears to be a humbling 4-1 defeat to Brazil. However, two shots off the woodwork would have narrowed the score and that three goal gap is not entirely indicative of how the game unfolded. After a rough 2011 that saw them lose the Gold Cup to Mexico, then go 2W-1D-4L in their remaining games of the year, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann is beginning to right the ship.
Now 4-1 in 2012, the US boasts an impressive 1-0 victory over Italy in Feburary, and before their game Monday night, had only surrendered one goal over four matches. The Stars and Stripes might not have world class names, but do have a very formidable midfield with seasoned players who deliver when called upon.
Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Maurice Edu, Clint Dempsey, and at times Landon Donovan, are a solid core that can score themselves or feed the ball through to the likes of Herculez Gomez, Terrance Boyd or Jozy Altidore. This is where Canada’s toughest battle will be – through the midfield and not leaving their defenders hung out to dry against a formidable group of attackers.
Oddly enough, if there is one advantage Canada might have, it is the disadvantage that was lamented about earlier. With the US having so many fixtures under their belt, the template, strategies and tactics are there to research and formulate a gameplan from. Canada on the other hand, have but one match in 2012 and relatively easy games against minnows last fall and there will not be much to determine or extrapolate how this team will play coming into the game.
The element of surprise is on Canada’s side and this is something they should look to take advantage of. It is the perfect opportunity to make a statement in the early going and not let the US find time to get their feet beneath them. One weakness that looks to be persistent with the United States is their backline and having trouble tracking players on corners and set pieces. With that in mind, the duo of Kevin McKenna and Andre Hainault could be useful if Canada are persistent in pushing the ball deep down the wing to either lay in crosses for the likes of Olivier Occean, or win corners in that attempt.
Simeon Jackson and Stephen Hart
Olivier Occean and his form coming out of his season with Gruether Furth is something Stephen Hart has to look to take advantage of. His ability to finish chances on the run of play also is an advantage against the US whose defenders have looked slow-footed off counters. A combination of him and Dwayne De Rosario that can be a threat from a distance or up close is one area Canada could look to punch through.
Of course the last line of defence, that many will remember from the 2011 Gold Cup, is Tim Howard who has been an outstanding number one for his country. This will be the final part of how Canada’s night unfolds and whether they can get past the Everton keeper. It will be a tough match on the other end as it would seem unlikely Canada would be able to stem the tide and attack of the US, so finding a way to score and rattle their opponents will be paramount to how this game unfolds.
In the end
Canada return home for their Centenary friendly against the CONCACAF powerhouse that is the United States. Canada is fortunate on one hand that this is merely a friendly as it allows them to set achievable goals for this game, regardless of the result. However, confidence is critical for the team heading into their games next week against Cuba and Honduras. A sound strategy that takes the large sample size of US games into consideration could formulate plenty of positives for Canada, and especially goals. The US have quality that is better, and in form, but Canada will make a game of it and give optimism heading into their first two games of the Third Round of World Cup qualfiying.
United States 2 – Canada 1
Dwayne De Rosario