Canada 1 – Cuba 0
For the first time in recent memory, Canada gets a campaign off to a positive start, not only winning, but away in tough conditions as they downed Cuba 1-0 Friday afternoon. All the challenges of competition in CONCACAF were on display from poor facilities, a brutal pitch to a 2pm start in the Caribbean. But in the end, Canada overcame these difficulties and put in a strong performance that had few glaring concerns and for the most part the team looked to be all pulling in the same direction.
Finally it appears that Canada might have an effective center forward as Olivier Occean was solid through the first half and built upon that to head in the opening, and winning, goal. The pass from David Edgar was sublime as these two players are prime examples of how important it is for Canada’s internationals to be playing for their domestic clubs week in week out.
Much credit on this afternoon must also go to the composure the team showed after going a man down with plenty of time on the clock. At no point did it really ever look like Cuba were going to overtake Canada with a man advantage and the late subs of Milan Borjan, Atiba Hutchinson and Simeon Jackson could all be seen as high quality depth players on this afternoon.
There can be discussion on the overall quality of Cuba and how this game was won, however, at this point in qualifying all that matters is the point tally in the group, and Canada now has three of them. There is no scoring style from here on in and at the end of the game, Canada did what they had to do to beat a team many felt they should have had few issues with.
Honduras will be coming to BMO Field on Tuesday night having lost 2-0 to Panama at home and this will be a concern as they no doubt will want to make a statement. Add in a certain large contingent of Honduran supporters, this game has the making of another addition to one of the true CONCACAF rivalries.
Canada has demonstrated good composure and discipline over the last week and will need to maintain it Tuesday night. Honduras will be a step up in technical play from both the US and Cuba and will no question have some tricks up their sleeves to play the mental game that is common with central American teams. Canada will need to recognize this from the get go and give no chances to let the match fall into the hands of the referee.
The key to the ratings, as seems to be the logic on a scale of 1-10, is not to view it as a “grade”, as in a 6 would be a 60 or a C. The formula is that each player begins the game with a 5 and is the equilibrium from which their performance either improves or degrades moving in increments of .5.
Here is the breakdown of the starting XI:
Lars Hirschfeld – 5
Surprisingly, Hirshfeld appeared more under fire in this game than against the US last weekend. While there were only a few genuine chances on goal, that went wide or were misplayed, the ones that he had to handle were for the most part routine. Cannot avoid the play that lead to his red card, and even if it should have been a yellow, or the ball did not bounce as expected, it could have lead to Cuba getting even. For all his shot stopping prowess, will need to avoid these mistakes in judgement as one would expect more clinical teams to make Canada pay a man down.
Ante Jazic – 5.5
Much like last weekend, Jazic did not necessarily stand out, but was steady and more than capable of handling the competition on this afternoon. Does all the work required both defensively and providing an option on the overlap, and while his crosses have yet to prove truly a threat, looks to be a cohesive part of the back four.
Andre Hainault – 6.5
Much has been said about how Hainault has quietly worked his way to being an integral and essential component of Houston’s defence. On this day, he confirmed it for the national team as he was the busiest of defenders getting his nose into everything and more often than not, coming out on top. His work 1v1 with players wide and trying to cut into the area was solid, and his ability to get a head on the ball and coolly distribute it wherever it needs to be is another strength that was on display. A very positive outing that will certainly have converted supporters into believing this central defending partnership can get it done.
Kevin McKenna – 6
The leader out of the back, McKenna was per usual all business and while he wasn’t quite as noticeable as his teammate to his left, it is still obvious that he is the anchor that keeps the defence in check. Poised with the ball at his feet and strong in the air at both ends of the pitch, McKenna put in a professional ninety that kept Cuba from getting any real chances through the middle.
David Edgar – 6.5
Once again played out of position, Edgar was able to assert himself and be a strong contributor on the right side. Must give huge credit to the classy ball put in to Occean that was a thing of beauty and in ways an exclamation point on a year that has really been his coming out for club and country. If there was one area to keep an eye on was that Cuba’s best chances started out wide and Canada will need to be mindful of this against Honduras.
Nik Ledgerwood – 5.5
Ledgerwood really stood out against the US last weekend as being part in parcel with Johnson as physical presence in the middle and able to link up with both defence and attack. On this afternoon, he was much quieter, and while it was not in any way negative, against stiffer competition, he will need to assert himself more and get stuck in as there can be no passengers in the tougher games.
Will Johnson – 6
If there is anything that sums up what Johnson brings to the table, it was seen in the dying seconds when the Cuban keeper was about to get a chance to send another ball down field and Johnson’s endless tenacity forced the errant pass that would go out for a Canada corner. This is why he is so critical to Canada’s midfield in this round, and beyond should they make it, is he is willing and able to deliver non-stop pressure and physically assert himself to either stop chances or create turnovers.
Julian De Guzman – 6
An early casualty when the team went down to ten men, but De Guzman continues his renaissance from TFC that has carried over to the national team. Has looked in-sync with his midfielders and put in time covering on the backline and pushing all the way to Cuba area to create chances in their 18-yard box. A solid game for De Guzman who has proved that he deserves to be in the starting eleven.
Dwayne De Rosario – 6
Despite not beating the Cuban keeper, or the woodwork, De Rosario continues to be in fine form and that essential ‘rogue’ attacker that causes defenders all kinds of fits. You never know where he will be or what he’s going to do and it really was unfortunate he could not slot home his two glorious chances point blank. For now any criticism for lack of finishing can be avoided as he does so much work in every other area, and if there was a team or game to get stumped during a victory, this is it. As the challenges rise, De Rosario will need to be more clinical when the chances present themselves.
Tosaint Ricketts – 5.5
A good shot from a tricky angle was Ricketts highlight for the afternoon where he did all the work required of him, but was really unable to find that last bit of creativity to make something happen on goal. He was able to use his pace to win corners in the early going, and this should be the continued strategy as set pieces will be to Canada’s advantage in this round.
MOTM Olivier Occean – 7
Finally Occean’s form with Greuther Furth was on display for the red and white as he was everything one would want in a centre forward on this day. The first half was a slow boil for Canada, but Occean was doing tons of work all alone to bring down long balls, beat Cuban defenders, and hold it up and wait for his teammates to arrive. Not only that but showed great aerial ability, laying off the ball that lead to De Ro’s first chance on goal, then delivering the picture perfect header that ultimately sealed the victory.