Canadian soccer players (are fans alike) never take their international opposition lightly. Coming off an offensive drought at the Gold Cup and ranked 102nd, Canada’s national men’s soccer team set to face Belize on Friday in the first of a two-leg battle. The winner will join Mexico, Hondura and either El Salvador or Curacao in Group A of the next round of CONCACAF’s Russia 2018 World Cup qualification. The top two teams from that round robin advance to the next stage, commonly known as the “hex.”
Canada Tops Belize in World Cup Qualifier
On a fair night with just over 10,000 at BMO Field, Canada’s manager, Benito Floro fielded a more experienced squad with Issey Nakajima-Farran, Atiba Hutchinson and Will Johnson in the lineup.
Enroute to a 3 – 0 win, Canada dominated possession right from the start, but was challenged to break down a Belizean defense that stayed tight and crowded the box. Goaltender Woodrow West had to come up big to keep Belize alive on numerous occasions.
In the 14th minute, Julian deGuzman went down with an apparent lower leg injury and was replaced by Samuel Piette.
Canada threatened often but took 25 minutes to score with Tosaint Ricketts managing to find the back of the net in a scrappy episode right on the goal line. The goal came after a number of crosses into to box were unsuccessful in finding Canadian forwards.
Belize continued to drop back and absorb pressure, with little going forward. The game opened up a bit late in the half but neither team made much of it. The first half ended with Canada leading 1 – 0.
The second half opened with Canada attempting aerial balls into the box, looking to find Nakajima-Farran and Larin. With that plan not working, a more focused effort in getting into wide areas deep in the final third began to look more promising. Finally, in the 64th minute Ricketts added another off a cross from Nik Ledgerwood.
The remainder of the game had more of the same Canadian pressure with limited result. Marcus Haber came in for Cyle Larin in the 65th and Russell Tiebertfor Ricketts in the 82nd.
Belize had only brief flashes of possession which quickly fizzled out as they were easily dispossessed in midfield. Nevertheless, they were still hard to break down.
While Canada often had trouble converting, the kind of offense they are capable of became more apparent as the game wore on. In the final minute, Will Johnson, after some nice build-up play and a beautiful pass from Issey, fired a rocket that was just tipped by West. On the ensuing corner, the ball was played short to Teibert who sent a quick pass across goal to find Atiba Hutchinson who added to the final 3 – 0 tally.
Canada had 25 shots in total with 11 on target and had just over 75% possession. Canadian goaltender Kenny Stamatopoulos saw very little action. While the game was never in doubt and Canada built a fair margin going into Belize for the second leg on September 8th, the inability to open the game up to more offensive productivity is a little concerning.
Benito Floro appears to be staying the course howeverr, carrying the same lineup going into Tuesday. He also commented on the need to convert more opportunities, an area that obviously needs work. Finding more creativity might come with a little safe experimentation.
Perhaps giving Russell Teibert or Tesho Akindele a little more opportunity will bring results. Both players are a part of some very potent offensive sides in MLS, and at least since the Gold Cup, Floro has held back on his original approach in playing a crafty, energized style with an influx of youth.
In Floro’s defense, Canada has been solid at the back, allowing four goals in ten games over all competitions so far in 2015. Those games included only two losses and seven clean sheets. The next round however, will be the test Floro has been preparing for, as dealing with tougher competition will require offensive prowess that Canada has yet to muster.