As luck would have it, I had a can't-be-missed obligation during last night's match. I don't have a PVR. Instead, I bookmarked the match video thread at the Voyageurs forum before the match, in order that I wouldn't see any spoilers by finding the thread after the match. (This is a neat trick if you should ever need to use it).
But there are no need for spoilers here: In the most crucial match at such a late stage of qualifying in at least 15 years (I know, it's pathetic) Canada beat Panama 1-0.
Here's the goal:
Veteran Canadian supporters will note the similarities between Dwayne De Rosario's record-breaking tally and a Tosaint Ricketts strike against Ecuador.
Things are far from set in stone, and Canada will almost certainly need to pick up a point either in Panama City on Tuesday, or in October in San Pedro Sula, but there is no way to overstate how massive this victory was. There are other places to find excellent match reports and analysis; I'll stick to the ratings below after offering the following thoughts:
- Craig and Gerry did a good job lauding the atmosphere at BMO Field. Though the field mics seemed to have been set low, there was no hiding how electric the place was. We may now be taking for granted the tireless work done by the Voyageurs and others to pack the south end with hardcore support, but what was most heartening to me was the level of excitement clearly visible among the rest of the 17,000+ Canadian fans.
- The antics of Panama's Quintero were absolutely despicable; if Julian de Guzman's card from Quintero's second half dive is not rescinded, or at least transferred to Simeon Jackson, the team should be furious. But Canada seems to be learning. De Rosario and Jackson both went down more than once on light contact, and Kenny Stamatopoulos' hidden-ball trick was classic CONCACAF.
- Speaking of which, the referee did buy into some of the play-acting, but otherwise did a decent job taking control of the match.
- Will Johnson will miss the next match due to accumulation of yellow cards, forcing a change to the starting XI on Tuesday. It will be interesting to see if Hart makes any other roster moves, possibly including the insertion of Marcel de Jong into the lineup.
- Dwayne De Rosario's winner puts him atop the all-time list for Canada, finally moving ahead of ex-boss Dale Mitchell.
Lars Hirschfeld - 6.5: Canada's keeper had little to do, but made the few saves required of him and was aggressive off his line when necessary. There was clearly some miscommunication on a Kevin McKenna back-pass, but distribution was decent by his mediocre standard.
David Edgar - 6.5: Edgar did have some trouble on occasion in one-on-one battles against the quicker Panamanian winger, but was usually solid and strong in the air when called upon. He got forward occasionally, though not always to great effect.
Kevin McKenna - 7: That teammates don't turn away from Kevin when he is ripping into them is a sign of how much of an acknowledged leader he is with this team. Strong in the air in the defensive end, and met the ball twice in the opposing penalty area. I won't fault him for his header onto the post, but his complete miss on the earlier free header lowers his grade.
Andre Hainault - 6.5: There were some fitness concerns after an injury at the weekend with Houston and Andre did look a step slow at times. But he combined with McKenna to shutdown the dangerous attacking pair of Luis Tejada and Blas Perez and like his partner was strong in the air, though both men had a few clearing headers that weren't cleared far enough.
Ante Jazic - 6: Jazic was solid defensively, save for a lapse that left Roman Torres free for a 2nd half chance, likely Panama's best opportunity of the match. He got forward often enough on the overlap with De Rosario that Panama's defenders had to honour the option, opening up space for Dwayne to cut in.
Julian de Guzman - 6.5: There is no doubt that the widest divergence of opinion of the men on the pitch will be in regards to de Guzman. It is hard to judge his efforts without knowing what role Stephen Hart asked him to play. He won the ball for Canada countless times by being the third man into a 50-50 situation, and his close control allowed Canada to start the offense from its own end. The critics will the occasions when he lost possession in midfield sparking a counterattack, and his few incisive passes forward. Both camps are likely correct.
Atiba Hutchinson - 8: Back in March, I penned a magnum opus making the case for moving Atiba to right back. Let me rescind those remarks. A healthy Hutchinson in midfield is among the class of CONCACAF and he showed it last night. His quick thinking on the De Rosario goal will be celebrated, but he showed the kind of creativity and quality in the middle and attacking thirds that the team is mostly lacking. He made some vital tackles and showed his wiry strength, though there were also a few loose touches. My man of the match.
Will Johnson - 7: The blunting of Panama's attack was a battle won in midfield and Will was a big part of that. He did his normal Will thing, full of running and ball-winning, and generally solid in possession. He will miss the return engagement in Panama City and his quality on corners and set pieces will be hard to replace (though Patrice Bernier might do the job if he is given the opportunity).
Dwayne De Rosario - 7: My usual criticism of De Rosario is that he too often takes an extra touch and in the offensive end when a quick pass or shot would do.There were times last night when he was guilty of that. But he did also combine well at times with Occean, and of course he was hip to Hutchinson's jive on the record-setting goal.
Simeon Jackson - 6.5: Simeon Jackson and Stephen Hart seem to be learning how best the player can be deployed on the right. He gave Panama's left back fits, and of course won the foul that created the goal. He also put in a good defensive shift. I would like to see him drift into the middle more often where he can be a more direct goal threat, but this is not the job that is being asked of him.
Olivier Occean - 6.5: The quality of the work done as a target striker and hold-up man done by Occean was largely revealed once he was taken off and Tosaint Ricketts took his spot. He doesn't have the speed to get on to through passes, but was involved in some good combination play and had two strikes narrowly wide.
Patrice Bernier - 6: Did not make much of an impression but for a decent bending free kick.
Tosaint Ricketts - 5.5: His speed late in matches is a massive asset, but it took him some time to get involved (that his teammates were mostly thumping the ball aimlessly forward at that point clearly didn't help). BUT: run to the corner flag, young man!
Marcel de Jong - 5.5: His two-way game is surely going to come into play at some point in this round of qualifying.
Kenny Stamatopoulos - 10: I never imagined I'd mention his name in the report of a crucial match but his hidden-ball trick was something to behold. I'm ready to admit I'd be howling in protest if the roles were reversed, but the situation was escalated by the Panama player pushing him when he appeared ready to give up the ball.
The vitally important return leg is this Tuesday in Panama City (9 pm et / 8 pm ct / 6 pm pt). Of note, the match will be broadcast nationally on the widely carried CityTV in addition to Sportsnet One. A result in this match would go a long way towards securing progress into the Hex.