There are a few angles to take when looking back on Canada's match last night with Honduras.
The easiest for fans and media alike is framing this match as the rematch following the embarrassment (what word carries the same connotations, but is about 10 times stronger?) of the 8-1 loss at San Pedro Sula three years ago. When TSN's into featured clips from that game, I wondered for a while why a few looked so unfamiliar, before realizing they came after 3-0 when I had shut off the TV and gone for a long walk.
|Yeah, this meant something|
Those fans and media would not be wrong. For players like Julian de Guzman, Will Johnson, Atiba Hutchinson and Tosaint Ricketts, all of whom started in that last game, some form of revenge surely had to be on their minds. For the thousands of full-throated Voyageurs in the south end of BC Place, it may have loomed even larger. The emotions on display after the final whistle from players and fans alike would seem to confirm the notion.
I've seen a little, but not more, commentary which posits that the 1-0 margin of victory was nice, but the football on display left a lot to be desired. Honduras is, after all, a team only a few spots ahead of us in the FIFA rankings. We shouldn't overlook the passing in the back four, and particularly of Dejan Jakovic and Adam Straith, which frequently put Milan Borjan under pressure. Nor should one ignore how isolated Cyle Larin was at times, or how ineffective he was when the ball did come his way - Marcus Haber showed far more hold-up ability in the final 15 minutes than Larin had done to that point -- or that Tosaint Ricketts, for all his running, drifted in and out of the game. Or that deep set-piece defending, lampooned by critics of all stripes.
The 1-0 result also could come back to haunt the team if we head into the group's final match with Honduras down 3 points, when goal difference overall, or between the two countries, could serve as a tie-breaker. Canada produced more chances than they did at the Gold Cup, and forced at least two excellent saves from the Honduran keeper Valladares, but will need to improve the offensive side of their game if they are to take maximum points from El Salvador and steal a result in the remaining three matches.
This is the feeling I have, the morning after. Canada knocked off a diminished Honduras side, but were themselves without several of their best defensive players. The result itself did not flatter Canada, but failing to secure a win at home was what doomed Canada to chasing a result in Honduras the last time. A turn-back-the-clock performance from the midfield trio Atiba Hutchinson, Will Johnson and Julian de Guzman showed that Canada can match its opponents for talent. In this match, at least, Canada was at least the equal of Honduras in passion and dedication the cause, with guys like newcomer Junior Hoilett and keeper Milan Borjan showing to be quick studies in the field of CONCACAF guile.
Some players before the match had referred to this as a near-must-win. Canada won. Job done.
Haven't done this in a while. I have a tendency to grade inflation after a win, but on the other hand, its hard to think of a player who didn't provide at least some good moments.
Milan Borjan - 8
In terms of shot stopping, had little to do, tipping one long range effort somewhat unconvincingly over the bar, and spilling another he should have held before claiming the rebound. But he was put under pressure on several occasions by his defenders, and was quick to react on several occasions.
Karl W. Ouimette - 7
Floro did not seem particularly interested in having "W" roam forward too often (one run with a nice piece of footwork took me by surprise), perhaps to be expected with a natural central defender playing on the flank. But he was composed when called upon.
Adam Straith - 7
This is an 8 if not for some shaky passing. His individual and team defending was sharp and he won a lot of battles.
Dejan Jakovic - 7
Marcel de Jong - 6.5
It's not always easy to separate a player's performance from whatever tactical instructions he might have been given, but de Jong seemed to have been caught too high and too narrow several times late. His set piece delivery also did not meet his usual standard.
Atiba Hutchinson - 9
For me, the clear Man of the Match. His passing was on point, he did a good job of shielding the back four, and kept possession under pressure better than any other on the pitch. Hard to think of a moment where he put a foot wrong. I like him in the role in front of the back line, as he sees so much of the ball.
Julian de Guzman - 7.5
He has lost a step from his younger days but this was a time-machine performance from the Ottawa Fury man. Fully committed, combining well with Hutchinson and Hoilett. He did very well to keep his first-half strike on target and I can't think of another player in the team I'd rather have seen open the scoring.
Will Johnson - 8
We all have players we find ways not to like, for whatever reason. For a lot of fans it seems to be active leading scorer Tosaint Ricketts. For me, it's Johnson, who in my opinion has never reached his usual club standard when playing for Canada. Last night was different. His delivery on set pieces, but for one, was excellent, and that strike, that post... For a guy coming off an injury, he also deserves huge credit for getting himself up and down the pitch all night, and it was one of those forays forward, probably too few from the midfield overall, that produced the goal. His emotion following the match also did not go unnoticed.
Tosaint Ricketts - 6.5
Ricketts is a guy I have a lot of time for and his combination of speed and strength were on display at times last night. He worked hard at both ends, but the play mostly went down Hoilett's side and when Ricketts was called upon his passes were disappointing. He deserves credit for his lung-busting runs late to defend or pressure Honduras.
Cyle Larin - 6
"Scored" the goal, but did little else. It's hard not to feel a little bad for the kid, as he was isolated for so much of the match, but his hold-up play was lacking and he did not seem prepared for an opponent that would give him so little time on the ball.
Junior Hoilett - 8.5
If what we saw last night is typical of his game, he is made for CONCACAF. Canada hasn't seen a player with his ability to run at, or past, defenders since Josh Simpson. His speed and close control forced several fouls and at least one yellow card, and he is not shy about going and staying down when there is contact.
Marcus Haber - 7
Did a good job of holding the ball and linking up with the midfielders. Should have done better on his one chance, a header from a Johnson corner.
Samuel Piette - 6.5
The bulldog did some of his usual bulldogging but too much fouling, including a silly one late that could have been costly
Tesho Akindele - n/a
Not much to go on here. Did some decent corner flag clock-killing.
There did seem to be a decent representation of Honduras fans in the crowd, but from the TV broadcast this appeared to be one of the best pro-Canadian crowds the men's team has seen and several players echoed this opinion in interviews following the match. The Voyageurs section and their flags were very impressive.
On to Tuesday night in El Salvador. Not as near a must-win as this one, but pretty close. If the midfield three can duplicate their performance, I think a result is in the offing. Prediction: El Salvador 0, Canada 2.