De Guzman, Johnson fill roles perfectly in smothering US

Canada's Will Johnson and the USA's Jermaine Jones

Photo Credit: 
Scott Riddell/MLSsoccer.com

TORONTO – Canada knew they had a tall order ahead of them in their battle to keep one of the more creative midfields from running roughshod over them at BMO Field on Sunday night.

But largely thanks to the play of Real Salt Lake’s Will Johnson (above left) and Toronto FC’s Julian de Guzman, the Canucks were able to hold a favored USA side that fielded a strong lineup off the scoreboard over the full 90 minutes.

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“We spent the whole week working on that,” said de Guzman. “We know that it’s very crucial, not just against the Americans, but other opposition in CONCACAF, so if we can continue to keep the lines really tight and organized and disciplined, we’re going to make it difficult for any team to play football.”

Usually both Johnson and de Guzman are on opposite ends of the pitch playing for separate MLS teams. But on Sunday, they looked as though there’s lots of familiarity between the two and it’s something they’ll need to have early on Friday in Cuba as the heat in Havana will likely cause them to lose some sharpness over the course of the game.

“We both want to keep the ball,” Johnson to admitted to MLSsoccer.com. “We both want to break things up for the opponent. I’m not sure that Julian has that in Toronto. So when he and I get in the middle, we work hard and keep the ball [and try to] get it to our creative guys, and that’s our job.”

Canada were playing without influential midfielder Atiba Hutchinson, who told some media members after the game that he’s feeling some discomfort in the knee that kept him out of action for a long stretch of time last season for both club PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands and for country. He said he’s 50-50 for Friday’s World Cup qualifier.

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Nevertheless, even if Hutchinson is forced out with injury, a performance like the one on Sunday from the center of Canada’s midfield would make his absence less noticeable.

“I’ve got a good feeling about what we did tonight and what we’re going to do next week,” Johnson said with a smile.