KANSAS CITY, Mo. – After a decidedly up and down start, it all comes down to one game for Canada.
A loss to the United States and a narrow victory against Guadeloupe has the Canadians tied with the Americans in Group C on three points with just one group game remaining on Tuesday against Panama, who sit atop the group with six points.
“We need to win,” defender André Hainault said. “There is no way around it.”
And in order to do that, the Canadians know the effort will have to start in the back as Panama, Group C’s top-scoring squad so far, attempt to lock down their own qualification for the knockout rounds.
Needless to say, Panama’s surprising 2-1 victory against the US in Tampa Bay didn’t go unnoticed in the Canadian camp. But that doesn’t mean Canada hasn’t picked out some shortcomings to exploit in Tuesday’s night match at Livestrong Sporting Park.
“Panama is a good team,” Hainault said. “Obviously, you can see that by the result they got against the United States. But they are a team that has their weaknesses, too."
So far the most glaring of those weaknesses has been the Panamanian’s tendency to fade in the later stages of games, allowing their opponents enough openings to mount two near comebacks.
Despite being down to 10 men, Guadeloupe managed to pull back two goals in the second half to make things interesting in their group opener. Then the US very nearly completed their own second-half comeback, pulling one goal back through Clarence Goodson but failing to find a second.
Still, neither Guadeloupe nor the US were able to actually complete the comeback, leaving Canada with little choice other than to minimize Panama’s chances and hope they can get their own sputtering attack going. Unfortunately, they’ll have to do that with a back line that has been increasingly hampered by injuries.
Marcel De Jong, who started against the US, didn’t play against Guadeloupe because of injury and was replaced by Michael Klukowski. Atiba Hutchinson, who provided cover and an outlet for the back four against the Americans, also missed out against Les Gwada Boys and will likely be a game-time decision for manager Stephen Hart. That’s not even mentioning Dejan Jakovic, who was forced to pull of out of the tournament following a hamstring injury against Ecuador in the run up to the competition.
But even as Canada’s defensive core has become increasingly thin, Hainault said he felt like the group was beginning to get a better understanding of each other’s tendencies.
They’ll certainly need that on Tuesday as Panama — with their two burly, on-form forwards in Luis Tejada and Blas Perez — will do their best to send short-handed Canada home emptyhanded in a pressure-packed group finale.
“You have to try to block those things out — the outside influences or things on your mind.” Hainault said. “In the end, it’s 11 against 11 for 90 minutes. The guys on the field believe in each other."