KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For Julian de Guzman, the math is simple:
If Canada want to become part of CONCACAF’s elite, they need to win a big game. And they’ll get their chance on Tuesday night in their Group C finale against Panama (7 pm ET, Galavisión, Sportsnet One).
“This is the type of competition we’re going to face when it comes to World Cup qualifiers,” he told MLSsoccer.com after training at Swope Park on Monday, “so this is our moment to step up and show we belong amongst the top five in CONCACAF.”
The Canucks’ Gold Cup thus far has been one of frustration: They were dominated in large stretches in their opener against the US last week, then dictated the pace of the game against 10-man Guadeloupe on Saturday, only to come away with one goal on a penalty kick by Dwayne De Rosario.
To de Guzman, injuries and short preparation time have made it tough for Canada to establish any kind of momentum in this tournament. Much of this particular group of players have had minimal time to work together over the past year, as several new faces have been integrated into camp.
And despite the level of talent within the squad — and there is plenty — they need to start playing together in a hurry if they hope to advance to the quarterfinals. Canada's hopes of advancing to the quarterfinals are alive very much alive, despite their loss to the Americans. They don't control their own fate and must rely on the US-Guadeloupe result in the second game of Tuesday's double-header to advance.
But they know they must win for the chance to go on. That won’t be easy against the Panamanians, who impressed de Guzman with their speed and organization in their 2-1 upset over the US.
“You can see these guys are very fast on their counters, they’re a team that’s done well for themselves in past couple years,” he said. “We just need to play our game and, when we get our chances, we have to capitalize. We know Panama’s going to be an organized team going forward. Maybe their weakness is more in their back four. They have a small ‘keeper, too [Jaime Penedo, generously listed at 6 feet], so that’s something we’re going to try to take advantage of.”
And that final third is what Canada need to focus on, de Guzman said. The Canucks have put seven shots on goal over their two group-stage games and haven’t finished a single one.
“We’ve been dangerous at times, but we’re not putting that ball in the back of the net,” he said. “I think once we do this in the early stages against Panama, that’s when you’ll start to see the confidence from our side.”
And if Canada are able to play their game?
“I definitely guarantee we’ll score one or two goals,” the Toronto FC midfielder said. “If we get an early goal in the first half, I don’t see why we can’t get more.”