TORONTO — A win’s a win, even if it comes by way of a nervy first half against a hugely over-matched opponent.
Canada opened their road to Brazil 2014 with a 4-1 victory over St. Lucia, a match that should have gone far smoother than it did. Despite having very little of the play, the visitors hung around for much longer than was expected and actually went into the halftime break level with their frustrated host.
For Canada coach Stephen Hart, the result was never in doubt, and that may have seeped into his team’s mindset, despite a pregame chat with his players that focused on keeping calm and letting the play happen naturally.
“We said, ‘Do not try to play a ninety-minute game in the first 10 to 15 minutes,’” Hart explained. “Be patient — things are going to happen for you — but don’t just throw yourself forward trying to finish off the game early.”
Instead, the Canadians did exactly the opposite, looking to score early and often. A sixth-minute strike by Josh Simpson — his first of two on the night — seemed to validate Canada’s frenetic opening pace, but a quick goal by St. Lucian winger Tremain Paul a minute later shocked everyone in the stadium and gave life to the visitors.
“We did way too much running [in the first half], but it was not for a lack of creating chances so I’ve got to give them credit for that,” Hart said.
Indeed, when referee Jair Marrufo blew the whistle to end the opening 45 minutes, Canada had peppered 12 shots on the St. Lucian goal, but only one had managed to find the back of the net.
Even so, Hart felt that it was just a matter of time until the Canadian pressure paid off.
“As a coach, the first thing you say is, ‘You created the chances.’ The second thing is, ‘Well hopefully next time they will go in the net,’” Hart said. “I think if we were just a little bit [more] mentally composed and just put it on net we would have scored. If you look at the second half, the chances were even easier.”
Those chances in the second half were converted with more efficiency by the Canucks, who bagged three in 18 attempts in the final 45 minutes to put the game out of reach.
Dwayne De Rosario, who scored the winning goal on a 51st-minute penalty kick, said that he was happy about how the Canadians settled down after an unsettling start.
“I was very pleased by the way we kept our composure [and] kept our discipline,” the D.C. United star said after the match. “We didn’t let the way the game was flowing get under our skin.”
De Rosario and Simpson were the standout attackers in the Canadian lineup, with the latter bagging a goal in each half before subbing out with 20 minutes remaining. The 28-year-old Simpson, who lined up on the left side of a three-pronged forward line for Canada, felt he and his team could have done more.
“I would have liked to have gotten another one,” said Simpson. “I thought we could have done a little bit better than we did, but of course we got the result, and it was a nice result, so we’d like to build on that.”
The win — combined with a scoreless draw between Puerto Rico and St. Kitts and Nevis — moves Canada atop Group D in CONCACAF’s second stage of World Cup qualifying. The Canadians head to Bayamón for a crucial away match against the Puerto Ricans on Tuesday.