TORONTO — With firm control of Group D in CONCACAF’s second round of 2014 World Cup qualification, Canada head into their game against Puerto Rico looking to continue the form that has seen them win all three previous matches quite comfortably.
The Canadians most recently thrashed St. Lucia 7-0 last Friday night, a result which eliminated the tiny island nation from contention. Now Canada’s attention turns to the Puerto Ricans, who visit BMO Field on Tuesday night (7 pm ET, Rogers Sportsnet One) facing a similar fate should they also come out on the wrong end of the scoreboard.
With elimination on the line, Canada coach Stephen Hart said Puerto Rico will be a much tougher opponent for his side than the St. Lucians.
“Some of the players have a very good understanding from playing together [at the club level],” Hart said of the Puerto Ricans during Canada’s training session on Monday. “It’s only natural.”
Canada found out just how effective the Puerto Rican familiarity could be when the teams first met last month in Bayamón. The match ended 3-0 in favor of the Canadians, but only a pair of goals in the final six minutes spared them from a very nervous ending to that game.
“We played them down there and the conditions were in their favor early in the game,” Hart explained. “We went on top in the second half and we told the players at halftime, ‘Look it’s just a matter of coming away from here with the result, don’t rush things and don’t give things away.’”
The Canadian talent and goal-scoring advantage won out on that day, and while the Canucks should still be favored to come away with the result on Tuesday, they’ll have to do so without starting midfielder Will Johnson, who left the team’s camp after suffering an ankle injury as a result of a rash challenge in St. Lucia.
“It always takes something away,” Hart said of losing the Real Salt Lake stalwart. “We have a different type of player that comes in to midfield so we have to adjust what type of balls he gets, and how he plays it and all of that. The good thing is, is that we have somebody to come in and do the job.”
The most likely candidate to take Johnson’s spot in the starting 11 is Toronto FC’s Terry Dunfield, who subbed into the St. Lucia match when Johnson couldn’t continue. Dunfield is confident that he and the rest of the Canada squad will be ready to face a Puerto Rican team desperate to remain alive in the competition.
“Puerto Rico are a very good team, as we saw down there,” the midfielder said. “We’ll definitely pay them the respect that they deserve, and it’s important that we concentrate on our brand of football.”
The 29-year-old feels that the confidence gained from the first three matches in the group stage — in which Canada outscored their opponents 14-1 — should help propel them into the next stage.
“Hopefully we can carry the momentum on from the last games,” Dunfield said. “The mood in the camp is very good, we’re very much looking forward to playing at home and turning BMO into a bit of a fortress. Hopefully we’ve not used all our goals up."