The Canadian national team may be down, but they aren’t out just yet.
Following a 2-1 loss in Honduras on Friday, Canada will head to Vancouver’s BC Place in need of a goal-scoring breakthrough on Tuesday night, when they play their final game of the penultimate round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying (10 pm ET; TSN in Canada).
In order to advance to the next round, Canada will need to beat El Salvador and hope Mexico defeats Honduras by a combined total of at least five (but most likely six) goals. It’s a tall task for a Canadian team that’s always struggled to score, but the players believe there’s still reason for hope.
“We look at our team and we feel like we have goals in us,” midfielder/striker Tesho Akindele told MLSsoccer.com by phone on Sunday. “Obviously in the past couple games I don’t think we’ve shown that, but I think we have the quality players up top that can score goals.
“It’s going to happen one game where we’re going to explode and score four or five on a team – and so why not this game?”
The 24-year-old FC Dallas man has started Canada’s last three games on the right side of midfield, and scored his second national-team goal (in 12 appearances) against Azerbaijan in a June friendly.
In those games, he’s shown a good connection with newcomer Scott Arfield, who joined the Canada setup earlier this year. Akindele said the two have complementary playing styles that could pay off in Tuesday night’s game.
“Scott’s the kind of player who has a lot of quality on the ball,” said Akindele. “I like to get in behind; I like to make a good run and then have somebody find me with the ball.”
In the last four years, Canada have only scored three or more goals in a game on four occasions, with three of those opponents (Dominica, Puerto Rico and Belize) being fairly described as minnows of the region.
But Akindele said he relishes this sort of pressure, knowing that the team’s fate rests largely on the shoulders of its attackers – and, of course, a bit of good fortune in the evening’s other contest.
“You have the opportunity to be creative,” he said. “You have the opportunity to take a guy on, take a shot when it’s on, without somebody being like ‘let’s just hold the ball.’ This is the ideal game for a forward, where they say you have to go out there and score some goals.”
The game will likely present a stark contrast from Friday’s showdown, when Canada produced few attacking chances in the stifling heat and raucous environment of San Pedro Sula.
While Akindele praised the dedication of the Honduran fans – who packed the stadium 90 minutes before kickoff – he echoed the sentiments of numerous Canadian players past and present, who’ve loathed the playing conditions and the home side’s decision to schedule an afternoon kickoff.
“That was one of the roughest [games] that I’ve played in,” said Akindele. “Usually in Texas, we’re playing at eight at night so the sun’s down. But this is three in the afternoon, it’s probably 40 degrees [Celsius] out, and like 98 percent humidity.
“The grass was thick, the field was heavy. Personally, I was struggling with just keeping my energy levels high because the heat drained me.”
It drained one of his teammates – defender Manjrekar James, who scored Canada’s goal on the day – to the point where he needed to be subbed out early. James, however, is fit for selection on Tuesday evening.
A change of scenery, and the knowledge that their World Cup dreams are hanging in the balance, should be enough to rejuvenate the entire roster ahead of the must-win clash with El Salvador.
Though Akindele knows Canadian fans might be discouraged after Friday’s loss, he’s hoping the crowd at BC Place can give his team the same sort of lift that the Honduran side enjoyed in the game on Friday.
“The fans really do make a difference, and they do give you that extra energy you need to win,” he said. “[They] could be the difference between scoring one goal and scoring five goals.”