The Canadian men’s national team got off to a less-than-ideal start to the Octagon, settling for a 1-1 draw against Honduras at Toronto's BMO Field on Thursday night.
Here are three takeaways as Canada dropped two points at home.
The teams that regularly qualify for World Cups out of Concacaf may not be the most talented, but what separates the likes of Costa Rica and Honduras from the rest of the region is that they can elevate their game when it matters most.
Costa Rica, for example, have only been to the Gold Cup semis twice in the last seven tournaments and Honduras just three times. What they can boast, however, is top-four finishes in The Hex in the last three World Cup Qualifying cycles – with Honduras only missing out on 2018 qualification after losing in a playoff to Australia.
That ability to grind out a result is still a work in progress for Canada in their first appearance at this stage of qualifying since 1997.
“I’m proud of how they responded because you could sense they were coming in at halftime and they were pissed off with the referee, angry with bits of the calls and getting frustrated,” said Canada head coach John Herdman in his postgame press conference. “The leaders in the dressing room – they steadied the ship and we made some adjustments. You got to see the real potential of this team in the second half.”
Andy Najar proved his team’s canniness in winning Honduras' first-half penalty. It wasn’t the best first touch once in the Canadian penalty area, but he knew Tajon Buchanan was breathing down his neck. Najar, rejuvenated back at D.C. United, stepped in front of the New England Revolution starlet, who bundled into his back and it really was a clear penalty.
It was a naïve tackle by Buchanan – something that has befouled Canadians more than once over the years. It’s been oft-repeated that teams will make the most of every piece of contact, especially in the penalty area.
Credit, though, must be given to Canada’s pluck in coming back after giving up the first goal. The positive second half was certainly encouraging for the Canadians as they now search for that first win.
For all of Canada’s failings in previous World Cup Qualifying cycles, it’s home form that always kept their limited qualification hopes alive.
Canada dropping two points at home to Honduras, while not catastrophic by any measure, is a very early missed opportunity – even if Herdman sought to take the positives from the night.
“It’s a sort of game you’ve got to take three points out of,” said Herdman. “We’ll take a point after the performance. It was definitely a game of two halves. The players started strong but really proud of the resilience they showed in the second half.”
In the last qualifying cycle, Canada opened with a home win over Honduras in the semifinal round and ended with a win over El Salvador. A loss to Mexico was their only home blemish but keep in mind, Mexico beat everyone away in that round.
Honduras are a team Canada's expected to battle with for a spot at the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Dropped points this early just means there’s a little bit more pressure to get a result in Nashville against the US men's national team and even more pressure to get three points next week back at BMO Field against El Salvador.
“We’re going to be underdogs,” said Nashville SC defender Alistair Johnston, who will be in familiar surroundings for Sunday's game at Nissan Stadium (8 pm ET | FS1, UniMas, TUDN). “We want to go there and shock the US, as well.”
Alphonso Davies is speed.
If you watch his highlight compilations, most of what you see is him beating players for pace. Knowing that, Honduras’ plan was simple: do whatever is needed to slow him down.
They had no problem giving up fouls a long way from goal and doing all the little tugs and kicks needed to keep him from getting up to speed. The few times Davies had room or was in 1-on-1 battles, he was dangerous.
“They did a really good job of containing us in terms of making it difficult for us to feed guys like Alphonso, guys like Tajon,” admitted Johnston. “They have a really good idea of how they want to play their game and that’s down to their good coaching and that player pool buying in.”
This plays back to the point of doing what is needed to win. Canada’s opponents are undoubtedly taking notes on how to get the team’s most creative player out of the game.
Canada will need a way to find him some space to run.
“The fantasy was that we were going to be out there and it was going to be a tiki-taka evening and we were going to score 15 goals by halftime,” said Herdman. “The reality was that Honduran team were well organized. Their medium block and low block was tight, they didn’t give anyone an inch and I thought they thrived on just that lack of chemistry of cohesion in the first half.”