Here are three thoughts from a crucial win for Canada, which kept them atop the Octagonal table on matchday nine of 14 in Concacaf World Cup Qualifying, putting a Qatar 2022 automatic berth into greater focus.
The last 10 months have seen the Canadians slowly overcome the mental hurdles that have plagued the men’s program for nearly 20 years.
It started with a two-legged series over Haiti in June during the second round of World Cup qualifying. That lifted the burden of the humiliating elimination in the 2019 Gold Cup quarterfinals to the very same Haitian side. It continued with competitive showings, albeit ending in defeat, to the United States and Mexico at last summer’s Gold Cup.
Canada built on those performances in the Octagonal's early days. They earned a 1-1 draw against the US in Nashville last September. Then came a historic point at Estadio Azteca versus Mexico in October. One month later, Les Rouges defeated Mexico in Edmonton, their first win over El Tri in World Cup qualifying for 45 years. They finished that November window atop the table, unbeaten, with 16 points.
However, the biggest mental triumph of all might have come on Thursday. Nearly a decade ago, Canada suffered perhaps their most embarrassing defeat, an 8-1 shellacking to Honduras at Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano. Almost 10 years later, Canada exit with a win in Los Catrachos' own backyard.
"That is what this team is,” head coach John Herdman said postgame. “It can balance it out, it can grind, it can defend, it can hit teams on the counterattack and on other days, it can play. I think we are able to create the mentality that is required for the moment and that mentality tonight was to make sure we came out of here, no matter what it took, with a win and I think those boys committed to that."
With the venue at half-capacity and a rebuilding Honduran side on the pitch, it wasn’t exactly your classic Concacaf road match in Central America. But given that this is Canada’s first of four games in the region, starting 2022 with this narrative-busting result must feel euphoric, especially for Milan Borjan and Atiba Hutchinson, who were there on that fateful afternoon on Oct. 16, 2012.
With Alphonso Davies watching live from Munich, Tajon Buchanan and Jonathan David delivered the goods.
The 10th-minute opener may go down as an own goal, but it was created entirely by the 22-year-old New England Revolution product, who picked up where he left off with the national team when they needed him most.
No one was more thrilled than Davies, who was streaming a watch-along live on Twitch in the early hours in Germany.
Buchanan was deployed as a right wingback and it paid dividends almost immediately with the goal. As the game continued, the Club Brugge attacker found more space down the wing and wreaked havoc.
Even in situations where he wasn’t on the ball, Buchanan was influencing the game. Honduras became so obsessed with slowing him down, it left the entire flank exposed for Canada.
Buchanan eventually slowed down but David more than picked up the slack in the 73rd minute with a goal that rivals Davies’ solo effort versus Panama.
Everything, from Liam Fraser’s pass to David’s control and finish, was as flawless as it comes. It was a fitting conclusion to a joyful night for Canadian soccer and the Lille forward.
"If you watched him all night, he put that cover shadow on the center midfielders,” Herdman said of David. “He does the dirty work and he is a top player in Europe, and to find that player to do the dirty work when they are coming into environments like this, that is not easy.
"But then he can produce that moment. He put a big shift in, and he is still there ready to bring that – and I have called him it before – that sort of ice man, that sort of ice in his veins in the big moments."
Twelve days from his 39th birthday, Atiba Hutchinson remains ever-present for the Canadian men's national team.
Stephen Eustaquio’s COVID-induced absence meant that Hutchinson would be leaned upon even more in an environment where Canada have traditionally struggled. The Beşiktaş midfielder was habitually breaking up Honduran counters, recovering possession and passing through their counter-press as if it were a casual seven-a-side game at your local park.
No Canadian completed (29) or attempted (33) more passes than Hutchinson on Thursday. He also won four of his six defensive duels while logging two tackles, an interception and eight recoveries.
"It was an amazing result," the captain said postgame. "I had a lot of sleepless nights thinking about this stadium so to finally get a result here – after a long time coming – it feels amazing."
Eustaquio’s status remains day-to-day, so it’s possible Hutchinson starts against the USMNT on Sunday in Hamilton (3:05 pm ET | OneSoccer, Paramount+). Whatever the case, Canada’s all-time appearances leader will be ready as the now-Porto midfielder recovers.