It’s only the second match day, yet Canada’s trip to Puerto Rico on Tuesday (8 pm ET, Rogers Sportnet One in Canada) may be the most important in Group D of CONCACAF’s second World Cup qualifying round.
The Canadians opened their campaign last Friday as expected, by taking all three points at home against St. Lucia, arguably the weakest team of the group. Puerto Rico, who looked on paper to be Canada’s main challenger for the top spot despite being ranked lower than other Group D competitors St. Kitts and Nevis, only managed a scoreless draw against the Sugar Boyz, and thus will be aiming to maximize their home field advantage on Tuesday night against the visiting Canucks.
Once again, Canada goes into the match with the rare title of favorites, although the Canadians will be face a much stiffer challenge when they kick off against Puerto Rico in Bayamón. The Puerto Ricans, who are committed to a new style of prototypical Latin flair under their Costa Rican coach, will not be able to settle for another draw, especially with St. Kitts and Nevis expected to beat St. Lucia in Tuesday’s other Group D matchup.
With that in mind, Puerto Rico may try to open things up, something that could suit a Canadian side filled with experienced attackers looking to break out of a self-admitted funk.
HEAD TO HEAD
All-time: Tuesday’s meeting will be the first between Puerto Rico and Canada at the senior men’s level.
Coming off a 4-1 win against St. Lucia, the Canadians looked less than convincing in the first half of that match before wearing down the tiny Caribbean nation en route to a fairly comfortable victory.
Stephen Hart’s side will have to play a more complete game against Puerto Rico, as they won’t be able to rely on their opponents’ lack of conditioning and tactical awareness like they did against the St. Lucians.
Canada will look to retain possession and create numerous chances as they did in Friday’s match, but they’ll need much better composure in front of the net if they want to leave Estadio Juan Ramón Loubriel with the full three points.
“You have to go in with confidence,” captain Kevin McKenna said of the upcoming match. “You have to finish the chances, [and] you have to finish them early on in the game because the more and more the game is tied at zero, it’s going to give them confidence to get one and then they’re going to hold on to it.”
There shouldn’t be too many surprises coming from the Canadians tactically. Josh Simpson, Dwayne De Rosario and Atiba Hutchinson will be looked upon to create opportunities for themselves and their teammates, while central defenders Andre Hainault and McKenna will try to stop any potential counterattacks from the home side.
Puerto Rico return home after picking up a point at St. Kitts and Nevis, although Jeaustin Campos’ side would have been disappointed not to have grabbed all three points before facing Group D favorites Canada.
The Puerto Ricans will rely on the experience of a host of professionals — many of whom play (or have played) for NASL’s Puerto Rico Islanders — and the kind surroundings of the Estadio Juan Ramón Loubriel, which has been good to the national team in the past.
One pro they won't be able to count on, however, is goalkeeper Terry Boss, who has apparently returned to the Seattle Sounders after suffering a concussion in Friday's match.
Defensively and in the midfield, there is a wealth of solid veteran presence for Campos to choose from, although options up front are not nearly as plentiful.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Canada: Josh Simpson, attacker. The 28-year-old speedster didn’t have the best first half against St. Lucia on Friday, yet he still opened the scoring on an odd play following a De Rosario cross. He added a second goal after the halftime break, latching on to a well-weighted Hutchinson through ball and easily sliding it past the on-rushing ‘keeper.
Simpson can cause a ton of problems for the opposing fullbacks when he’s on his game, so the Canadians will be counting on a good performance from one of their key offensive weapons.
Puerto Rico: Chris Megaloudis, attacker. Puerto Rico's leading scorer was held goalless in last Friday's draw with St. Kitts and Nevis, and will need to be on his game if the island nation hopes to get something out of this match.
Megaloudis scored against Honduras at the Juan Ramón Loubriel in the 2010 World Cup qualifying cycle. Can he do it again against the Canadians?