TORONTO – Despite filling the net in their previous match just days prior, Canada could not find the answers to Puerto Rico’s stingy defense as the teams played to a scoreless draw in 2014 World Cup qualifying on Tuesday night at BMO Field.
The Canadians shelled St. Lucia 7-0 last Friday, but could not replicate the free-flowing offense against the determined Puerto Ricans, who spent much of the game packed behind the ball.
Canada had all of the possession in the opening 45 minutes, with the visitors all too happy to allow the hosts to pass the ball around as they pleased. It didn’t matter though, as the final ball seemed to elude the Canadians time and again, with crosses into the Puerto Rican area going wayward or straight to the ‘keeper.
Aside from the odd industrious run from Dwayne De Rosario, the Canucks had no ideas in the final third, and when the halftime whistle was blown, the scoreline remained 0-0.
Coach Stephen Hart switched things around to start the second half, swapping wingers Simeon Jackson and Josh Simpson to opposite wings. The strategy added a bit more variation to a stagnant Canadian attack, as both Simpson and Jackson had cracks on goal early into the half.
Simpson had a great opportunity to open the scoring at the hour mark, pouncing on a poor Puerto Rican back pass in the six-yard box. The 28-year-old attacker had his hard shot stopped by charging goalkeeper Brandon Saldana, with both men colliding and the ball falling harmlessly wide.
Canada kept the pressure on the visitors, coming close on a couple more chances as Puerto Rico fell into a defensive shell to try to preserve the scoreless deadlock.
Substitute forwards Olivier Occean and Tosaint Ricketts combined well towards the end of regulation, coming close on a number of occasions and being called offside on a handful of attacks.
The match opened up considerably in the final ten minutes of play, and although the Canadians had the lion’s share of offensive forays, Puerto Rico came very close to putting on past Lars Hirschfeld with just seven minutes remaining.
Andrés Pérez broke in alone on the Canadian goal after a quick counterattack, and only Hirschfeld’s quick thinking saved Canada from falling behind. The Canuck keeper rushed out towards Pérez and forced the attacker to blast a shot into goalkeeper’s chest.
The single point was not enough for Puerto Rico to stay in contention in Group D, while Canada remain atop the table despite dropping points.
Hart’s side will take on St. Kitts and Nevis – the second-place team in the group – in back-to-back matches in November to determine which team advances to the semifinal round of CONCACAF’s World Cup qualifying tournament.
PUR -- Andrés Pérez, 60’ (Caution)
PUR -- Scott Horta, 68’ (Caution)
Canada -- Lars Hirschfeld, Ante Jazic, Adam Straith, David Edgar, Nik Ledgerwood, Julian de Guzman, Terry Dunfield, Dwayne De Rosario, Simeon Jackson (Tosaint Ricketts, 70’), Josh Simpson, Iain Hume (Olivier Occean, 34’)
Subs not used: Kenny Stamatopoulos, Ashtone Morgan, Joseph Di Chiara, Jonathan Beaulieu-Borgault
Puerto Rico -- Brandon Saldana, Scott Jones, Scott Horta, Richard Martínez, Andrés Pérez, Cristian Arrieta, Peter Villegas (Marco Vélez, 57’), Alexis Rivera, Andrés Cabrero, Tyler Wilson (Chris Megaloudis, 78’), Héctor Ramos (Stephan Barea, 87’)
Subs not used: Eric Flecha, Noah Delgado, Gadiel Figueroa, Julian Cardona, Juan Vélez
Referee: Stanley Lancaster (GUY)
Assistant Referees: Dionn Inniss (GUY), Venton Mars (GUY)
Fourth Official: Otis James (GUY)
Weather: Partly cloudy and 66 degrees