PANAMA CITY, Panama – They couldn’t hold out forever.
In what was perhaps Canada's most important game to date in World Cup qualifying, Canada's rock-solid defense was finally undone.
The Canucks had held opponents off the board through five straight games including friendlies and hadn’t conceded a competitive goal since giving up a single goal to St. Lucia in a 4-1 win in September of last year.
“I think we’ve defended really well as a team,” said defender Kevin McKenna. "Today, we didn’t do that. We know we were getting pulled out of position and they watched the tape and they saw the way we play and they exploited those situations and they were better than us.”
In all previous games, Canada’s defending was bolstered by both Julian de Guzman and Will Johnson, who would usually backtrack to help out the backline. But Johnson’s absence due to suspension was evident as Canada started with a different formation that was further changed when Dwayne De Rosario was substituted due to injury after what was effectively six minutes of play.
As a result, they just looked out of sync for nearly the entire 90 minutes.
“I just think we were giving the opposition too much space and at times our midfield was not pressuring their midfield and they were playing balls between us,” said head coach Stephen Hart. “Once they start to play behind their lines you’re in trouble.”
The two goals conceded were all the more costly when Canada’s lack of finishing is factored in. Since Canada haveonly scored twice in four games, they’re now at even goal differential. Honduras' 4-0 drubbing of Cuba means Los Catrachos are up to plus-two on goal differential, good for second place in the group despite being tied with Canada on seven points.
This will heap pressure on that backline to keep Cuba from scoring in next month's qualifier at BMO Field and give the attackers a chance to get some much needed goals.
And though goal difference is not something Canada need to focus on just yet, it'll be in the back of their minds when Cuba come to Toronto on Oct. 12.
“We still have everything to play for and we’ve got a big game against Cuba next month,” said McKenna. “That’s the first game we’ve got to worry about and the group changed a little bit tonight, but we’ve got some big games coming up.”