The goalscoring drought is finally, mercifully over for the Canadian national team.
Canada scored their first goal in 959 minutes en route to a 1-1 draw with Bulgaria on Friday in an international friendly in Ritzing, Austria. Atiba Hutchinson stepped up to the penalty spot in the 28th minute and coolly converted the chance to pull the Canadians level and lift a massive weight off their and the long-suffering fanbase's shoulders.
As expected, Benito Floro rolled out an experienced starting lineup against the No. 73-ranked Bulgarians, with Milan Borjan getting the start in goal ahead of young Roberto Stillo and Ricky Gomes. Julian de Guzman wore the captain’s armband while Hutchinson showed the kind of dominance that has earned him Canadian Player of the Year honors on two occasions.
The game’s best early chance came to Canada in the 10th minute, when Hutchinson made a good run through the middle and chipped to Tosaint Ricketts, who fired just high from the edge of the penalty area. Hutchinson engineered another great chance six minutes later, playing in Randy Edwini-Bonsu, whose close-range shot was well-saved by Bulgarian goalkeeper Vladislav Voyanov.
But it was Bulgaria who opened the scoring in the 19th minute, with Andrey Galabinov muscling his way through the Canadian backline and slotting home from in close, after some quick one-two passing at the top of the penalty area. It was Galabinov’s first goal for his country and came in just his second appearance.
In the 27th minute, Ricketts was kicked in the face by a Bulgarian defender while chasing a corner kick and the referee pointed to the spot. That gave Hutchinson the opportunity to equalize.
Both teams had chances in the remainder of the half, but the game went to the break tied at 1-1.
Clear-cut scoring chances were harder to come by in the second half, with both sides taking a cagier approach. The Bulgarian pressure built as the half wore on, and a go-ahead goal started to seem inevitable, but Borjan – who has been without a club for several months – stayed alert and repelled a number of decent scoring chances.
Floro did give a run-out to several youngsters in the latter stages of the second half: Montreal Impact Academy midfielder Jérémy Gagnon-Lapare came on for Edwini-Bonsu and University of Connecticut striker Cyle Larin replaced Simeon Jackson, while Samuel Piette and Daniel Haber replaced Pedro Pacheco and Hutchinson, respectively, in the dying minutes.
Despite a nervy final 10 minutes as the Canadian players ran out of steam, Les Rouges did enough to earn their first result since a 0-0 draw with Mauritania on Sept. 8, 2013 – and some crucial FIFA points against a European opponent.
Up next, Canada will attempt to end another long-running and disheartening drought: 15 international games without a win, dating back to a victory over Cuba on Oct. 12, 2012. They’ll get their chance on Tuesday against No. 99-ranked Moldova.