CANADA VS. GUATEMALA
Friday, March 27, 4:30 pm ET
Lockhart Stadium, Fort Lauderdale, Florida
It’s crunch time for head coach Benito Floro, as he looks to put the finishing touches on his Canadian team before they head into another cycle of World Cup qualifying.
The key to Canada’s qualification campaign will be, as always, their ability to earn results on the road against Central American teams. And while a sparsely-attended friendly in Florida won’t exactly mirror the sorts of conditions Canada will face as their qualifying campaign ramps up, Floro is hoping this game against Guatemala will give his players a small taste of what they can expect in the CONCACAF region.
But Floro also has his eyes on a different tournament: the 2016 Olympics. Ever since he was hired in 2013, Floro has identified the Rio Games as a priority for the Canadian program. So while his main goal has been rebuilding the senior men’s team in preparation for World Cup qualifying and this summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, he’s also been taking an opportunity to get closer looks at some members of the Under-23 pool (who would be eligible to play in Olympic qualifying).
To that end, Floro has called in the likes of goalkeeper Quillan Roberts (Toronto FC), defender Luca Gasparotto (on loan at Airdrieonians) and midfielder Christopher Mannella (recently named captain of Toronto FC II), all of whom are just 20 years old.
But those youngsters – and everyone else on the roster – will also be auditioning for a role in Canada’s first team as a massive 2015 gets underway. After nearly two years of tinkering and rebuilding, Floro will hope that he’s finally assembled and prepared a team capable of getting results when it matters most.
Roster notes: Sam Adekugbe (Vancouver Whitecaps) was ruled out due to injury, while Andre Hainault is also unable to attend camp. In their place, Floro has added Tyler Pasher (Pittsburgh Riverhounds) and Jonathan Grant (Sigma FC).
The last time these two teams met, it was also in a pre-Gold Cup friendly, played on American soil. It was June 30, 2009 in Oxnard, Calif., and Canada went on to a 3-0 victory thanks to a brace by Ali Gerba and a goal by Patrice Bernier.
Canada also defeated Guatemala 3-0 in the group stage at the 2007 Gold Cup, with Gerba scoring a highlight-reel goal for Les Rouges (WATCH below).
In 12 all-time meetings between the two countries, Canada has won eight times, Guatemala was won twice and two games were draws.
The Canadians kicked off 2015 with a pair of friendlies against Iceland in January, a hard-fought 2-1 loss and a 1-1 draw. Those decent results helped carry the momentum Canada had started accumulating late in 2014, with a 3-1 win over Jamaica, a narrow 1-0 loss to heavyweights Colombia and a gritty 0-0 result on the road in Panama City.
The team, however, still has yet to fully emerge from the shadow of a gruesome ending to their 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign. Canada have won only once and scored just eight goals in their last 20 games, which has seen the team plummet to No. 116 in the latest FIFA rankings.
With friendlies against Guatemala and Puerto Rico being followed by a pair of World Cup qualifiers in June against either Dominica or the British Virgin Islands, Floro will be hoping the time has come for his team to finally reverse that trend.
This will be Guatemala’s first match of 2015, after an encouraging campaign in 2014. The Guatemalans danced through the group stage at the Copa Centroamericana in September, posting wins over El Salvador, Honduras and Belize. That clinched a berth in this year’s Gold Cup, and a spot in the final of the Central American championship against Costa Rica.
With a berth in next year’s Copa America Centenario hanging in the balance, Guatemala actually took an early lead, on a penalty converted by all-time leading scorer Carlos Ruiz. But the Ticos stormed back, winning 2-1 to take the Central American crown and earn a precious spot in next summer’s pan-American extravaganza.
Guatemala will get another shot at qualifying for the Copa America Centenario at this summer’s Gold Cup. They’ll be hoping that warm-up friendlies against Canada and El Salvador – who also have their eyes set on the Centenario – will give them just the sort of preparation they need to get the job done.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Canada – Cyle Larin. No. 1 overall in the MLS SuperDraft? Done. First appearance for Orlando City SC? Done. The next career landmark on the horizon for the 19-year-old – scoring his first goal as a professional.
He definitely knows how to find the back of the net, having scored 23 goals in 39 appearances in two seasons with the University of Connecticut Huskies. And he almost scored his first goal for Canada in a friendly against Colombia last October.
But in a big year for both club and country, Larin will be looking to recapture the red-hot goal-scoring form he had during his rookie campaign at UConn. These friendlies could provide him with the chance to light that spark.
Guatemala – Carlos Ruiz. With 88 goals in an MLS career that encompassed nine seasons with four teams, Ruiz is still a top-10 scorer in league history. But his last appearance was less than spectacular, when he played 13 games for D.C. United in 2013 without scoring once.
The 35-year-old has rediscovered his scoring touch in his native Guatemala, scoring 23 goals in 43 appearances for Municipal since last year. As the all-time leader in both appearances (110) and goals (57) for his national team, Ruiz will continue to be a central focus for Guatemala – and for their opponents.
GOALKEEPERS (3): Milan Borjan (FK Radnicki Nis), Quillan Roberts (Toronto FC), Kenny Stamatopoulos (AIK)
DEFENDERS (8): Luca Gasparotto (Rangers FC, on loan at Airdrieonians), Dejan Jakovic (Shimizu S-Pulse), Manjrekar James (Pecsi MFC), Karl W. Ouimette (New York Red Bulls), Marcel de Jong (Sporting Kansas City), David Edgar (Birmingham City FC, on loan at Huddersfield Town), Tyler Pasher (Pittsburgh Riverhounds), Jonathan Grant (Sigma FC)
MIDFIELDERS (9): Nik Ledgerwood (Energie Cottbus), Maxim Tissot (Montreal Impact), Kyle Bekker (FC Dallas), Julian de Guzman (unattached), Randy Edwini-Bonsu (Stuttgarter Kickers), Simeon Jackson (Coventry City), Christopher Mannellla (Toronto FC), Samuel Piette (Deportivo la Coruña), Russell Teibert (Vancouver Whitecaps)
FORWARDS (3): Tosaint Ricketts (Hapoel Haifa), Marcus Haber (Crewe Alexandra), Cyle Larin (Orlando City SC)
GOALKEEPERS (2): Paulo César Motta (Municipal), Juan Paredes (Comunicaciones)
DEFENDERS (8): Dennis López (Municipal), Stefano Cincotta (Chemnitzer FC), Carlos Gallardo (Comunicaciones), Wilson Lalín (Comunicaciones), Gerardo Arias (Deportivo Petapa), Moisés Hernández (FC Dallas), Tomás Castillo (Guastatoya), Elías Vásquez (Real Salt Lake)
MIDFIELDERS (8): Marvin Ávila (Municipal), Carlos Mejía (Comunicaciones), Jean Márquez (Comunicaciones), Jorge Aparicio (Comunicaciones), José Manuel Contreras (Comunicaciones), Brandon de León (Deportivo Marquense), Marco Pappa (Seattle Sounders), Aslinn Rodas (Xelajú M.C.)
FORWARDS (2): Carlos Ruíz (Municipal), Ángelo Padilla (Carmelita)