Things are starting to get serious for Canada in 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying, with CONCACAF’s semifinal round getting underway in November. But before play begins in that group, Canada must first get past Belize in a home-and-home series.
While the two teams are surprisingly close to one another in the most recent FIFA rankings (Canada at No. 101, Belize at No. 123), most Canadian fans will view the series against the small Central American nation (with a population under 350,000) as a mere formality.
Belize has never reached the penultimate round of World Cup qualifying, and will be motivated to make a bit of national team history. Canada, meanwhile, has some motivation of its own after a disappointing CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament over the summer.
With the first leg coming at BMO Field, where Canada has never lost an official match, Les Rouges will be anxious to put themselves in a comfortable position ahead of the second leg. Anything less than a victory by several goals will leave the team’s emotionally scarred supporters feeling supremely antsy heading into the return leg down in Central America.
Roster note: Veteran midfielder Julian de Guzman was medically cleared to join the national team following the initial roster release, and was subsequently added to the squad.
Broadcast note: The game can be seen live on TLN in Canada and a live stream will be available on the CSA’s website, canadasoccer.com.
The two teams met in a similar two-legged World Cup qualifying series back in June 2004. Both games were played in Kingston, Ontario (Belize did not have a suitable stadium at the time), and both were won 4-0 by Canada. Those are the only two historical meetings between the squads.
The Canadians have four wins, three draws and two losses in 2015—but whether it’s been a “good” year so far is a matter of some debate.
Canada exited the Gold Cup without scoring a goal (two scoreless draws and a last-minute 1-0 loss to Jamaica), causing much consternation among pundits and fans. But head coach Benito Floro, who has worked to implement a disciplined defensive structure in his two years at the helm, chose to focus on his side’s ability to stop opposing goals rather than its inability to score goals of their own.
Indeed, Canada’s defense has been stingy in the last 18 months, conceding just eight goals in 14 games. And despite the goalless Gold Cup, Canada did post a 6-0 aggregate win over Dominica in World Cup qualifying in June.
But while grinding out low-scoring results against CONCACAF’s heavyweights might be Floro’s long-term plan, a narrow result against a minnow such as Belize will do little to ease the growing concerns amongst observers of the team.
Fresh off a pair of aggregate victories in the first two rounds of World Cup qualifying (an away-goals win over the Cayman Islands in March, and a 5-1 aggregate decision over the Dominican Republic in June), Belize shot up to an all-time high of No. 118 in the FIFA rankings in July.
But those wins over fellow regional minnows might be deceiving. Against tougher opposition at the Copa Centroamericana in September 2014, Belize posted three straight losses (against Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras). But with a little bit of momentum behind them in a thus-far-undefeated 2015, the Belize squad will be crossing their fingers for a shocking result against Canada.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Canada – Will Johnson. The Portland Timbers captain is expected to make his first appearance for the national team in over two years, after an extended absence due to injury and other circumstances. The 28-year-old looks to be one of the key veterans upon whom Floro will rely for leadership during this World Cup qualifying campaign.
Belize – Deon McCaulay. The 27-year-old striker is the all-time leading scorer for the Belize national team, with 20 goals in 35 appearances. Like virtually all of his teammates, he’s spent most of his career playing in Belize, though McCaulay did spend part of the last two years with the NASL’s Atlanta Silverbacks. He’ll be the main—perhaps the only—offensive threat for his squad.
GOALKEEPERS (3): Milan Borjan (PFK Ludogorets Razgrad/Bulgaria); Maxime Crépeau (Montreal Impact); Kenny Stamatopoulos (AIK Fotbol/Sweden)
DEFENDERS (7): David Edgar (Sheffield United/England); Luca Gasparotto (Greenock Morton/Scotland); Manjrekar James (Diósgyöri VTK/Hungary); Sam Adekugbe (Vancouver Whitecaps FC); Marcel de Jong (Sporting Kansas City); Nik Ledgerwood (Energie Cottbus/Germany); Karl W. Ouimette (New York Red Bulls)
MIDFIELDERS (10): Tesho Akindele (FC Dallas); Kyle Bekker (Montreal Impact); Julian de Guzman (Ottawa Fury FC); Atiba Hutchinson (Beşiktaş JK/Turkey); Will Johnson (Portland Timbers); Issey Nakajima-Farran (Terengganu FA/Malaysia); Michael Petrasso (Queens Park Rangers/England); Samuel Piette (Racing Ferrol/Spain); Adam Straith (Fredrikstad FK/Norway); Russell Teibert (Vancouver Whitecaps)
FORWARDS (3): Marcus Haber (Crewe Alexandra/England); Cyle Larin (Orlando City SC); Tosaint Ricketts (Boluspor/Turkey)
GOALKEEPERS (3): Woodrow West (Belmopan Bandits/Belize); Shane Orio (Suchitepéquez/Guatemala); Keith Allen (unattached)
DEFENDERS (6): Khalil Velasquez (unattached); Dalton Eiley (Belmopan Bandits/Belize); Ian Gaynair (Belmopan Bandits/Belize); Elroy Smith (Platense/Honduras); Jessie Smith (unattached); Evral Trapp (Verdes FC/Belize)
MIDFIELDERS (8): Nana-Yaw Amankwah-Mensah (unattached); Denmark Casey (Belmopan Bandits/Belize); Daniel Jimenez (Police United/Belize); Trevor Lennen (Police United/Belize); Andres Makin (Police United/Belize); Devon Makin (Police United/Belize); Jordy Polanco (Belmopan Bandits/Belize); Harrison Roches (Police United/Belize)
FORWARDS (6): Jarret Davis (FC Belize/Belize); Evan Mariano (Police United/Belize); Deon McCaulay (Verdes FC/Belize); Gabriel Perez (unattached); Highking Roberts (Belmopan Bandits/Belize); Marlon Meza (unattached)