TORONTO – After a sweltering midday training session Thursday at BMO Field, Canada were in high spirits ahead of Friday's match against Belize (7:30 pm ET).
They are favorites to dispatch the Central Americans, thereby progressing to the group stage of CONCACAF Qualification for the 2018 World Cup. But there is a rub: The Jaguars are largely an unknown.
“We've been watching video of them over the last two days,” said Atiba Hutchinson following training. “We kind of know what we're coming up against.”
“We're focusing on ourselves,” he continued, stressing the need to “make sure we have a good start, especially at home. It's a really important game. We're ready.”
For Portland Timbers midfielder Will Johnson, that lack of intel on the opponent is a “positive.”
“It's about us,” Johnson said firmly. “If we play to our potential, we'll win the series. That's what we're focused on. The coaching staff will give us a few pointers, help us prepare.
"If we want to get to the next level, we have to have the confidence that we can go in and win this series.”
Canada head coach Benito Floro has watched each of Belize's four matches thus far through qualification, likening them to last round's opponent, Dominica, who Canada dispatched 6-0 on aggregate.
“We must respect Belize,” Floro said in a conference call on Tuesday, “consider that they are serious, young, in good physical condition and have three or four players with good skill. It is a dangerous elimination series, so we need to concentrate and keep our focus to pass through the phase. We need to play well."
If Canada are to progress, the key deficiency that must be addressed is goal scoring. This summer's Gold Cup passed without the side scoring a single goal. That they only conceded one was an obvious asset, but goals win games.
“In the Gold Cup, the problem was to create the chances and to expend energy because of bad pressing, unbalanced pressing,” Floro said. “For this game, it's another matter. We need to focus to play well in the attack and [look to] set pieces.”
That youthful verve, combined with veteran CONCACAF savvy provides a “good mix” according to Hutchinson.
Johnson was more effusive on the topic: “This group of youngsters is probably more talented and has more resources and opportunities – U-20 World Cups, etc. – than we had when we were coming through the ranks. That's a good starting point. Now, to take that talent, turn it in to something more... to help this country get to the next level.”
Under the tutelage of Floro, whose style Johnson outlines as “very tactical, disciplined, about shape, positioning, getting every last detail right,” now is as good a time as any to get firing with qualification starting to heat up, he said.
“The guys have bought into [Floro's system],” Johnson said. “Within that structure, hopefully we can express our individual talents and freedoms to find a way to create some goals.”