COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – The Canadian U-23 national team were well on their way to comfortably booking a trip to the semifinals of the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Championship, holding a 2-1 lead over Cuba on a rainy Tuesday night at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
A win would have locked up the second spot in Group A, keeping alive Canada's chances to participate in their first Olympic Games since 1984. Then Cuba’s Arichel Hernandez caught Canada goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau of the Montreal Impact off his line, chipping in the equalizer in the 87th minute to give his team a 2-2 draw and making Canada sweat out the group finale between the US and Panama before learning their fate.
Canada, who finished group play with four points, advanced as the second-place team after the US beat Panama. Canada will face the Group B winner, either Mexico or Honduras, in Saturday's second game with an Olympic spot on the line.
On a wet field Tuesday, both sides were a bit cautious to begin the match. Cuba were content to allow Canada to play the ball around while looking for openings to counter.
And it paid off in the 25th minute when Canada’s Caleb Clarke, the Vancouver Whitecaps 2 forward, sent a ball into the box at the end of a stellar run. Michael Petrasso was there and knocked his shot past the onrushing ‘keeper for the 1-0 lead.
The goal seemed to pump life into Cuba as they opened up a counter in the 32nd minute with Maykel Reyes collecting wide right and looking up field. His low through ball found Hernandez on the left. He hit a perfectly placed shot past Crépeau just inside the far post for the equalizer.
The Canadian side started the second half on the front foot as Petrasso won a free kick just outside the penalty area. Halftime substitute Mo Babouli of Toronto FC II hammered a shot to the right of the Cuban wall seeing it skip under the arms of Sanchez for the 2-1 lead seven minutes after the break.
The goal once again energized Cuba, and they put Canada in real danger when Reyes had a shot blocked by the defense in minute 65. The rebound fell to Hector Morales, but Crépeau came out of goal quickly to stop the shot.
Canada midfielder Mauro Estaquio had a chance to ice the game in the 81st minute as he jumped on a loose ball in front of the Cuba goalmouth, but his shot was placed just wide right of the post.
That proved costly, as Hernandez caught Crépeau off his line in the 87th minute for the equalizer. Should Canada advance, they would face the first-place team from Group B, either Mexico or Honduras.