CANADA VS. HONDURAS
Friday, November 13, 10 p.m. ET
BC Place, Vancouver
Surely the soccer gods are trying to tell us something by having this crucial World Cup qualifier fall on Friday the 13th. The question is, what’s their message?
Are we meant to believe that Canadians should, as has become their default setting, expect bad luck to befall their national team when Honduras is the opponent? Will Canadian players be walking under ladders and seeing black cats throughout training camp?
Or, perhaps, are the soccer gods slyly invoking the specter of mask-wearing movie villain Jason Voorhees, as a portent of uncharacteristic good luck for the hockey-loving northerners?
In any event, all superstitions will be summarily defenestrated once the opening whistle blows and the two sides begin their first battle of the semifinal round of World Cup qualifying. That opening whistle will be blown by Jamaican referee Kevin Morris, assigned to the match after Costa Rican official Henry Bejarano was stripped of the assignment due to comments he’d made to a Honduran newspaper.
So yes, even before these heated rivals have kicked off, the controversy is already flowing. And we shouldn’t expect to see things settle down once play begins, if previous encounters between the two sides are any indication.
The last time the two teams met, in San Pedro Sula back in October 2012, Honduras handed down a historic shellacking, as Les Rouges trundled out of World Cup qualifying on the receiving end of an 8-1 thumping. But even that result might have been enough to see Canada through to the Hexagonal round if, several months earlier, they’d been able to defeat Honduras on Canadian soil. Instead, the teams played to a 0-0 draw at Toronto’s BMO Field.
Now, on the turf at BC Place, Canada knows that nothing less than full points will do. Honduras, set to face Mexico at home four days later, will likely be content with a draw (and will surely reach deep into their bag of tricks to hold onto such a result, if circumstances warrant).
A Canadian team that’s played a mostly defensive style in two years under head coach Benito Floro will need to make full use of a recent influx of talent and find a way to get some goals, or this World Cup qualifying campaign may be over before it’s truly begun. Can they do it?
The soccer gods will let us know on Friday the 13th.
ROSTER NOTE: Defender Andre Hainault (illness) and striker Lucas Cavallini (injury), originally named to the roster, have been replaced by Manjrekar James and Marcus Haber.
Gee, where do we begin? Oh, right, that game.
There was the 8-1 anomaly. And before that, the frustrating 0-0 draw where Canada held the bulk of possession but couldn’t capitalize.
Before that was Canada’s 1-0 loss in the quarterfinals of the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup on a dubious penalty kick. A year earlier was an infuriating World Cup qualifying loss at home (complete with a dubious sending-off for Patrice Bernier), followed by a loss in San Pedro Sula that officially eliminated Canada.
Then we go back to 2005, the last time the Canadian men’s national team played in B.C.—oh look, a 2-1 loss to Honduras. And then we go back to 2004, and a pair of destructive draws, one at home (featuring a dubious Honduras penalty kick and a dubious disallowed Canadian goal) and one on the road (featuring a late breakdown in San Pedro Sula).
Now, if we go way back to 1985, there’s some good news for Canada! On Sept. 14 of that year, a 2-1 win over Honduras in St. John’s, Newfoundland, clinched Canada’s first (and thus far, only) World Cup berth.
And yes, sandwiched between all those recent moments of misery is one win over Honduras, a 2-1 win in a 2010 friendly in Montreal, a game that was delayed due to a thunderstorm (the work of the soccer gods, maybe?)
But generally, the last decade of this rivalry has not been kind to Canada. Overall, Honduras has won 10 meetings between the teams, Canada has won six and there have been four draws.
A recent wave of incoming talent--including long-time holdout Junior Hoilett, newly minted Canadian citizen Wandrille Lefevre and rising youngster Fraser Aird--has helped ratchet up the optimism among Canadian followers.
But questions still remain: How will these players, three of whom made their national-team debuts just last month, fit together and into head coach Benito Floro’s system? And will that system—which was roundly criticized after Canada exited this year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup with zero goals in three games—be able to accommodate the realities of a heated World Cup qualifying campaign, where every goal matters?
In all, 2015 has been a bit of a Jekyll-and-Hyde year for Les Rouges. They rode a four-game winning streak (in which they scored 10 goals and conceded none) into the Gold Cup, where they went out at the group stage. They dominated Belize in World Cup qualifying at home, then struggled to earn a draw in the road leg.
In their final tune-up for this round of World Cup qualifying, they played to a promising 1-1 draw with Ghana, giving them a record of five wins, five draws and two losses so far this year. The team’s final two games of 2015 will be their most challenging and most important—and it’s anyone guess as to which side of the squad we’ll see.
Los Catrachos have had a busier, but perhaps less productive, year than their Canadian counterparts. Despite the hand-wringing up north about Canada’s Gold Cup performance, Honduras actually had an even rougher go of it, losing two of their three matches.
In fact, the team just barely squeaked into the competition, finishing fifth in last year’s Copa Centroamericana, then posting a 4-3 aggregate win over French Guyana in a qualification playoff earlier this year.
While Canada entered World Cup qualifying in the earlier rounds due to their dreadful FIFA ranking, Honduras are only now beginning their quest towards Russia 2018. Still, they've been keeping themselves busy with a range of friendlies, against opponents like Brazil, Venezuela and South Africa.
In all, the team has three wins, five draws and eight losses in 2015, though one of those wins came in a friendly against heated rival El Salvador, who also find themselves in Group A of the semifinal round of World Cup qualifying, along with Canada and Mexico.
The team will also be without some notable names, including Carlo Costly and Andy Najar. But despite all of this, if Honduras has proven one thing over the past decade, it’s that they’re able to get needed results against Canada when it matters the most. Anyone reading too much into the team’s recent struggles does so at their own peril.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Canada – Cyle Larin: It’s perhaps not ideal to put the weight of the world (or a World Cup qualifying campaign) on the shoulders of a 20-year-old who’s just completed his first season as a professional. But then, these aren’t just any old shoulders we’re talking about.
Larin is a lock for MLS Rookie of the Year after his 17-goal campaign for Orlando City SC. He's also stepped onto the Canadian national team scene at precisely the right moment, with all-time leading scorer Dwayne De Rosario retiring earlier this year.
Canada need to win this game. Canada will need at least one goal in order to do that. Canada have a number of capable attackers on its roster, but their best chance for a breakthrough likely rests with Larin. No pressure, kid.
Honduras – Jerry Bengtson: Hey, remember him? You might if you’re a fan of the New England Revolution, where he spent three largely underwhelming years. Since departing MLS, he’s found a spot in Tehran, of all places, plying his trade for Persepolis FC in the Persian Gulf Pro League.
But whatever can be said about the 28-year-old on the club side, the reality is that he’s shown up for the national team, scoring 21 goals in 52 appearances for Honduras since his debut in 2010. That includes a hat trick against Canada in “the 8-1 game” and a goal in Honduras’s famous win over Mexico at Estadio Azteca in World Cup qualifying two years ago.
He’s one of the most experienced attacking players on this Honduras roster, and his previous success in World Cup qualifying will give him some confidence going into this massive encounter.
GOALKEEPERS (3): Simon Thomas (Strommen/Norway); Milan Borjan (Ludogorets Razgrad/Bulgaria); Kenny Stamatopoulos (AIK/Sweden)
DEFENDERS (9): Sam Adekugbe (Vancouver Whitecaps); Fraser Aird (Glasgow Rangers/Scotland); Manjrekar James (Diósgyőri/Hungary); David Edgar (Sheffield United/England); Dejan Jakovic (Shimizu S-Pulse); Adam Straith (Fredrikstad/Norway); Marcel de Jong (Sporting Kansas City); Karl Ouimette (New York Red Bulls); Wandrille Lefevre (Montreal Impact)
MIDFIELDERS (9): Tesho Akindele (FC Dallas); Julian de Guzman (Ottawa Fury FC); Kianz Froese (Vancouver Whitecaps); David “Junior” Hoilett (Queens Park Rangers/England); Atiba Hutchinson (Besiktas/Turkey); Will Johnson (Portland Timbers); Samuel Piette (Deportivo la Coruna/Spain); Tosaint Ricketts (Boluspor/Turkey); Russell Teibert (Vancouver Whitecaps)
FORWARDS (2): Marcus Haber (Crewe Alexandra/England); Cyle Larin (Orlando City SC)
GOALKEEPERS (2): Noel Valladares (Olimpia/Honduras); Donis Escober (Olimpia/Honduras)
DEFENDERS (8): Maynor Figueroa (Colorado Rapids); Emilio Izaguirre (Celtic/Scotland); Brayan Beckeles (Necaxa/Mexico); Johnny Leveron (UAT/Mexico); Johnny Palacios (Olimpia/Honduras); Wilmer Cristanto (Motagua/Honduras); David Velásquez (Victoria/Honduras); Ever Alvarado (Olimpia/Honduras)
MIDFIELDERS (9): Oscar Boniek Garcia (Houston Dynamo); Mario Martinez (ENPPI/Egypt); Luis Garrido (Houston Dynamo); Arnold Peralta (Olimpia/Honduras); Carlos Discua (Alajuelense/Costa Rica); Romell Quioto (Olimpia/Honduras); Bryan Acosta (Real Espana/Honduras); Erick Andino (Motagua/Honduras); Oliver Morazan (Olimpia/Honduras)
FORWARDS (4): Jerry Bengtson (Persepolis/Iran); Anthony Lozano (Tenerife/Spain); Rubilio Castillo (UAT/Mexico); Angel Tejada (Honduras Progreso/Honduras)