Four years ago, during halftime of Canada’s infamous meltdown in Honduras, then-captain Kevin McKenna remarked that the team was, with the score already 4-0, just looking to do “damage control”.
That game, of course, ended 8-1.
And although it’s highly unlikely that Canada’s upcoming match against Mexico at the Estadio Azteca will get that far out of hand, Friday night’s result in Vancouver (a convincing 3-0 win for the visitors) has raised the specter of the team possibly finding itself in damage-control mode on Tuesday night.
But however fatalistic the outside analysis may be, the team itself appears to believe that the lessons learned from Friday’s clash could help produce a better result down in Mexico City.
“I’m expecting a good team, with a big crowd behind them, to try to put on a show,” Toronto FC and Canada midfielder Will Johnson said following Friday’s game. “It can’t be too much harder than what they did [Friday]; I thought they were excellent.”
Though he lauded the talent of the Mexican players, Johnson also said the Canadian team let themselves down by not executing when they needed to—including spurning a number of glorious goal-scoring opportunities.
“[Mexico] are gonna do what they’re gonna do, they’re a good team,” said Johnson. “We weren’t as sharp as we needed to be; our structure wasn’t very good either.”
A record-breaking crowd of 54,798 packed BC Place on Friday, which Johnson believes made his team “too eager” in the early going and left them vulnerable once the game got stretched out. But although the Azteca crowd could be even larger and louder, Johnson feels the experience of Friday night’s game provided some key takeaways that could help Canada handle the pressure better.
“We’ve got to keep our shape a little bit, understand that they are a very good counterattacking team,” he said. “We don’t need to commit as many numbers forward as possible at all times. [We have to] understand that holding a shape is OK at times too.”
Indeed, the Canadians are now more aware than ever of the costliness of getting caught by a team of Mexico’s caliber. Like Johnson, head coach Benito Floro said the home loss gives this squad a better idea of what’s needed on the road Tuesday.
“We need to increase our tactical level, realizing that if it is not possible to combine attack, we need to do 50/50, but never caught in between,” he said in a press conference following Friday’s game.
Even if there are positives to be gleaned from the previous encounter, Canada will still enter the Azteca as massive underdogs. Yet despite the potential temptation to write off this upcoming game and shift the focus to the final two games of the semifinal round (coming up in September), Floro insisted his team will head to Mexico with some degree of hope.
“[We will] think only to win in Mexico. This is the way,” he said. “Our mission is to win—one point, three points—in Mexico, doing things better than [Friday].”