In the end, it was a familiar scene for Canada at Estadio Azteca. Now, they have five months to prepare for another familiar scene: the Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.
Tuesday night’s results in Group A — Canada’s 2-0 loss in Mexico City, and Honduras’s 2-0 home win against El Salvador — mean the Canada-Honduras showdown on Sept. 2 will almost surely determine which of the two teams will join Mexico in the Hexagonal round.
That will hardly be comforting to Canadian fans, who’ve seen their team eliminated from World Cup contention in Honduras during the past two qualification cycles. On this occasion, however, Canada are guaranteed to still have a shot at the Hexagonal round when they play their final game of the round, at home to El Salvador (Sept. 6).
Mexico have already booked their ticket to the Hex, and the gap in quality between El Tri and the rest of the group was on full display over the past week, which also included a 3-0 win at Vancouver’s BC Place last Friday. Manager Juan Carlos Osorio made a half-dozen changes to his starting lineup for Tuesday’s game, but his side was still able to put away the visiting Canadians with relative ease.
Floro mixes it up. On the other side, Canadian manager Benito Floro raised some eyebrows with his selections, opting for 22-year-old Manjrekar James over national-team veteran David Edgar in the middle of defense. And while James performed decently on the big stage, Edgar’s exclusion from these two qualifiers against Mexico raises some questions about his status with Canada.
Elsewhere on the back line, Floro continued his quest to turn Doneil Henry into a fullback, with decidedly mixed results. The former Toronto FC center back showed some flashes of his defending talent, but also conceded an early penalty with a clumsy challenge.
Interestingly, Nik Ledgerwood (Canada’s regular right back in recent years) played on the right side of midfield, in place of Tosaint Ricketts. Whether that was Floro’s original plan, or was necessitated by Scott Arfield’s removal from the roster due to a back injury, is unknown — but all things considered, Ledgerwood performed well.
Escaping the book. Julian de Guzman, Will Johnson and Junior Hoilett all came into the game on yellow cards; a booking on Tuesday would have ruled them out for September’s big Honduras showdown. Thankfully for Les Rouges, all stayed in the referee’s good graces and will — barring unforeseen circumstances — be part of the Canadian squad in their next World Cup qualifier.
A hands-off approach. The status of another presumptive starter was called into question as top goalkeeper Milan Borjan was forced to leave Tuesday’s game late in the first half with a left hand injury. There was no immediate update on his status, though the initial uncertainty about whether he’d remain in the game suggests the injury may not be too serious.
Though veteran Kenny Stamatopoulos was able to fill in admirably (as he did at last summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup), the team is severely lacking in experienced goalkeepers behind him, meaning Borjan’s health will be a key talking point in the months ahead.
Searching for second place. Honduras and Canada sit tied with four points, but the Central Americans hold a three-goal edge in goal differential, giving them the crucial second-place spot in the group. That leaves Canada with the unenviable task of once again needing a result in San Pedro Sula to keep their hopes alive.
Though Canada could still reach the Hex with a loss in Honduras, it would mean they’d have to win big against El Salvador on Sept. 6; and hope that Mexico also puts up a lopsided score line against Honduras. For a team that’s scored just once in its last five games, a blowout win over El Salvador is hardly a safe bet.
If Canada hope to reach the Hex for the first time since 1997, they’ll need to exorcise the demons of past campaigns and earn a result in Honduras.