The supporters were there in red, chanting, banging drums and waving the maple leaf proudly in the stands. It was a fantastic October night in Toronto and the atmosphere was starting to build as the kick-off approached. After setting a Canadian soccer record for goals in a single game against Saint Lucia on Friday, like many my anticipation for Tuesday night’s encounter with Puerto Rico at BMO Field was at an all-time high. I never expected to be let down in such an agonizing fashion.
From scoring seven in the jungle to barely creating a half-chance on home soil was a huge let down. The players must have been camera shy, unable to inflict any damage to the enormous wall the visitors put up along their eighteen yard box. Puerto Rico was clearly playing for the point and Canada struggled to break them down. Dwayne De Rosario was back in the starting eleven and provided most of Canada's offensive output. The Scarborough native was also chasing a record of his own, only one back of tying Dale Mitchell's record of nineteen goals all-time for Canada.
In the early stages you could see the added confidence Canada possessed, dictating the pace by controlling the ball and trying to pick apart their opponents. Possession was never in doubt, De Rosario did well to set up Ian Hume with a perfectly weighted ball to the far corner, but the striker mistimed his volley and wasted a perfect opportunity to ease the pressure and put Canada in front.
Canada seemed to lack the killer blow, barely threatening the Puerto Rican goal despite the massive difference in ball possession. Josh Simpson and Simeon Jackson both used their speed and skill to get passed their markers, but were unable to provide an adequate cross to create a decent scoring chance. The only bright spot was the play of De Rosario, constantly running at defenders and pressuring the ball, trying to force an error. The rest of the team looked stale, it was disappointing to watch.
Puerto Rico failed to produce anything offensively, barely getting the ball past the halfway line. On the defensive end they were well organized and forced the ball down the flanks and clogging up the middle with nine men behind the ball. Content on absorbing pressure, the visitor’s only strength offensively was on the counter attack or set-pieces. Not the most entertaining brand of soccer but effective when playing against a stronger opponent. It was a first half to forget for Canada.
The second half started out strong, De Rosario set up Jackson who got behind his defender but failed to beat Brandon Saldana, the Puerto Rican keeper did well to make the save at his near post on a tough angle. Next was a great individual effort by Simpson, running in on goal but his shot was wide of the target. Canada continued to poor on the pressure, Simpson was then gifted his second chance of the night, pouncing on a poor back pass, but Saldana came out hard and quick to make the save, with Simpson hitting the ground hard in the collision.
Stephen Hart could be seen on the sidelines visibly frustrated, the Canadian manager could only watch in agony at his side’s shortcomings in the final third. Jackson was next to squander a perfect chance. He did well controlling Ante Jazic's cross but failed to test the keeper and sent his shot over the bar. It was that type of night for the Canadians. Late in the match, Simpson broke in on goal after a terrible clearance by another poor clearance by the defender. Instead of taking a shot from the difficult angle which would have caused a rebound, he decided to pass without a teammate in proper position to capitalize, and the ball rolled harmlessly through the crease untouched.
Lars Hirschfeld was mostly a spectator in the Canadian goal, barely touching the ball throughout the match. After letting in a howler against Saint Lucia three games earlier, he was able to make the save of the game and avoided what would have been an embarrassing loss for Canada. Andres Perez was positioned perfectly to finish the wonderful scoring chance for Puerto Rico, but Hirschfeld was able to stay big and took the powerful shot on the chest from close range to preserve the draw. Canada was caught sleeping and almost paid the price for their failure to put away chances.
The result ended Puerto Rico's chance of qualification into the next round, although the little island nation took many positives from their performance on the night. Canada needs just one point from their final two games to advance into the third round. The Canucks need to better improvise and adapt in situations that go against the original game plan, their decision making was below-par and showed a team fresh out of ideas. The visitors parked the bus, deciding to focus all their efforts in preventing Canada from playing, defending to the bitter end and earning a remarkable point.
The mood inside BMO was that of disappointment and frustration after the final whistle. Thoroughly disappointed at the result, sections of the crowd let the players know how they felt with their performance. Something I strongly disagree with, the boys played their hearts out and deserved a better result. Confidence is contagious when achieved, but easy to lose. The game was a major let down, but Canada need to keep their eye on the prize and not allow this recent set-back to derail all the progress that has been made thus far. Take it for what it was a bad result and let's focus on the bigger picture.