Doom and gloom in Central America
Canada’s 2-0 loss in Panama last night, while hardly a surprise, has put the men’s national team’s hopes of advancing to the next stage of World Cup qualifying in serious doubt. If this were a soccer-mad country, some of the more reactionary newspapers might be questioning head coach Stephen Hart‘s credentials. It’s not.
Who are we, after all, to question that glorious spell at Halifax King of Donair? Or the first-round exit at last year’s Gold Cup, where the team could only score two penalties in their three matches?
It’s as if Canada’s soccer community is so used to failure that a coach with all the right soundbites is immune to criticism. This is, after all, a country that failed to score a goal when they hosted the 2007 U-20 World Cup and subsequently promoted the manager of that team to the senior side. The worst part of Dale Mitchell’s ascension was that it wasn’t a surprise.
Stephen Hart seems to be a decent motivator, and his cautious approach was likely the only way to prevent further blow-out in Panama City last night. That reluctance to attack, however, was partly responsible for a 0-0 draw at home to Honduras in June, a game looking more and more like two missed points the closer we get to potential elimination.
After the team couldn’t score a goal in open play at the Gold Cup, a more forward-thinking manager might’ve abandoned his extra midfielder and played with two strikers in winnable home games. Instead, a 0-0 draw at home to Puerto Rico in the previous round of qualifying took the gloss off of big wins against other Caribbean minnows; but Hart persisted, a 1-0 win in Cuba earlier in this stage seeming to vindicate his philosophy. Two 0-0 draws at home followed, a friendly against the United States and that qualifier with Honduras.
Atiba Hutchinson came up with a quick free-kick against Panama to take the points at home last week, but few observers rated the team’s chances of scoring in Central America in crucial away games. Once Panama scored from a set piece of their own, Canada looked lost, defending more like a BMO Team of the Week for the second.
Two games remain for Canada to secure progress to the next round of qualifying, where double headers against the likes of Mexico and the US await. Even four points might not be enough for the Reds, and with an away match in Honduras set to close out the group, Hart and his staff may be required to abandon their defensive philosophy against Cuba and throw caution to the wind in order to rack up their goal differential. If not, we could be looking at another bitterly disappointing trip to Central America for Canada’s national team.