Sports Soccer

Canada's men beat Dominica to advance

By Kurt Larson, Toronto Sun

Canada’s Samuel Piette goes up for a header against two Dominica players during Tuesday night’s game at BMO Field. (MICHAEL PEAKE/Toronto Sun)

Canada’s Samuel Piette goes up for a header against two Dominica players during Tuesday night’s game at BMO Field. (MICHAEL PEAKE/Toronto Sun)

TORONTO - 

Games like Tuesday night serve as a reminder that Canada’s men are constantly teetering on the fringes of irrelevancy.

While the United States is winning in the Netherlands and Germany, Canada is stuck playing in early round qualifiers that are mere formalities.

While the Mexicans are competing in the Copa America, the Canadians — due to their poor FIFA ranking — are wasting energy against tiny Caribbean nations.

While Costa Rica is coming off a near-semifinal performance at last summer’s World Cup in Brazil, Canada is playing in front of sparse crowds here at Toronto’s BMO Field.

In a second-leg that wasn’t even on TV, a 4-0 win (6-0 on aggregate) over Dominica Tuesday night means Canada’s men are through to CONCACAF’s third round of World Cup qualifying to be played later this summer.

There they’ll meet another regional minnow before the real qualifiers against the aforementioned three CONCACAF powerhouses begin.

It’s hard not to look down the road on nights like this, when first-half goals from Tesho Akindele and Cyle Larin put this second round qualifier to bed early. Two second-half strikes from Tosaint Ricketts extended the drubbing.

Before that, a 2-0 win in Dominica late last week meant this tie was all but done anyway — something that made it impossible not to ponder what’s to come.

How does this Canadian squad compare to the one that tragically lost in Honduras three years ago?

Have there been any marked improvements under current bench boss Benito Floro?

“It’s difficult to answer that because it’s impossible for me to test the level at the moment,” Floro said when asked to compare Canada to the U.S. and Mexico.

“If teams want to beat us, they must fight a lot. Last year we played friendlies against difficult teams. The performances were very good.”

More answers won’t come until next month’s Gold Cup, Canada’s first major competitive test in two years — games that will show whether Floro has moved the needle.

Canada will play Costa Rica in its final Gold Cup group game here in Toronto next month. The result of that match could be a precursor to the likelihood of Floro’s group picking up results when the qualifiers get tough later this year.

Because that, in the end, is how Canada’s men will once again garner legitimacy among casual fans who are only interested in watching their country play in big games with big ramifications.

It’s what made the last cycle so hard to swallow. For a few months in 2012, Canada’s men were actually piquing peoples’ interest.

Fourth-round qualifiers against Cuba, Panama and Honduras back then drew boisterous crowds approaching 18,000 at BMO Field. The environment was festive, truly Canadian. It was as if this country, for a few weeks, had its own soccer culture.

When Canada had its best chance in close to a decade to change opinions, it put in one of the worst performances in its history in an 8-1 loss in Honduras. Close to a quarter-million Canadians tuned in that weekday afternoon to potentially see history.

Because of that disastrous result, Canadians were denied the chance to see Canada host five more qualifiers against big time CONCACAF teams.

That was followed by a calendar year that saw Canada go winless in 14, scoring just one goal in 2013.

As a result, it was back to obscurity. It was back to being the butt-end of jokes while Canada’s women have consistently stolen the spotlight since the 2012 Olympics. At times, it’s as if the men don’t exist for most soccer fans in this country.

It’s not the current squad’s fault. It’s not Floro’s fault, either.

It’s the result of a collection of poor performances and results over the course of the past four World Cup cycles, spanning an incredible 15 years.

What happened here Tuesday night, setting aside the win, was a reminder of how far Canada has fallen. There’s no reason Canada’s men should be playing in these early qualifying stages against nations Canada’s residents usually visit on vacation.

But in order to prove its seeding within the CONCACAF region is insulting, Canada has to show up at next month’s Gold Cup.

It has to advance from a group containing the likes of Jamaica and El Salvador — a pair of mediocre squads Canada could face down the road in qualifying. Those matches will be tests to see how far this side can venture along the road to Russia 2018.

“We’re in a good way, but not to my desire,” Floro added. “I would like something better in our team, the pressing. We need to keep possession of the ball in certain moments of the game.

“We took advantage of these games to reinforce our system.”

If the results aren’t there, then Canada deserves to continue playing in mostly empty stadiums in matches that are more bothersome than anything.

Canada’s next major chance to show it’s worth taking seriously is weeks away. It’s time to give fans of the men’s game something to believe in again.

“If we arrive to this (World Cup qualifying) with the majority of players in good condition we can have the possibility to play at this level,” Floro finished.

THE PATH TO RUSSIA

Canada entered CONCACAF World Cup qualifying at the second stage for Russia 2018.

STAGE 2

(20 teams)

June 11, 2015 – First leg: Dominica 0, Canada 2

June 16, 2015 – Second leg: Canada 4, Dominica 0

Canada advances to third round on aggregate.

STAGE 3

(12 teams)

Canada will play a second home-and-home against a Caribbean or Central American nation between Aug. 31 and Sept. 8, 2015, with the winner advancing to the fourth round.

STAGE 4

(12 teams)

The six qualifiers from the previous round will join Costa Rica, Mexico, the U.S., Honduras, Panama and Trinidad and Tobago in Round 4 beginning this November. A dozen teams will be divided into three groups of four, with the top two teams in each group advancing to the final stage.

STAGE 5

(6 teams)

Known as “the hex”, the six remaining CONCACAF teams will play each other home and away between Nov. 2016 and Oct. 2017, with the top three finishers advancing to the World Cup and the fourth-place finisher advancing to an inter-continental playoff. 

Reader's comments »

By adding a comment on the site, you accept our terms and conditions