One of the most chaotic windows in Canadian men’s national team history came to an end on Monday, as Canada fell 2-1 to Honduras in San Pedro Sula in Concacaf Nations League action.
The defeat leaves Canada three points adrift of top spot in Group C of League A, albeit with one game in hand. The team’s final two games will be played in March 2023.
But Canada has bigger priorities. Unless Canada Soccer can lock down three friends in September, there are likely just two games left for the Canadians to prepare for the World Cup.
A labor dispute dominated the first week of the June window which led to another canceled friendly, thus costing the team an extra game and two training sessions worth of prep, so every moment counts between now and November.
Here are three things we learned from Monday’s loss.
It’s difficult to glean anything from a game where a torrential downpour renders the pitch unplayable. Players on both sides were constantly slipping, the ball was caught up in large puddles on the dribble which didn’t make for a fluid game.
But that didn’t change Canada’s strategy.
Thursday’s win over Curacao saw the Reds prioritize quick, direct passes via the flanks and early crosses, although there appeared to be a reliance on keeping the ball on the ground.
When a pitch plays as heavy as the field in San Pedro Sula, going direct usually allows for more chances on goal. Canada still had a couple of decent chances, the best of which was produced through Junior Hoilett after four minutes and then he subsequently set up Ike Ugbo with a terrific opportunity. However, Ugbo had the ball caught underneath his feet in a puddle. It’s fair to assume that normal pitch conditions would’ve allowed the striker to get a shot on goal, if not score.
One team adjusted to the conditions, played more directly and justifiably won the game. That’s necessary if teams want to succeed on the road in Concacaf. Canada might’ve had other priorities on the night but this served as a stark reminder that taking these trips for granted can cost any visitor.
Hoilett reaffirms his value
There’s a reason why Junior Hoilett is leaned on in the hostile atmospheres across Concacaf. He’s a calming presence who constantly produces the goods.
No other Canadian player had as many key passes (3), shots (2) and expected goals (0.27) than Hoilett. The 31-year-old was the only spark plug for the side in unfavorable conditions but he didn’t let that stop him.
It will be difficult to crack a lineup when competing with Alphonso Davies, Tajon Buchanan, Cyle Larin, Jonathan David and others, but make no mistake: Hoilett is an immensely valuable player on this team.
The end product wasn’t on display on Monday but more often than not, Hoilett regularly maneuvers through tight spaces and progresses the ball into promising areas. He’ll surely have an influence on the proceedings in Qatar.
David edges closer to scoring record
Cyle Larin may have broken the men’s national team’s all-time scoring record, but Jonathan David is breathing down his neck.
David’s late consolation was his 21st goal in his 31st cap for Canada, which keeps him in third all-time but he’s just three tallies behind Larin after Monday’s strike.
Both strikers were noticeably rusty on Thursday against Curacao, as they seemed to hesitate in the box when the ball landed at their feet. That wasn’t an issue for David with his one clear-cut opportunity on Monday.