MONTREAL – The road to Brazil 2014 will be long, but if a national team takes one step forward but two steps back, it'll seem even longer.
Canada are in that situation as they get set to host CONCACAF rivals Honduras in a friendly Tuesday night here at Stade Saputo.
Stephen Hart’s side showed signs of promise in the first half of a 2-0 loss to Peru last Saturday in Toronto. Stretches of good passing and possession were punctuated with good individual performances from the likes of youngsters Simeon Jackson and Adam Straith.
But penetration, finishing and execution in the final two-thirds of the field were woeful. Defensive play wasn’t much better, especially in the second half.
In the end, Canada committed two defensive mistakes in a short timeframe. Peru, who finished last in South American qualifying for this past summer's World Cup and hadn’t played a competitive match since last September, scored on both opportunities.
Adding to the breakdowns, Hart was disappointed in the poor showing of Canadian support.
Perhaps exhibiting a “results first, support later” mentality, Canadian fans stayed away. A mostly pro-Peruvian crowd of 10,619 in a half-empty BMO Field made the game feel like it was in Lima.
Hart gave some credit to the Canadian fan contingency on Saturday – including the ever-present Voyageurs supporters group – but noted, "It was still a huge Peruvian crowd there as well. I guess that’s something we have to live with in multicultural Canada.”
Support may be better against Honduras, who are coming off a shootout win over Central American rivals El Salvador in Los Angeles.
After conceding a late goal that pulled El Salvador even at two, Honduran goalkeeper Noel Valladares came up big, stopping two penalties to give los Catrachos the Copa Independencia.
Honduras have had Canada’s number of late, winning twice in World Cup qualifying in 2008 and then again in the quarterfinals of the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup. However, this is a new-look Honduras squad with only five players from the 2010 World Cup squad on the roster.
Honduras’ winless performance at the 2010 World Cup forced Reinaldo Rueda to step down on July 28 and Juan de Dios Castillo to take over on an interim basis through the end of the Copa Centroamericano in January.
“It’s a new coach, [and] there are a couple of players that I thought would be with the squad but are not," Hart said Friday before the Peru game. “They have a very good midfield and forward line. So, I don’t really know what to expect. This coach has never had a game with them.”
Despite the new coach and the new faces, Canada will have to contend with Honduras’ usual strengths – speed, quick attacks and offensive ability. Hart won’t have striker Dwayne De Rosario, midfielder Julian de Guzman and defender Nana Attakora, who were excused from the Honduras game to rejoin Toronto FC.
Tuesday’s match comes exactly two years and a day after a memorable World Cup qualifier between the two nations that saw Honduras come from behind in the second half to down Canada 2-1. That helped propel Honduras to the Hexagonal, and it put the death knell in Canada’s World Cup qualifying hopes.