Canada impressive in friendly draw with U.S.
John Molinaro Sportsnet.ca June 3, 2012
TORONTO -- If the dress rehearsal was any indication, Canada is ready for the big dance.
The Canadian national team put in a solid performance Sunday in its final tune-up before World Cup qualifying resumes, earning a well-deserved 0-0 draw against the United States.
Canada travels to Havana to take on Cuba on June 8 in its first match of the World Cup qualifiers. Four days later the Reds host Honduras in Toronto.
The optics of the final score doesn't look good when placed into historical context. Canada is now winless in 15 consecutive games against the U.S., its last victory coming on April 2, 1985 in a friendly staged in Vancouver. The U.S. leads the all-time series (12-8-10).
But the 15,247 in attendance at BMO Field Sunday evening can take solace in the fact that Canada appears ready for the gruelling and challenging qualification road ahead.
Sunday marked Canada's first competitive game since a Feb. 29 friendly against Armenia. The U.S., meanwhile, was playing its third game in eight days. You could hardly tell the two sides were at such different stages of preparedness. Canada matched their more accomplished neighbours to the south step for step.
Canadian coach Stephen Hart said beforehand he was using this game as preparation for the Cuba match and wasn't terribly interested in the final result. He must have been pleased with what he saw. Canada, ranked 75th in the current FIFA world rankings, were not played off the field by the U.S. (ranked 29th), and at times looked capable of winning the game.
Midfielder Atiba Hutchinson, the Canadian team's best player, did not play due to a nagging knee injury, as Hart did not want to risk him ahead of the Cuba match.
With Hutchinson absent, Hart fielded a somewhat defensive 4-5-1 formation, with Olivier Occean leading the line up front. Canada did well to keep its shape for most of the match, continually thwarting the Americans and hitting out on the counter-attack.
The Americans dominated possession from the opening kickoff, with the Canadians chasing shadows and barely getting a sniff of the ball. Still, for all their possession, the U.S. never really had Canada on the ropes.
The U.S. carved out a pair of scoring chances in the opening 15 minutes. After Clarence Goodson forced a shot wide of the post, Edgar Castillo nearly lobbed Lars Hirschfeld with a long-range effort, only to see the Canadian goalkeeper tip the ball over the crossbar.
Canada slowly came into the game, and threatened through Occean, Dwayne De Rosario and Toissant Rickets.
Nik Ledgerwood appeared to give Canada the lead with a sharp finish in the 34th minute, but the goal was negated by a dubious foul call on De Rosario in the buildup. Just before halftime, Landon Donovan played a quick give-and-go with Clint Dempsey, but Hirschfeld quickly rushed off his line to snuff out the chance.
The American duo linked up again just after the re-start, this time Dempsey's attempt was cleared away by Canadian defender David Edgar.
Julian de Guzman played a great ball that released substitute Simeon Jackson on goal in the 68th minute, but the Canadian forward didn't keep his composure and fired a shot over the crossbar.
Canada furiously pressed for a winner in the final 15 minutes, and Jackson spurned another scoring opportunity in injury time, pushing his shot wide of the post while inside the six-yard box.
The U.S. marched right back down the field and Hirschfeld made a stunning save on a powerful header from Goodson to preserve the tie.
NOTES: Sunday's match was a part of the Canadian Soccer Association's centennial celebration. The Canadian players wore a special retro blue jersey that paid tribute to the first Canada-U.S. match played on Canadian soil on June 27, 1925, in Montreal. Canada won that game 1-0 courtesy of a Ed MacLaine goal... A pre-game ceremony held on the field recognized past Canadian soccer legends (including Craig Forrest, Les Wilson and Alex Bunbury) and the 2012 class of the Soccer Hall of Fame... The only other match in Toronto between Canada and the U.S. was on June 22, 1957 at Varsity Stadium. Canada won the World Cup qualifier 5-1...