Earlier today, the Canadian Men's National team took to the field in Cyprus for a friendly against the relatively unknown nation of Armenia. It was a game that consisted of two very distinct stages as if you saw only the first 20 minutes of this match you might just have thought that Canada was the bee's knees so to speak. It was the next 70 that will have left many Voyageurs with a bad feeling about this year's more meaningful matches. The bad news is that Canada's seven match unbeaten run is now over having managed to get at least a share of the spoils in every game since the 2-0 defeat against the Americans to open the Gold Cup
Canada opened the scoring early in this one thanks to the captain for the day Kevin McKenna. The veteran defender was left fairly unmarked in the box so when Julian De Guzman delivered a good corner, he was able to rise up and head him his 11th goal for Canada. That goals means that McKenna is now joint 6th in all time scoring for the national side.
That was the high point of the match for Canada. They came out with a fairly strong starting eleven and it seemed to be paying dividends as they were moving the ball around the park well and creating chances with some regularity. But as the game progressed Armenia began to see more of the ball and starting to create their own chances.
Marcos Pizzelli, who was actually born in Brazil, ended up doing most of the damage for Armenia in this match. He had a number of chances that were well saved by both Milan Borjan and second half goalie Kenny Stamatopolous but he did well enough to find the back of the net twice. His first goal came in the 23rd minute off a well taken shot from the top of the box that was out of the reach of Borjan and just inside the post. Being a critical Canadian fan though the question has to be asked, just how did he get so much time on the ball at the top of the box? Well, it seemed that on a number of occasions there was just two much space between the back for and the deep midfielders. The Armenians were willing to shoot any time they got the chance so the gap being left by De Guzman and Atiba Hutchinson was costly.
Pizzelli would get his second of the game early in the second half. It came off a corner where the initial Armenian shot struck the post but the rebound fell kindly for Pizzelli to just tap in. The scoring was rounded off in stoppage time when Mike Klukowski brought his man down in the box. The resulting penalty was easily converted by Aras Ozbiliz of Ajax. In the end that was all the scoring needed as Armenia cruised to what ended up being a fairly comfortable 3-1 win.
So what can we take away from this game? Well, we can start by seeing the match for what it was. It was a game being played in a neutral location, there was almost no crowd, the weather was not nice, and the opposition was obviously not Canada's first choice. Then there is the fact that besides Julian De Guzman the team was made up of European based players so there was a long list of potential contributors who were not involved. That said, the starting eleven that Hart put out today was not massively different from what we will likely see come June. You might want to add in Will Johnson, Andre Hainault, Dwayne De Rosario, Ante Jazic, Ashtone Morgan, or Olivier Occean (just to name a few) but you really can't make the case that this was a Canadian "B" team, maybe A-/B+.
There were some positives to take away from this match for Hart and the players. The team looked dangerous on a good number of set-pieces with Julian De Guzman providing quality service. The performance turned in by Tosaint Ricketts was also something to hopefully build on as the spot at the top of the attacking formation seems to still be very much up for grabs. Another strong outing from Adam Straith will help cement him as someone that Hart will want to call up this year.
Hutchinson, despite having some rough moments, turned in a solid performance for Canada. With his recent injury struggles Canadian fans should just be happy to see him back in the squad and making a contribution. He has not yet played a handful of games for PSV since coming back so he may still be lacking some sharpness which might explain the mistakes that he did made. Having him back and playing though will be hugely important for Canada this year as he really is the engine that makes the team go most days.
That was the good, along with those first 20 minutes, but there was also a lot of bad in today's game. For a team that is, according to the coach, supposed to be working on their possession style there was far too much hit and hope going on. In fact, I would say that Canada looked worse than normal in terms of relying on the long ball to start their attacks rather than a patient build up. That is a habit that cannot carry over to the World Cup Qualifier games or it will certainly prove costly.
Then you have the issue of left back. A very, very rough night from Mike Klukowski was capped off with him conceding a penalty but prior to that it seemed his man was beating him every single time that Armenia came forward. It was already a position of much debate among fans but now the debate will be even more heated as no one seems to have that spot nailed down. If Ashtone Morgan continues to develop well this season for Toronto FC than Hart will almost certainly have to give him a long hard look in hopes that he can plug one of the most glaring holes in the side.
You can debate the opposition all you want and try to use that to justify the result but to me that is just a waste of time. Armenia may be ranked 41st in the World and they may have just missed out on qualifying for Euro 2012 but they are the kind of team that Canada is going to have to beat if they want to make the World Cup. For Mission 2014 to ever be a success the team will need to punch above their weight from time to time. For 20 minutes they did just that today but for the rest of the game they went back to being the squad that just seems to fade against superior opposition.
In the end, the result should not be all doom and gloom. Any time that Hart can get the players together, only some of them in this case, it is a good thing. Hopefully the team got in some good training sessions and learned some lessons today because that US friendly will be upon them before they know it and if they don't show up for that one at home then some serious questions are going to have to be asked.