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There weren't any cement shoes or high voltage (more like low voltage), but Canada's youngsters earned a hard fought stalemate against what was supposed to be a rampant USA. We recap last night's goalless draw in Houston, that will leave more questions for the Americans, than for Canada (for once!)
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Well, who saw this one coming?
It was expected to be a game where both Colin Miller and Jurgen Klinsmann would be testing the waters: One blooding in the youth, while the other looking for pieces from a lineup consisting of mostly MLS players to complete the American key to Brazil. What resulted was a glimmer of hope for Canadian soccer fans, and questions for an American team ahead of the resumption of their quest for a World Cup berth in just over a week in Honduras.
One could be forgiven if they expected the Americans would roll over the young Canadians, given how soundly beaten the youngsters were by a Danish side in the Arizona sun. Maybe it was the rains or it could have been the local cuisine, but despite the fact almost all commentators (including all of us here at WTR) were expecting the US to come out firing to gain some precious momentum, it never happened (Maybe you can blame the fact that most of the Americans are in pre-season form, but still...)
In fact, it would be (who else?) Dwayne De Rosario who would fire the opening salvo for Canada in the 6th minute, forcing a stunning save from American keeper Sean Johnson off a Nik Ledgerwood cross. In response, 2012 MLS Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski would send two chances wide within 15 minutes. De Rosario would again be a thorn in the American side late in the first half, sending a feed from Jonathan Beaulieu-Bourgault wide right. There was also a dangerous corner from first-capper Frank Jonke and Russell Teibert in the 83rd minute, but nothing came of that.
And try as he might, Klinsmann's attempt at a breakthrough failed at every turn. Even removing the largely neutralized Wondolowski and bringing out Benny Feilhaber failed to have the ideal effect of summoning the porous, brittle Canadian defence that Denmark had feasted on just days before. Perhaps they didn't realize that cafe was closed, with Dejan Jakovic anchoring a stellar defensive performance (earning himself man of the match honours in the process) alongside Ashtone Morgan, Nana Attakora, Ledgerwood and second half sub Doneil Henry to keep American chances to a paltry two shots on goal from 15 attempts.
What is perhaps most telling was the ability of that backline to hold dangerous names like Wondolowski, Will Bruin and Kyle Beckerman off the score sheet. While the Americans did have arguably the best chance of the entire game in the 55th minute, a Brad Davis shot from an Eddie Johnson feed that rolled wide of a gaping goal, if there were any sophomore blues to be had by the defense, it definitely wasn't apparent tonight -- or maybe that was helped by a lack of coherent effort form the US team, which is summed up by Juan Agudelo's weak attempt that rolled harmlessly wide in stoppage time.
Kyle Bekker once again had an excellent outing before being subbed off late for Edmonton's Kyle Porter, while Simon Thomas had a relatively easy night in the Canadian goal, even in the latter stages as the American forwards turned up the pressure. All in all, an excellent night...but it's nothing to celebrate just yet.
Sure, tonight may be a sign that the team has moved on from their 4-0 hiding just days before, but like the old adage goes, one game does not a career make. While Bekker has demonstrated throughout these two matches that he has the capability to play in an international setting, there has been no steady replacement for the goals that Canada will need going forward: De Rosario was the catalyst for most of the chances, and so far besides some brief moments of brilliance from Simeon Jackson, no clear successor to his offensive play-making role in Canada's national setup has emerged, and none emerged tonight.
But it does bear hope for the future. A team with their backs to the wall, and coming out with a draw smelling like roses while making a more powerful opponents' supporters reach for the strongest items in their liquor cabinets is definitely not something to dismiss off-hand. But it will take a few more of these performances like this to truly convince even the most mildest of critics that Canada's national program has a hope after all. But if we are able to see more of what we saw tonight, maybe there is some hope for this generation and possibly 2018 after all. Or at least, we'll have the memories of a night where we saw a young team take another step on their coming-of-age journey...
However, the team will have to continue their journey without Colin Miller, whose two-match term as interim coach is now over. It's now up to his replacement and national technical director Tony Fonseca to take that flicker of hope, and continue to build on it. But they will have to act fast; as Canada's next friendly will be in Qatar against Asian powerhouses Japan in late March; and therein lies another yardstick. Will they measure up? Only time will tell.
(Highlights courtesy of Rogers Sportsnet)