Once again Canada fans went into a tournament thinking they had a chance to qualify, that there was enough quality in the team to make the quarter finals easily enough and be in with a real shot of beating whoever came out of group A (either Costa Rica or USA probably). Sure it'd be a tough game, but they definitely had a chance, and making it out of the group without much bother wouldn't be too hard right? Once again, we got a reality check, as their first game saw them put in a very lacklustre performance against a much more organised and lively looking Cuba side.
It's not over of course as Canada still has another game against Nicaragua on Friday, and more than likely (though not guaranteed, it depends on the Cuba-Nicaragua result on Wednesday) a win will be enough to get through to the one game qualifier next week.
As always, it wasn't all doom and gloom, there was certainly some skill on display from the Canadians. Kevin Aleman had some very good moments in the first half, as did Zakaria Messoudi, but very rarely did things come together in a team sense. There was no fluidity, no threat or thrust to the attacking. Too often moves broke down when someone tried to dribble past one player too many. In the second half, that changed to pass around the back, still never look like getting anything going through the midfield, then just lump it forward, a lack of imagination matched by the brass band in the stands that moved from entertaining to annoying when they just went through the same setlist in the second half. Another semi-positive came from Caleb Clarke, who was a lot livelier than Anthony Jackson Hamel up front after coming on as a sub, managing to latch on to a couple of those long balls and make himself a couple of half chances, but it was merely a semi positive as his finishing on both was woeful.
The first half saw Canada with the two best chances, first Kevin Aleman managed to work his way in behind the defence, but his attempt to beat the goalie at his near post was denied. The goalie was out of it later on when a chipped cross from close to the goal line found Michael Petrasso at the back post, but he couldn't get enough power on his header to get it past the defender on the line.
If either of them had gone in, then Canada could have easily gone on to win, but as we've seen too many times, the chances came in the other direction as well and this time they were finished off. Maxine Crepeau had already made a great point blank save in the second half from a header when Cuba took the lead. A bad backpass led to Maykel Reyes bearing down on goal. Instead of trying to pressure him wide and trust the goalie to stop the shot from a narrow angle, Doneil Henry totally bought the dummied shot, allowing Reyes to cut inside and beat Crepeau from the better angle he created. Reyes scored again on another poorly defended goal, a cross easily eluding Henry and his centre back partner Daniel Stanese.
Henry's nightmarish performance, including a very confused coin toss to kick things off, kept going when he did well to meet a cross probably no more than 3 yards from the goal but headed it over when it would have been easier to score, as the cliche goes. He redeemed himself a little with another header that forced a save that allowed Stefan Vukovic to head home the rebound to give Canada hope in all the injury time that came from the Cubans' mysterious cramps that started up almost immediately after they went ahead. But it wasn't to be and so Canada's game on Friday against Nicaragua becomes crucial to just getting out of the group and into that 'winner qualifies' game.
Looking at just the chances, and it seems like Canada was a match for the Cubans, but it was mainly the way the match went, and the lack of cohesion in midfield that gives food for thought, Canada weren't unlucky, this was a deserved loss. Samuel Piette didn't really have much impact, though that's hardly his own fault as Canada's shape made it very easy for Cuba to clog up the midfield. There was very little quick passing to break down the organised Cubans, maybe that's something that can be improved upon with more time together before the Nicaragua game.
So, where's the main problem, are the players themselves not good enough, or at least not good enough on this night, or is it Nick Dasovic who didn't live up to his billing? Wherever the fault lies, and I'd suggest it's spread over many factors, once again reality has brought some sobriety to Canadian fans expectations. Players we've seen look good, or at least very promising with MLS teams, mixed with some impressive looking club sides in the list of players can lead to an overestimation it seems, hands up who else thought Cuba and Nicaragua should really have been a bit of a cakewalk?
Hopefully, with expectations dimmed, Canada can impress us with an improved performance against Nicaragua (who beat Honduras in the process of qualifying, so this isn't going to be easy at all) to set up the all important qualifying game. If everything follows the usual story at that point, one way or another, whether hapless or heroic, we'll all meet with heartbreak again. Let's hope at some point we get a new plot-line, that certainly didn't happen tonight.