When Canada's Under 17 team takes to the field on Friday evening against Honduras down in Panama it will be the first ever meeting between the two nations in international soccer* (*note: all previous meetings have been erased for the sake of the authors mental well-being). Both teams have achieved their goal of reaching the U17 World Cup this fall in Dubai but were outclassed in the semifinals by Panama and Mexico. The game does not have a whole lot of meaning other than the fact that the winner gets a medal to bring home with them but don't tell that to the players who will surely want to finish the event on a high note.
Based on the way the event has unfolded so far the two strongest teams are probably meeting in the finals on Friday night as Mexico and Panama advancing was not really stunning. Both countries sent strong squads and Panama benefited from having their team together year round and being fueled by the home crowd. Mexico is just a talented team that had little issue brushing aside the opposition so far in the event. It sets up an exciting final with Mexico a slight favorite despite Panama likely having the support of over 10,000 fans.
The bronze medal match includes the one surprise of the tournament. With the favorites winning for the most part Honduras pulled off the biggest upset of the event when they knocked off the United States in the quarterfinals assuring that for the first time ever the US would not be sending a team to the U17 World Cup. Coming from the side of the draw that included the United States and Mexico the Honduran team can be proud of just making it this far and reaching the World Cup for the first time since 2009 and the third time in their history.
Canada on the other hand benefited from what could be called a favourable draw as they knew coming into the event that their road to the World Cup would not include the potential of meeting Mexico, the United States, or even Honduras until the finals or bronze medal match. That left the door open for them to claim a return to the World Cup but as any Canadian soccer fans know you can never count your chickens before they hatch. Canada took care of business in their group with a 2-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago and a 1-1 draw with Costa Rica which was enough to comfortably claim top spot.
Canada was tested in the quarterfinals having to fight their way back twice before claiming a 4-2 win over Jamaica thanks to a second half in which the young Canadians showed just how dangerous they can be when they get rolling. The semifinal against Panama was far less kind though as the hosts controlled the ball for much of the match and despite Canada opening the scoring inside five minutes of play the host country were deserving of the 2-1 win.
Honduras on the other hand have looked convincing against anyone that is not Mexico. They got out of their group in second place thanks to a 4-1 win over Cuba followed by a 2-0 defeat to Mexico in the battle for top spot. The quarter final was when they really looked their best though as they outclassed the United States are were good value for every bit of their 3-1 win. The semifinal was another meeting with Mexico and this time they lost 3-1 after scoring a late consolation goal.
So what can Canada expect from this match? Well, they can look for a very balanced attack from the Hondurans who have already totaled six different goal scorers on their eight goals so far in the event. They do not have a single standout attacker but Christopher Alegría does have a goal in each of their last two matches and looked the most dangerous over the course of those games. They are a hard team to judge though as they were simply outclassed by Mexico twice and in their other two matches have faced a weak Cuban squad and an American team that really lacked any spark.
The semifinal round showed that both Canada and Honduras struggle when they are the team on the back foot and have a hard time countering against sustained pressure but when they do get the ball and can keep it for a period of time are capable of looking dangerous going forward.
That will be the key to this game on Friday night as both teams look far better with the ball than they do without it so the team that is best able to control the possession and sustain pressure will likely be the one that comes out on top in this game. Both teams showed they could do that against weaker sides but it remains to be seen if they can sustain that kind of pressure in what looks to be a fairly even match-up.
Despite my previously stated denial of all meetings between Canada and Honduras in international soccer they do have a brief history in this event. In 2011 they were drawn into the same group and with both teams opening by beating Barbados it came down to the final match to decide top spot. That went to Canada on goal difference following a 0-0 draw as their 8-0 win over Barbados was far better than Honduras' 2-1 win. They were also in the same group for the 2009 event in which Canada was basically terrible but the good news is that Canada picked up their only point of the event in 1-1 draw which featured a goal from Russell Teibert. In 2005 they were again in the same group (this was back before the knockout rounds were included) but this time there was no draw as Honduras claimed a 2-0 win. If you go all the way back to 1985 they met in the final stage with Canada finishing in third place thanks to a 2-1 win over Honduras in their final match.
So like I said, a brief history at this event that only goes all the way back to 1985. The history also shows that over the years the two countries have been fairly evenly matched in the limited samples. Obviously the teams are completely different each time with so much turnover at this level but Canada does have one player who will recall playing Honduras at this level as Jordan Hamilton was on the bench for that 0-0 draw in 2011.
It will be interesting to see how Sean Fleming decides to attack this game. He has gone with Hamilton coming off the bench in the past two matches in favor of starting Chow, Gordon, and Boakai in the attack but that could change as Canada may be in need of the additional size that Hamilton can add to the attack. The defensive side of things will likely remain pretty much unchanged as they acquitted themselves well against Panama holding up against sustained pressure for the majority of the match.
The game will again be on Sportsnet World and kicks off at 6:00 PM Eastern. For those wishing to follow along and comment this comment section will serve as the game thread.