We're through. Canada 'got the job done', clinching qualification through to next year's third round, with a game to spare no less, so I really shouldn't complain, but that was a performance that left a lot to be desired wasn't it? A second straight 0-0 draw doesn't inspire confidence that the team is coming together and gaining all the valuable experience we'd hoped for through these games, and all the old problems are still there, with no solutions coming into sight.
I must say last night wasn't all about Canada being terrible, instead full credit should go to St Kitts and Nevis for a great underdog performance and experience. This weekend sees the first round proper of the FA Cup back in England, with all the heartwarming stories of plucky part timers taking on the big boys of the football league, such as Rochdale or Accrington Stanley, and this was a great example of what makes that kind of match special. The pitch was clearly not in the best condition, and you could barely see the lines on the pitch, the stadium itself is small and quirky, yet full with enthusiastic supporters leading to a very enjoyable atmosphere. It was all a bit amateur, but at the same time, it was amateur in the best sense of the word. I love me a good underdog, small club story, and they really provided it, if they weren't playing Canada I'd have been fully cheering them on.
The way St Kitts played was a big part of that as well. They played like this was their cup final, they needed to win to keep their hopes of qualifying alive and they went for it. Unlike Puerto Rico's smart but joyless 'keep it tight and hope to nick one on the break' policy, and unlike how Canada generally plays when they're on the underdog side of things, they took the game to Canada and their energy and enthusiasm was clearly a step above the Canadian team. Their lack of individual quality meant they did lack the sharpness and finishing quality to be able to take advantage of their momentum, but they came close. After dominating play early on and at the end of the first half, it was pretty much the same pattern in the second, and late on they forced the best save of the game from Lars Hirschfeld as well as winning a series of corners that with a bit of luck could have ended in a goal, and a win they richly deserved. It was risky, and it could have all gone horribly wrong if Canada had anything about them up front, but it was refreshing to see a smaller team just go for broke.
Having said all that, Canada should have been able to overcome that spirit and make their superior quality count. Stephen Hart had talked about wanting to play a patient game, keep possession and wait for the chances to come, similar to how they played in Purto Rico, and that's clearly what they tried for, but it really didn't come together at all. There were a few moments where Canada's higher individual quality shone through, Josh Simpson and Dwayne De Rosario both having some good runs that looked like it might create something, but that's almost all Canada had. When it came down to playing as a team, relying on tactics to create chances, well that just didn't work at all, it was as disjointed and apathetic a performance as some of the worst games Canada has played recently.
Before the game I said the two big questions would be if Canada could come closer to figuring out who their man man up front is, and if DeRo could finally get the goal he needed to tie Dale Mitchell as all time leading scorer. the answer to both those questions is an emphatic, and very linked, no.
I've made the argument many times before, but Canada's best attacking performances in the last couple of years or so have all come without De Rosario in the team. He's obviously a talented player and in the right circumstances, on an individual level he can thrive, as seen at Toronto FC and DC United in the last few years, and there are times where that can work out nicely for the team as well. For Canada though, it really isn't working out, for the team and even on an individual level. Yes he's getting close to the record, but that's due to penalties, he hasn't scored from open play since June 2008, against St Vincent and Grenadines. That's 3 years, 2 Gold Cup's and 11 World Cup qualifiers later for those of you counting at home.
He's by no means always a problem, and he's certainly not the only problem, but last night was a great example of how he can hurt a team. He seemed determined not that Canada would score, but that he would score. So many times he'd get the ball and try way too hard to make something happen on his own, almost always leading to him losing possession. De Ro DIY at it's worst. I really hope he gets the record soon so he can be thanked for his service, and gracefully shuffled backwards to the subs bench before the important games start next year.
Simeon Jackson was once again tried as the Centre Forward in Hart's formation, and once again showed he's really not the answer in that role. Not only did he not do the tactical and positional stuff needed to be an effective spearhead and help build attacks, he didn't look sharp when chances came his way. On one late chance, when through on goal with a defender chasing him, he had a shockingly poor touch for a Premier league striker that allowed the St Kitts goalie to get close enough to block his shot.
At the other end, Lars Hirschfeld had another Lars Hirschfeld game, made a couple of good saves, but in no way inspired confidence that he wasn't about to make a crucial error that might lead to a goal.
So we're through to the next round, that's undeniably a good thing, but have we really learnt anything? No. Do Canada look better than they did at the start of these games back in September? No. Have we done anything to make Honduras, Cuba and Panama nervous for the next round? I highly doubt it.