Canada wrapped up their triumphant stroll through the second round of World Cup qualifying with a comfortable, if still a bit uninspiring, 4-0 win at Bmo Field against St Kitts and Nevis. It feels churlish to call a 4-0 win uninspiring, especially as Canada could legitimately have scored more than 4, and even more especially after it provided relief from two consecutive frustrating 0-0 draws.
I don't know if it was the lacklustre crowd, despite a pleasantly manageable November evening weather wise. Both the pre game festivities at Maro and the crowd at the game itself were noticeably not as well attended as for the first two games of this round. The crowd was announced as over 10,000 which seemed dubious to me, but made it 7 straight home games with crowds of more than 10,000 which I suppose is a good thing, but 3 matches in less than 3 months seemed to be a bit too much for Toronto to remain enthused about.
Maybe it was the disjointed play that took a long time to create chances, and saw St Kitts narrrowly avoid taking the lead when they hit the post. Maybe, after 3 goals towards the end of the first half, it was the poor second half that saw Canada labour to create more chances and mess up the ones they did get until adding one more very late on. Maybe I'm just expecting too much from what was a changed lineup and formation. Whatever it was, despite the 4 goals, it wasn't the feel good performance I was hoping for to give me confidence for next year's games. They got the job done tonight, but didn't show the fluency and quality needed to suggest they can compete with Honduras and co in 2012.
It was an intriguing lineup, with the formation seeming more of a 4-2-4, Olivier Occean and Dwayne De Rosario flanked by Josh Simpson and Tosaint Ricketts. Patrice Bernier got his first start in a long time, and at Left back, Ashtone Morgan got his first ever start, though the crowd never really gave him the ovation that achievement deserved. Late arrivals meant the lineup announcement was made to very few people, and during the game Morgan didn't really seem to get any more attention than the rest of the team. The same was true for Nana Attakora when he came on as a second half sub. Simeon jackson came on at the same time, and very few people seemed to notice Attakora's arrival and give him the reception his years in Toronto surely deserved.
The new lineup didn't really seem to gel, with the final ball to create a good chance always lacking. It nearly went horribly wrong as St Kitts came very close to scoring first, Ashtone Morgan blocked a shot, and the rebound was hit against the post with Kenny Stamatopoulos well beaten. Canada finally broke the deadlock in the 27th minute, Olivier Occean redirecting a Will Johnson shot in from within the 6 yard box. Shortly after that, Tosaint Ricketts was fouled in the box and a penalty awarded. My cries of 'we want Morgan' surprisingly went unheeded and it was Dwayne De Rosario who stepped up and scored, thus tying Dale Mitchell's all time scoring record. Despite his lack of goals from open play recently, it's a laudable achievement, and it's genuinely nice for him to be able to do it in front of his hometown crowd. Hopefully he can get that one extra goal to take the lead outright sometime in the next few friendly games before qualifiers start again in June so his chase of the record doesn't prove a distraction on the pitch when it counts.
The third goal came in injury time after a lengthy stoppage to allow the St Kitts goalie to get treatment, Josh Simpson heading in a Will Johnson corner. 3-0 at half time, but the second half just never got going, just one further goal and not really that many chances or excitement beyond that.
There was one great chance missed by Josh Simpson after a great team move, twice impressively involving Tosaint Ricketts, first of all with a very fancy dummy, and then a perfect cross to Simpson's head, who just couldn't get his header on target. The 4th goal didn't come until the 88th minute, Tosaint Ricketts knocking home a rebound from in close. Probably the most entertaining part of the second half was when Nana Attakora challenged the St Kitts goalie and knocked him down. The goalie writhed around for a while, before miraculously jumping up and looking like he wanted to run after Nana Attakora, only being held back by his teammates.
While I shouldn't draw too many conclusions from one game, the 4-0 result just hides a worrying lack of sharpness. It's not just this one game either. It's not as bad as how I felt after Friday's 0-0 game, but over all 6 of these qualifiers, there's very few signs of progress. Is there anyone who'd say that Canada is looking better than they did at the start of these games? I certainly wouldn't, though it's a bit unfair as Canada was on a hiding to nothing here, even 6 comfortable wins would have drawn gripes that they were just doing what they should.
While inexperienced players such as David Edgar and Adam Straith have looked good in defence, it's difficult to read too much into that as the quality of player they might face in the next round is dramatically higher. It's that higher standard that really makes the struggles up front seem alarming, if they can't fill their boots against the likes of Puerto Rico and St Kitts, then what chance is there of them suddenly finding that touch against Honduras or Panama.
We knew all of that before this game though, really this game should have been a bit of a victory lap, a chance for the crowd to have fun, salute the team, and some local heroes especially. Also it should have been a chance for the team to put on a show, loosen up, play with the pressure off and show everyone what they can do. Even with the 4 goals, that didn't really happen on either side of things.
The basic fact is that Canada has qualified for the next round and has the chance to advance to the Hex next year. Over the 6 games though, it hasn't really been impressive has it?