There are no easy games in football. It's a cliche that gets spouted more and more often these days, whenever a footballing power struggles against a lesser nation, like Italy beating the Faroe Islands by a tiny 1-0 margin yesterday. So Canada failing to easily dominate St Lucia yesterday really shouldn't be looked at as cause for alarm, and for different reasons, this game certainly shouldn't be used as a measuring stick for how Canada will perform against tougher teams in later qualifying rounds.
I've just about managed to convince myself of all that, the second half really helped with that, but the first half performance had me worried. There was a lot of possession, and it was almost all in the right half of the pitch from Canada's perspective, but the quality, fluency and finishing touch really wasn't there. St Lucia's goalie, the magnificently named Iran Cassius was like the poor man's Bruce Grobelaar, mixing clownish dropped crosses with plenty of quality saves and a bit of luck and that combined with misses from in close by usually sure finishers like Simeon Jackson and Dwayne De Rosario meant that there was just the one goal from Canada in that first half. I still can't quite figure out if i want to blame Lars Hirschfeld or just accept that it was a great shot from Tremain Paul, but whichever it was, it meant that the first half ended 1-1. At that point, aided by a few beers, I was ready for that moment that all Canada fans probably have at some point "I know we're not a great team, but we've got to be better than this surely? Wait, we're not, are we? This is as good as it gets isn't it? Oh crap."
Fortunately a handball in the box meant we got a penalty early in the second half, which De Rosario converted, Josh Simpson scored a very nice goal shortly after and order was restored. Will Johnson scored a 4th late on as Canada poured it on after St Lucia were reduced to ten men, and Canada had at least 4 good chances in injury time alone, leaving Cassius saying a wide armed and disbelieving 'Come on, man' to at least one of, if not all of his defenders.
In my pre game report, I mentioned how these games would be very useful in helping Canada figure out it's first team and best formation and getting some chemistry going, and it seemed like that was definitely something the team was struggling with. St Lucia were poor enough that it didn't really matter and in the end 4-1's a comfortable victory, but against better teams, like Honduras, Cuba or Panama for example, they're going to have to play a lot better, and take a much higher proportion of the chances that come their way.
Iain Hume at Centre Forward, with De Rosario behind him and Jackson and Simpson on the wings didn't really work out and doesn't seem like an answer to the 'who play's up front?' question, it may be worth trying Marcus Haber in Tuesday's game as Canada's strong late play came after he was introduced though it probably had more to do with the Red Card that reduced St Lucia to ten men. That's the benefit of these games though, they're important competitive games, more valuable than friendlies, but there's still a chance to experiment and still be confident of getting the win.
The other big question of the day, the attendance had a fairly positive answer. Though the roughly 11,500 fans that showed up equates to less then half of the Bmo Field capacity, given the small St Lucia contingent, that probably represents the highest amount of Canada supporters at Bmo Field since the 2008 WCQ against Jamaica. Credit is due to the CSA for keeping ticket prices reasonable, and for making the East stand cheaper than the rest, making for a good TV spectacle as well.
It was also a successful night for the supporters sections, (pre game it was almost too successful, as Maro was jammed with a huge lineup for beer) with another loud and boisterous crowd, anyone who gave it a chance and made this their first Canada game will surely want to return so hopefully that support can spread further through the South stand in the October and November games.
Overall, both on and off the pitch, though far from perfect and with plenty of room for improvement, it was a solid result that can really be built on.