After a very worrying first half was saved by a more competent second half to give Canada a 4-1 win over a terrible St Lucia on Friday, now Canada goes to Puerto Rico, after an Atlanta airport stop at McDonalds, to play what should be their toughest game of this 6 game qualifying round. For anyone panicking a bit about Canada's less than convincing performance, take comfort from the fact that Puerto Rico, considered our main threat to get out of this round, only got a draw against St Kitts and Nevis. This means Canada can really take control of the group as a win will put them 5 points ahead of the Puerto Ricans. It won't be easy though as this is a genuinely tough away game.
Though Canada will still be considered favourites, there should be no fretting about style and not being convincing enough here, the attitude to go with is that three points is three points, and a scrappy 1-0 win on yet another Dwayne De Rosario penalty would be more than good enough for me. Puerto Rico don't really have any star players, Goalie Terry Boss (another magnificently named goalie) plays for Seattle Sounders, making 4 appearances so far this season, but the rest of their squad (according to wikipedia at least, whoo! for stellar research) is based in the NASL or the Puerto Rican league. Their highest capped player in the current squad has 12 caps and their top scorer Chris Megaloudis has 5 goals.
Sounds like they shouldn't be too much of a threat, and they probably won't be, but what they will bring that will be different than St Lucia is organisation. Over half of the squad is spread between two teams, the NASL's Puerto Rico Islanders and Bayamon FC of the Puerto Rico Soccer League, and a few others have previously played for the Islanders, so there should be a sense of familiarity, organisation and a bit more professionalism than we saw from St Lucia. Though I'd still expect Canada to dominate possession and take the game to Puerto Rico, I'm expecting a lot better defending and a lot fewer chances for Canada's forwards. Puerto Rico probably won't create much, but they'll be dogged, determined, frustrating, and might just get a goal on the break if Canada's defence falls asleep.
What can we expect from Canada? Will there be any changes to the team that struggled but got the job done? I'll have a look at all that after the jump.
Starting at the goalie position, It's very difficult to make any judgement in this sort of game, Lars Hirschfeld had a very quiet game, but letting in a goal from that far out really doesn't help solidify your position. In the Gold Cup he was replaced by Milan Borjan after his mistake against the U.S proved so costly, this goal was nowhere near as bad as that, so I'd expect him to get the start again ahead of Borjan. Similarly with the defence, they didn't have to do much so it's difficult to tell. I'd give the same back 4 another game, Kevin McKenna and Andre Hainault were decent at Centre Back, and Ante Jazic did very well getting forward to help out the attack. Jonathan Beaulieu-Bourgeault looked really bad, worse than Hirschfeld, on the St Lucia goal, but overall probably deserves another shot. This game should see them all get a bit more action so should prove a more reliable barometer of their play.
The midfield and forwards? Well that game was an ideal chance for them to fill their boots so to speak, and show what a well oiled machine they could be. They obviously didn't do that, despite the 4 goals, but what can be done to improve things? Again, it's very difficult to judge. All 3 subs, Will Johnson, Tosaint Rickets and Marcus Haber did well and the team looked much better after they came on, though by that point, the St Lucia team were pretty much dead on their feet, down to ten men and rolling around at every opportunity, so things would probably have improved either way.
I'd be tempted to start Marcus Haber instead of Iain Hume as I think he fits the Centre Forward role that Stephen Hart's first choice 4-3-3 formation demands bettter than Hume or Simeon Jackson, so should be given a chance to show he can challenge Rob Friend, Olivier Occean or Ali Gerba for the role long term. I'd keep going with Josh Simpson and Jackson as the wingers. Simpson in particular looked good, and surely at some point Jackson's got to score one of the chances that repeatedly come his way, his form with Norwich City suggests he's a streaky scorer, so we should be giving him as many opportunities as possible to start such a streak with Canada.
Dwayne De Rosario was man of the match, and was popping up all over the place, getting a few shots off and creating chances for other people (that back heel to Hume? Delightful.) so should be an automatic choice as an attacking midfielder/second striker again right? Well not really, yes he did look good, and he often does when playing for Canada because he is so involved. But I've made the argument before, as have others that his play hurts the team as a whole, funneling so much through him as it does. Canada's uninspired forward play at the Gold Cup and now in this game as well haven't convinced me otherwise. I'm not saying drop him, he'd make a great option from the bench, and maybe we would be worse without him, but I'd like to see the De-Ro less team that played so well against Honduras, Ukraine and Belarus in the last year or so given a chance. To acheive that I'd push Atiba Hutchinson up to play behind the striker, with Will Johnson brought in alongside Julian De Guzman in Central midfield.
Yes, Beaulieu-Bourgault seems a little out of position, but that's the only way to make his name fit.
That's what I'd try, but do I think Stephen Hart will drop De Rosario? No, I really can't see that happening, especially with De Rosario so close to breaking Dale Mitchell's all time Canadian goals record, and I think there's a good chance we'll see a completely unchanged starting XI, which really wouldn't be a bad thing. Whoever ends up playing, they'll need a lot of patience, we should win but Puerto Rico's no St Lucia. An early goal would be great, but if it doesn't come, they need to stick with the plan and just keep going, and supporters need to be a little less expectant than we all were against St Lucia. Even getting a draw here wouldn't really be a bad result in and of itself, and anything other than a defeat leaves us well and truly in charge of the group going into October's games.