The stage is set for Canada's second match of the pivotal semi-final group as the team travels to San Salvador to take on El Salvador. The match will be broadcast live on Bein Sports at 8:30pm Eastern Time Tuesday night in an extremely important contest. Fresh off a 1-0 victory over Honduras in BC Place stadium, Canada is looking to duplicate that effort and finish 2015 with a perfect 6 points from 2 matches.
Standing in their way are 94th ranked El Salvador, who Canada tied 0-0 a few months back in the Gold Cup. The match will always be remembered because of Cyle Larin famously missing a clear break away from 12 yards out in front of an empty net; however the resulting stalemate was probably a fair result. Nonetheless, since that match four months ago, a lot has changed for both sides to Canada's benefit.
El Salvador comes into the match following a 3-0 loss at Azteca in Mexico. While that is not a terrible result in the most difficult venue in North America, El Salvador also enter the match with a completely new squad from the Gold Cup as its first team players have elected to go on strike due to low wages and subpar working conditions.
This has resulted in El Salvador fielding a squad comprised of almost entirely domestic players from their national league, a league very much inferior to that of Major League Soccer, where the majority of Canadian players enjoy their football. 14 of the 23 players called into action have 5 national team caps or less, with the majority of those players having yet earned a cap.
Furthermore, the fans have seemed to lose interest in the national team as reports have come out that barely over 2,000 tickets have been sold so far, although expect that number to double or triple before game time. When taking into account this information, one can say this should be a cakewalk for Canada. However, that statement cannot be further from the truth and Canada must not take anything for granted in this match.
Why you ask? Central America is unbelievably challenging. The last time Canada won in Central America was a World Cup qualifier in 2004 vs. Guatemala in which Guatemala was already through to the hex and Canada was already eliminated. The truth is one would have to go way back to find out the last time Canada actually won an important match in Central America. Even against Belize in the previous round of qualifying, Canada could only muster a 1-1 tie and did not look at all threatening against the tiny nation.
The conditions in Central America are extremely hostile with Canadian players having to cope with the possibility of food poisoning along with lack of sleep due to partying outside their hotels. Couple that with the intimidation of security guards armed with rifles and trying to avoid bags of urine being thrown at you, the Canadian players will be impacted.
Entering the hostile territory of San Salvador, Canada's confidence cannot be higher following a victory over archrivals, Honduras. Benito Floro has been preaching a defensively organized system that is difficult to break down, while still fielding three offensive minded players hoping to score on the counter or by virtue of a mistake.
Although taking serious heat in the Gold Cup for these tactics as Canada were unable to score a goal, Floro stuck to the plan against Honduras. The 4-1-4-1 formation was tight and compact and Honduras was unable to break through and rarely threatened Milan Borjan in goal.
As a result of greater possession with Canada finally being able to field their best midfield trio of Johnson, Hutchinson and De Guzman, Canada was able to create more chances and eventually score a well-deserved goal.
Given Floro's tendencies, it is expected he will field a similar formation against El Salvador. This formation allows Canada to remain well structured defensively and also have enough firepower to score a goal and earn another narrow victory. With El Salvador needing a win to see its Russia hopes remain alive (realistically), this tactic will be perfect in that Canada can soak up the pressure from El Salvador that will come at some point and then attack on the counter.
Therefore, expect to see a similar front three with the speedy wingers of Hoilett and Ricketts getting the start. Larin should be the central striker although Haber does provide better hold up play in the off chance that he starts.
A midfield three of De Guzman and Johnson with Hutchinson in behind should also remain the same in this match. You can count on Hutchinson and Johnson going the full 90 and if De Guzman is carrying any fatigue the only viable alternative is Samuel Piette as Teibert was left in Canada with injury. Given De Guzman's experience in Central America it is vital that he starts and plays as many minutes as he possibly can in this match.
The back four is where we could see some changes. De Jong will certainly be the left back, however in my opinion a central pairing of Jakovic with David Edgar would be a better option than Straith as Edgar has the aerial ability and strength needed to defend crosses and also has a wealth of Central America experience. Edgar also poses a threat on corner kicks where Canada should seek to score a goal as El Salvador has a very undersized roster.
Edgar is coming off a minor injury issue, however if fully healed, expect to see him in the lineup. At right back, Ouimette is arguably the weakest starter on the team, however there isn't a better replacement at this time. I would expect he gets the start again, but it is conceivable that Aird gets a look at right back to provide more speed in one of the full back positions.
In the end, Canada should be poised to win the match and put themselves in a wonderful position going into the new year. However, this is a classic trap game and will require 90 minutes of pure concentration and execution. By handling those hostile conditions and finishing their chances, Canada has every reason to come out of El Salvador with a narrow victory.