A nation holds its collective breath – well, small pockets of it anyways.
Canada heads into a pair of crucial World Cup qualifiers on Friday. They first travel to Honduras – the site of the match that shall not be named – before closing out the Fourth Round of CONCACAF qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup against El Salvador back home on September 6, in Vancouver.
Progression to the Hex, where Canada has not been since the 1998 World Cup cycle, sits on a knife's edge.
The top two teams from each group move on to the next round. Canada currently sits in third, level on four points with Honduras, but trailing on goal-differential, the first tie-breaker, with a minus-four – three worse than Honduras' minus-one.
Mexico tops the group with a perfect twelve points from four matches. The Salvadoreans bring up the rear on two points – both from home draws. They face Mexico, albeit with the minor comforts of home, on Friday.
The good news is that Honduras' final match will be played at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, where the Mexicans are heavily favoured.
The bad news is that Canada must achieve what they have not in twenty years without two of its best players, as both Will Johnson and Jonathan Osorio have been omitted from the latest squad.
The Osorio situation was hardly unexpected.
He has not been part of a Benito Floro squad since the 2015 Gold Cup. Neither side has come out and said it, but it is widely believed that Osorio's frustration at being substituted in the waning minutes of Canada's scoreless draw – he was replaced by Andre Hainault, hardly the sort of aggressive attacking move that a home team in need of points (a win would have allowed Canada to move on to the knockout stage).
But Johnson was a stunner.
The midfielder, to this point, had featured in all four Fourth Round matches. He also featured in both Third Round legs against Belize. He was not a part of the Second Round matches against Dominica as he was still recovering from his 2014 leg break.
Since the Belize matches, Johnson has been in and out of squads. He was not a part of the side that played Ghana in October of 2015 with Portland bracing for an MLS Cup run, but was back in come the following February when Canada faced the USA.
And then came the June camp in Austria where Canada played both Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan. Johnson featured in neither match, having flown back home early with a hip flexor injury, as reported by Waking the Red on June 3.
He would feature for Toronto FC five days later, going 80 minutes in the Voyageurs Cup at Montreal.
This call-up is the first opportunity for any ill-will from the Austrian Camp to rear its head. And questions must be asked if a pair of matches against Eastern European opponents were really the best test for a Canadian side facing Latin American opposition – with much of the squad North American based and thus mid-season should camps not be based closer to home.
Floro, in an interview with MLSsoccer.com, implied that the player was not fit enough to be an asset in Honduras and against El Salvador. And yesterday, Johnson rebutted that implication, stating that it was entirely Floro's decision that he would not be a part of this group, in his estimation, he was ready, as his recent performances for TFC would seem to indicate.
What the heck is going on?
Floro has done a lot of positives things for the side. He has brought in some fresh blood – capping the likes of Scott Arfield, Junior Hoillet, Cyle Larin, and Tesho Akindele.
He has made them difficult to beat, if at the cost of scoring goals.
But Floro has also shown that he values discipline, perhaps above all else. He does not take dissension lightly. He rules with an iron glare.
And his communication of the facts is often shrouded – he will be speaking on a conference call later this afternoon, though one expects little explanation... that is not his style, as the Osorio situation has shown.
Canada is not a nation blessed with the footballing talent to be making decisions based on anything other than play on the field.
To progress to the Hex, Floro is banking on either winning in Honduras, or drawing and making up lost ground in the scoring department in the final home match against El Salvador, while also hoping that the already-qualified Mexicans wipe the floor with Honduras on the final match day.
Friday's clash in Honduras is crucial. And Canada will be without the services of two players, who most observers, would have high on the team sheet, if not in the starting eleven.
Osorio, who could once be considered unsound defensively, has stepped up that part of his game immensely this season, if at the cost of some forward thrust. And Johnson has all the grit and determination that Canada desperately needs. Without the veteran presence of Julian de Guzman on the pitch, surely there should be a place for Johnson at the very least.
A nation waits with bated breath – the last trip to Honduras with all on the line did not end well – and it does so with uncertainty at the forefront.
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