Canada didn’t really conquer an old foe last night, but they held their ground enough to get the result they needed. A 0-0 draw with rival Honduras put Canada second in their group, and booked their first quarter-final spot at a CONCACAF Gold Cup since 2009.
It also meant Canada went undefeated during the tournament’s group stage, with last night capping off a trio of positive results. This included a 1-1 draw with Costa Rica, ranked as the second best team in the region.
But last night against Honduras was even bigger, both in terms of the history and circumstances surrounding the match. That’s because it was the exact kind of match that Canada has been losing for years.
Even before the match kicked off, things seemed to favour the Hondurans. For one, it was stinking hot in Frisco, Texas, yesterday to the tune of 35 degrees celsius. Canada has often wilted under similar conditions, while temperatures like that would have been more familiar for the Hondurans.
Last night wasn’t San Pedro Sula by any means, but there was no mistaking the fact that the 10,048 people who attended the match at Toyota Stadium were heavily backing Honduras. It was about as close to an away match in Honduras that Canada could come without actually playing there.
Not to mention the fact that this match came with the other ingredient that usually undoes Canada: pressure. Canada knew they needed at least a draw in order to guarantee a place in the knockout round. They also probably knew their first two matches of the tournament had increased expectations back at home.
Honduras, meanwhile, needed a win to avoid a very difficult match against the United States or Mexico in the quarter-finals. They didn’t make things easy on Canada at all, a team they have historically destroyed in meaningful matches.
How was Canada able to pull of this result? There were two things that really stood out. One was this team’s passing ability, which has been excellent throughout the group stage. Canada completed at least 87 per cent of their passes in all three matches.
This quality when in possession gave them the ability to slow the game down against Honduras and starve their opponents of an ability to build continued pressure. It also meant that they rarely gave the ball away cheaply and therefore avoided dangerous counter-attacks.
Secondly, manager Octavio Zambrano has done a great job of using this team’s depth to his advantage. Marcel de Jong, who has played almost exclusively as a left-back for Canada, was used as a left winger. In that position he was able to both provide defensive coverage and an attacking threat out wide, earning the man of the match award.
Off the bench, Toronto FC’s Jonathan Osorio became the 20th player in the 23-man roster to see the field at this tournament. He made an instant impact, almost scoring a magnificent goal that came at the end of a great passing sequence that he dictated.
It is more than likely Canada plays Jamaica in the quarter-finals, which will present a new test for the team. However, after getting back-to-back results against two of the better teams in CONCACAF, Canada look like they can compete with almost anyone at this tournament.