After a triumphant start to their Concacaf Olympic Qualifying Tournament, Canada had a markedly less enjoyable second match. A 0-0 draw with Haiti saw plenty of missed chances from both teams in a game that could have easily gone either way.
It was billed as a chance for Canada to exact a measure of revenge after being bounced by Haiti from the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup quarter-finals, but played out in a similar way—only this time without all the goals. Canada controlled much of the first half as Haiti seemed content to sit back and conserve energy.
The second half, however, was far more wide-open which benefited Haiti in a big way as they caught Canada many times on the break. Both teams were lucky not to have conceded with Haiti creating the more dangerous of the chances.
Here are some thoughts on what we saw last night, as well as the tournament so far for the Canadian team and what it means going into their final group game on Thursday against Honduras.
Lack of sharpness in the final third hurting Canada
Canada got itself into plenty of good attacking positions against Haiti, perhaps even more than they did against El Salvador in the first match. The issue once they got there was execution.
Players frequently went offside both because of early runs or passes that came too late. Canada was able to use the flanks reasonably well to get Zachary Brault-Guillard and Marcus Godinho into good advanced positions, but their service was often lacking. Finally, direct chances went missed as both Tajon Buchanan and Ballou Tabla had multiple excellent scoring opportunities.
This was an incredible run by Buchanan. He started the sequence with a block (not shown in clip) before putting his head down and doing everything right.— Farhan Devji (@farhandevji) March 23, 2021
This, after playing a full 90.
Good save, but gotta finish that. #CanM23 #CMOQ pic.twitter.com/kuyCrfFwyz
These chances are unlikely to be as numerous against either Honduras or a potential semi-final opponent so Canada really needs to start getting its attacking execution figured out in a hurry. If they don’t it could really cost them, as it did three points last night.
James Pantemis has come up big
Pantemis was Canada’s man of the match against Haiti which is as much an indictment on the team’s defending as it was a reflection on how well he played. Canada gave up far too many good chances in this match, especially in transition.
Whenever they did, however, Pantemis had the answer in an outstanding performance—his second great one of the tournament. Not only has he been an excellent shot-stopper, but he has also been a vocal leader from the back for what is a very young Canadian side.
This is a big year for the 24 year old as he pushes for more MLS minutes with CF Montreal and a strong performance like this to start his year can only be seen as a huge positive. He is making himself known among a growing group of promising young Canadian keepers that includes Dayne St. Clair, Thomas Hasal and Sebastian Breza among others.
Tajon Buchanan the standout player so far
Even if he couldn’t follow up a world-class tournament-opening performance against El Salvador, Buchanan remained Canada’s most dangerous attacker against Haiti. He continues to get himself into dangerous areas, while simultaneously drawing plenty of fouls from concerned defenders.
The confidence he is playing with at this competition has been evident, as he has twice looked like the most talented player on the field. Knowing that the European scouts are watching can often make a player break under pressure, but Buchanan has thrived.
Canada’s midfield has been better than advertised
When Canada’s roster was announced, there was a lot of concern over the lack of depth and quality in the midfield. So far, that has hardly been an issue for the Canadian side.
As expected, Michael Baldisimo has led the way with his ability to pull the strings and keep Canada in control of matches. Alongside him, however, Patrick Metcalfe and David Norman Jr. have proven capable lieutenants. The latter was excellent against Haiti as he mopped up several counter-attacks, showed great aerial presence and demonstrated a good range of passing.
A little bit further forward, Aidan Daniels has been a pleasant surprise with his lightning-quick pace and mesmerizing dribbling. Finally, Lucas Dias has shown glimpses of why he is one of the most exciting prospects in the player pool.
All this to say what was deemed a weakness for this Canadian side pre-tournament has been anything but so far. With that being said, far bigger tests await.
A surprising result leaves the group wide open
The Haiti match left Canadian fans with a lot to think about, so perhaps they didn’t pay much mind to the other group game that happened later last night. Well, it ended up having big implications, as El Salvador and Honduras played to a surprise 1-1 draw.
The result leaves Canada with plenty more paths to advancement: including a draw against Honduras in their final group game, a draw between El Salvador and Haiti, or a narrow win for either of those two sides coupled with a narrow Canada loss.
Of course, Canada should be focusing on victory in their final match as that would secure them the top spot in the group. But as we all know, against Honduras, that is never, ever, going to be easy.