Following their controversial cancellation of a friendly scheduled with fellow World Cup participants Iran, a further last-minute cancellation against Panama laid bare a nightmarish scandal in Canadian soccer. On the verge of their first World Cup berth in 26 years, the Men’s National Team found itself embroiled in a labour dispute with the Canadian Soccer Association. The Nations League A match against Honduras could have been a welcome distraction, but Les Rouges ultimately fell 2-1.
While retaining the same 4-4-2 that brought him a 4-0 victory against Curaçao, John Herdman opted for three changes against Honduras. Ike Ugbo received his first national team start, who was partnered alongside Junior Hoilett up top, relegating Cyle Larin and Jonathan David to the bench. The midfield four remained unchanged, with Stephen Eustàquio and veteran Atiba Hutchinson flanked by Alphonso Davies and Tajon Buchanan on the left and right, respectively. Richie Laryea replaced Sam Adekugbe on the left hand side on defence. Alistair Johnson remained on the right, while Kamal Miller and Steven Vitória continued to start in between the two. Goalkeeper Milan Borjan’s 65th appearance moved him into sole possession of the 9th spot on the all-time CANMT rankings.
If the previous few weeks have been a nightmare for Les Rouges and the CSA, the pitch at the Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano in San Pedro Sula gave no reservations. The Hondurans’ home ground has typically been a puzzle for the Canadians, most notably an 8-1 embarrassment in 2012, and this night proved no different.
Players on both sides slipped and trudged throughout the game, with splashes of water and chunks of pitch ejected with every kick. While Canada continued its quick, possession-based approach, the Hondurans played direct. On a field where the ball would stop in the middle of a pass, the latter strategy proved superior. When Junior Hoilett fed Ike Ugbo inside the box with a brilliantly-threaded pass in the first half, for example, the ball simply floundered in a puddle between his feet.
Kevin Lopez scored on a frenzied counter-attack in the first half, while slips from Eustàquio and Miller helped Honduras quickly double their lead on a low cross into the box. Herdman’s men spoiled a few early chances, but Jonathan David pulled one back after a Honduran giveaway. David sprinted from the halfway line before collecting a superbly-weighted through ball from fellow substitute Cyle Larin. The goal brings him four away from overtaking Larin on the all-time Canadian scorers rankings.
Canada was visibly frustrated during the match. If they weren’t tripping over themselves in the torrential rain, the Reds constantly bickered with head official Mario Escobar. In total, they collected eight yellow cards and one questionable red card after a seemingly benign Johnson clearance resulted in him catching a Honduran player on the shin late into the game.
Even if the match was one to forget for Canada, it was a stark reminder of the difficulty of playing away in CONCACAF matches. Qatar is unlikely to have similarly sodden conditions, but Les Rouges must not take their continental matches for granted. Indeed, many CONCACAF teams are similarly uncomfortable in frigid Canadian conditions.
HERDMAN REACTION:— Canada Soccer (@CanadaSoccerEN) June 14, 2022
"It was a difficult game. But I felt the boys kept plugging away. Credit to Honduras, they managed the conditions well. We had to play in puddles, but that's Concacaf, we had to get on with it." #CANMNT #CNL #WeCAN pic.twitter.com/AF4GsdK3Ad
Honduras’s win was only their second victory in their last twenty matches. As for Canada, this was their last competitive match before their World Cup opener in November against Belgium, albeit with two or three friendlies potentially scheduled for the September window.