Canada defeats St. Kitts & Nevis 1-0 in CONCACAF Nations League qualifying play
Canada's Zachary Brault-Guillard gets air as Dominica's Glenson Prince (1) makes a save during second half Concacaf Nations League qualifier soccer action in Toronto on Tuesday, October 16, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
The Canadian Press
Published Monday, November 19, 2018 12:51AM EST
BASSETERRE, Saint Kitts And Nevis -- Captain Atiba Hutchinson's goal late in the first half lifted Canada to a 1-0 victory over St. Kitts & Nevis on Sunday in CONCACAF Nations League qualifying play.
The win was the fourth straight for coach John Herdman since he took over the Canadian men in January. His team has outscored the opposition 15-0 in the process.
As expected, the well-organized Sugar Boys proved to be a tougher test than the U.S. Virgin Island and Dominica, whom the Canadians dispatched by a combined score of 13-0 in their two previous matches.
"It was a resilient performance," said Herdman. "At times you do have to dig in and grind out results in tough conditions and that's what the players did tonight."
Canada, ranked 76th in the world compared to No. 133 for St. Kitts, had more chances as the game wore on at Warner Park but could not breach the St. Kitts defence. Substitute Jonathan David hit the woodwork in stoppage time.
Canada, which came into the third round in third spot in the standings, joined Haiti, Cuba and Jamaica with three wins and nine points in the qualifying table. Haiti leads with a plus-16 goals difference with Canada and Cuba tied at plus-14.
The four-game qualifying round sets the stage for a three-tier competition, complete with promotion and relegation, that kicks off in the fall of 2019 in the confederation covering North and Central America and the Caribbean.
Canada is on track to finish in the top six, which would qualify it for the top tier of CONCACAF Nations League play next year as well as the Gold Cup (the top 10 nations in qualifying play make the CONCACAF Gold Cup field).
Hutchinson scored in the 44th minute, heading in a fine Russell Teibert cross from the left flank. The Canadian captain rose above defender Raheem Somersall for his seventh goal in his 80th appearance for Canada.
The 35-year-old Hutchinson pointed to Teibert after the goal to give credit to the Vancouver Whitecap midfielder for his accurate delivery.
It was his first goal for Canada since September 2015 when he scored in a 3-0 World Cup qualifying win over Belize.
"That was a captain's performance," said Herdman.
"He's enjoying his time here, he's taken on a leadership role. To see him go out there and score, I think it was fitting."
Canadian goalkeeper Milan Borjan had a quiet night. But at the other end St. Kitts proved to be a well-organized side tough to break down.
Herdman started Mexico-based striker Lucas Cavallini up front in a starting 11 that included teenagers Alphonso Davies (18) and Ballou Tabla and Zachary Brault-Guillard (both 19).
David, an 18-year-old forward, came on in the 66th minute for Tabla while Liam Millar, a 19-year-old midfielder, replaced Junior Hoilett the 71st minute.
Forward Cyle Larin, who plays for Beskitas in Turkey alongside Hutchinson, was Herdman's final substitution as he threw more offence on the field.
St. Kitts started well and Omari Sterling put a weak shot on goalkeeper Milan Borjan but Canada began to take control as the first half wore on with Davies and Hoilett beginning to make inroads from the wings.
Davies shot high from a free kick 25 yards out in front of the goal.
Cavallini, who plays for Puebla FC, had a good chance in the 54th minute but his shot hit a defender. Hutchinson came close to getting his second off the ensuing corner but goalkeeper Julani Archibald somehow got a piece of his body in front of the ball before it crossed the goal-line.
Teibert looked to play provider again in the 73nd minute but Cavallini could not keep his header down from the cross.
Archibald was called into action again in the 85th minute, going down low to coral a powerful shot from Davies. Seconds later, Borjan comfortably saved a shot from substitute Kennedy Isles.
Archibald had to be acrobatic in stoppage time to deny Davies again, this time from a wicked curling shot.
Canada had 59 per cent possession and outshot St. Kitts 11-5 (3-2 on target).
The Canadians played to a 0-0 draw with St. Kitts in their only previous visit to the Caribbean country, in November 2011 in a World Cup qualifying series. The Canadians won 4-0 at home four days late in Toronto.
Jacques Passy, the Mexican who took over as St. Kitts coach in 2015, has recruited from around the globe, bringing in players with the right bloodlines. Several ply their trade in England's lower leagues including midfielder Romain Sawyers who plays for Brentford FC in the second-tier Championship.
Three Canadians started on the bench for St. Kitts: Justin Springer of Guelph, Ont., Alain Sargeant of Toronto and Nile Walwyn of Mississauga, Ont.
The Canadian men opened their CONCACAF Nations League qualifying play by drubbing the U.S. Virgin Islands 8-0 and Dominica 5-0. St. Kitts downed Puerto Rico 1-0 and Saint Martin 10-0.
Canada finishes the round in March at home to French Guiana, which is unranked because it is not a member of FIFA.
The Sugar Boys are hoping to finish in the top 10 of the qualifying round, which would qualify them for the CONCACAF Gold Cup for the first time.
Anthony Johnson, president of the St. Kitts and Nevis Football Association, called Sunday's game "the most important match in the history of St. Kitts Nevis football."
The six teams that made it to the final round of the most recent World Cup qualifying in the region -- Mexico (No. 16), the U.S. (23), Costa Rica (37), Honduras (62), Panama (70), and Trinidad & Tobago (93) -- are bypassing the qualifying portion and will go straight into the top tier of the Nations League.