Canada downs Honduras to remain atop World Cup qualifying standings
Canada continues its march to Qatar 2022, showing off an array of talent along the way.
The Canadian men put on what coach John Herdman called a "professional performance" in a 2-0 victory over Honduras in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying play Thursday.
"It was never going to be a pretty match for us but it had to be disciplined," he said. "That (Honduran) team has massive threats, transitional threats. But we also knew we could be really dangerous in the transition. I thought that's where we were clinical tonight.
"We bent a little bit but we didn't break. And that's the story, I think, of the identity of this team."
The win kept Canada (5-0-4, 19 points) atop the eight-team qualifying standings although the second-place U.S. (5-1-3, 18 points) and third-place Mexico (5-2-2, 17 points) kept pace with victories of their own. With fourth-place Panama losing in Costa Rica, the top three are beginning to put some distance between them and the rest of the field, which bodes well for World Cup qualification.
The 40th-ranked Canadians can stretch that lead when they face the Americans in a top-of-the-table tilt Sunday at Hamilton's Tim Hortons Field. Canada will then make the 3,400-kilometre trip to San Salvador to face El Salvador next Wednesday.
Canada went ahead in the 10th minute on a Honduran own goal, looked comfortable through the first half and held off the Hondurans in the second half as the home side showed more on offence.
After a huge save by Milan Borjan midway through the second half maintained Canada's lead, Jonathan David delivered the coup de grace on a remarkable rapid-fire transition goal in the 73rd minute.
After Honduras lost possession on the edge of the Canadian box, thanks to some well-timed thievery by Tajon Buchanan, Sam Adekugbe slipped the ball to nearby Liam Fraser, who found David on the Honduras edge of the centre circle behind two defenders with a perfectly measured 40-yard ball.
Without missing a step, David angled his chest to control the ball, then headed it forward and -- when he caught up with it -- chipped the keeper with his left foot.
Three beautiful touches at full speed produced his 19th goal in 25 matches for Canada.
The 22-year-old from Ottawa continues to put himself in the shop window, with several big English Premier League clubs reportedly watching him closely for the summer transfer window.
It was a world-class goal with an assist to match.
"The pass (Fraser) made to Johnny was a laser," said Herdman, savouring another player stepping up.
"It's a special story that's unfolding here and it seems like every man is being able to contribute on the journey."
Toronto FC loaned Fraser out to Columbus last season and then saw him move to Belgium's KMSK Deinze after his contract ran out at the end of the year. They may rue losing him.
Borjan made another remarkable save in second-half stoppage time, pushing away an Alberth Elis header.
Canada went ahead in the 10th minute via an own goal from Denil Maldonado, set up by some fine work by Buchanan. The Club Brugge wingback, after a give-and-go with David, danced around defender Diego Rodriguez near the by-line and fired in a hard cross that Maldonado, with Cyle Larin behind him, had to address just in front of goal.
His attempted block went straight into the Honduran goal, giving the Canadians an early cushion. Defender Steven Vitoria started the attack with a fine ball from the back.
Canada needed an enormous save from Borjan in the 70th minute to preserve the lead. The 'keeper got his left hand to a well-placed Kervin Arriega header off a Honduran free kick.
It was only Canada's second win ever in Honduras -- and the first since August 1985 in the capital of Tegucigalpa with substitute George Pakos scoring the only goal of the game.
And it was especially sweet coming at the Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano, a house of horrors where Canada's 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign ended in October 2012 in a humiliating 8-1 drubbing. The Canadian men came into Thursday's game with an 0-4-1 record at the stadium.
Other games Thursday saw the 11th-ranked U.S. defeat No. 70 El Salvador 1-0 in Columbus, No. 14 Mexico beat No. 57 Jamaica 2-1 in Kingston and No. 49 Costa Rica downed No. 63 Panama 1-0 in San Jose.
Three games remain for Canada after this international window. Come March, the top three teams will represent North and Central America and the Caribbean in Qatar while the fourth-place side faces an Oceania country in an intercontinental playoff to see who joins them.
Herdman's team is on track to make it to soccer's showcase for the first time since 1986, its only visit to the men's World Cup.
Thursday's contest matched the top and bottom teams in the final qualifying round-round in CONCACAF, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean.
No. 76 Honduras (0-6-3) has been on a downward spiral since tying Canada 1-1 in September at Toronto's BMO Field in the opening game of the round.
Canada was without Bayern Munich star Alphonso Davies, who has been sidelined by myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, after testing positive for COVID. Influential midfielder Stephen Eustaquio was also missing, with Portuguese report saying he had tested positive for COVID. Herdman said prior to the game that he hoped Eustaquio could play some part in the games ahead.
But there was plenty of offensive punch even without Davies, with David, Larin and Junior Hoilett leading the attack in a starting 11 that came into the game with a combined 406 caps.
And Davies was there in spirit, celebrating the Canadian goals as he watched live-streamed on Twitch.
Veteran midfielder Atiba Hutchinson captained the team, earning his 91st cap -- a record for Canadian men.
Canada's Samuel Piette needed treatment after his ankle was caught in a clumsy challenge by Edwin Rodriguez in the 34th minute. Jamaican referee Daneion Parchment reviewed the play on a sideline monitor, on the prompting of the video assistant referee, but there was no further sanction.
Piette could not continue, giving way to Fraser in the 39th minute.
One concern was Fraser and Hutchinson earning yellow cards. Toronto FC midfielder Jonathan Osorio, coming off the bench, earned his 50th cap for Canada.
Capacity at the 37,325-capacity venue was limited to 50 per cent Thursday due to the pandemic, with wide swaths of empty seats. The field cut up as the match wore on, with chunks being kicked up.
Canada has had little success on Honduran soil in the past however, with a 1-7-3 career record there prior to Thursday's meeting. Its overall record against Honduras improved to 8-11-7.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 27, 2022