Few Canadian soccer fans can forget the disaster that was Canada’s World Cup qualifier four years ago in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.
Stephen Hart’s team needed just a tie to get Canada to ‘the Hex’ for the first time since the 1998 World Cup qualifying cycle.
Thousands filed in hours in advance, bringing noise and an intensity that Canadian teams (and the small group of Canadian journalists who made the trip) had never seen before. The story goes that the Honduran government had declared a national holiday for the game and with a mid-afternoon kickoff it was an unforgettable atmosphere on a scorching day.
In just the second minute, Nik Ledgerwood got a cross to Tosaint Ricketts, who opted to take a touch in the middle when a first-time strike may have led to a goal – the chance went begging.
In the seventh minute, Jerry Bengston scored for Honduras, and from there the Canadian defending crumbled and the 8-1 rout was on.
Now, like out of a storybook, Canada will be in the same place looking for redemption on Sept. 2. It won’t be their final game of the round like that last time, but it could very well decide their fate.
“Neither of us are favoured,” Benito Floro said when asked about the Honduras game. “The performance of our players in these two games (against Mexico in March) was a little victory. The mentality of our players is to be more competitive. That’s something that’s positive.”
Honduras and Canada are tied with four points apiece. But Honduras holds a three-goal advantage on goal difference, so Canada’s odds of advancing to CONCACAF's final regional of six teams could either be enhanced or given a crippling blow depending on what happens in San Pedro Sula.
After that, they’ll host what could be one of the biggest games on Canadian soil – depending on the result in Honduras, of course – on Sept. 6.
Vancouver deserves to host decisive September game
Speaking of that final home game against El Salvador, the Canadian Soccer Association will certainly find it hard to schedule the game anywhere other than BC Place in Vancouver.
Nearly 55,000 filed into BC Place on Good Friday's game against Mexico and while there was a percentage of them in Mexico green, it was actually pretty even as an impressive pro-Canadian support was in evidence.
One suggestion for BC Place, though, would be to up their security after what was an embarrassing evening for PavCo, the Crown Corporation that runs the facility (which cost B.C. taxpayers more than $500 million in renovations after the 2010 Olympics), when multiple hooligans ran on the field near the end of the game.
Eventually Garrett Kusch, a former Canadian international and current chiropractor for the Canadian team, took matters into his own hands and brought down one such idiot with an impressive tackle.
A few days later, as the Canadians went through the mixed zone for media interviews at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City, a brigade of police in full riot gear with shields filled up the tunnel, after a night where nobody ran on to the field.
That may be a bit of overkill for a country like Canada but it’s not uncommon for games in Central America to have that kind of security around the field, including police dogs.
All Canada needs is to be within touching distance of ‘the Hex’ and have someone who’s overindulged to storm the field and disrupt the game.
Not that something like that would change the outcome of qualifying aspirations but let’s not tempt fate, shall we?
Labbe steps into starting GK role for WNT
Canada’s women’s team will continue Olympic preparation April 10 when it takes on the Netherlands in Eindhoven.
The Canadian Soccer Association announced the roster on Thursday and absent was star goalkeeper Erin McLeod, who damaged her ACL in one of her knees for FC Rosengard of Sweden in a UEFA Women’s Champions League game. Her participation in the Olympics this summer is in serious doubt.
The responsibility of starting in goal seems to now fall on the shoulders of Stephanie Labbe, a 29-year-old native of Stony Plain, Alta.
Labbe’s been involved in the program after coming through the youth ranks and has 27 appearances (17 of which were Canadian wins). She’s seen action in group-stage games at smaller tournaments such as the recent Cyprus Cup, and was in a U-20 Women’s World Cup in 2006 and the Pan American Games last year, but the Olympics would be quite the step up.
She saw action in back-to-back games in December at a four nations event in Brazil when she started a game against Brazil and had to come on in a second game against the hosts after McLeod damaged her knee in a separate incident.
There is some experience in Labbe’s favour but a whole lot more pressure now falls on her shoulders.