Canada braces for intense test in Honduras World Cup qualifier

Football Soccer - Canada national soccer team training - World Cup 2018 Qualifier - Olimpico Stadium, San Pedro Sula, Honduras - 1/9/16 Canada's head coach Benito Floro (R) and Julian de Guzman attend a training session. REUTERS/Jorge Cabrera

SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras – The locals grin with the littlest bit of glee when they know they’ve met a Canadian.

The first thing out of their mouths is usually “ocho-uno,” as in 8-1. As much as the scoreline four years ago has become a matter of great trauma to long-suffering Canadian soccer fans, it’s something the Hondurans hang their collective hats on.

Even the most wide-eyed Honduran supporter doesn’t seriously expect a similar result on Friday but they still think that they’ll have the home-field advantage to pull off the victory and Canada knows what awaits them (5 p.m., TSN).

“The guys have been talking about the atmosphere,” said midfielder Scott Arfield, who is about to be thrown into maybe the most intense experience Canada can face in its CONCACAF travels.

“They get behind their team and we’re under no illusions about how tough a game it’s going to be. Added with the blistering heat, it’s always going to be difficult so we’ve got a game plan we’ve been working on all week and we need to put that to good use.”

As is always the case, Canada’s roster is dissected from stem to stern whenever it’s announced with sometimes those who are omitted becoming the talking points over those who are included. In this case, the talking point was veteran Toronto FC midfielder Will Johnson, who played in both of Canada’s previous two camps in this round but was not named for this return.

Johnson brings experience and is a veteran of the 8-1 game from four years ago, but Benito Floro said he didn’t feel Johnson he’d recovered from a recent bone fracture enough to get the sort of contribution the coach was hoping for.

Floro has obviously gone for picking the players he thinks best will work as a team instead of taking perhaps the more skilled individuals. Canada will likely try to lock down Honduras’ attack and then hit quickly using the speed of wingers like Tosaint Ricketts and Junior Hoilett.

“Every game we play for winning,” said Floro in his brief availability after Thursday’s quick session. “But these kind of games, maybe (we play) not only to win but also not to lose and don’t concede goals. It’s very important."

Nobody will fault Canada if they play a conservative style on Friday and force Honduras to try and break them down. In fact, it’s what they likely should do for the opening half hour or so until they adapt to the conditions and the atmosphere.

A draw would be considered a tremendous result, not only if you consider what happened here last time but also considering the team’s historic struggles in the region. Given the table, where Honduras and Canada are level on points with but one group match remaining to come, such a result would gain added heft.

If the draw is at least secured, then you would like Canada’s odds of reaching the Hex with just El Salvador to play at home in Vancouver on Tuesday -- but with the Canadian men’s soccer team, nothing is ever certain.