TORONTO - Fresh off an impressive 7-0 rout in St. Lucia last week, Canada followed up a dominant offensive display with a scoreless draw against Puerto Rico at BMO Field on Tuesday night.
“I’m extremely disappointed in the fact we couldn’t score,” head coach Stephen Hart said. “They basically packed the box and waited for us … it was difficult to break down.”
With the visitors needing a win to stay alive in CONCACAF’s Group D, an otherwise lacklustre 80 minutes opened up 10 minutes from time with both sides trading the game’s best opportunities minutes apart.
After taking a ball off his chest from the left side of the box, Josh Simpson’s first touch split a pair of Puerto Rican defenders and put him clean in on goal in the 83rd minute. With Puerto Rico scrambling to recover, Simpson’s attempt beat Puerto Rician ’keeper Brandon Saldana, but skipped wide of the back post, nearly costing the home side a precious point minutes later.
Refusing to budge from a stubborn 4-5-1 defensive block through much of the match, Puerto Rico’s decision to open up nearly paid off in the late stages when an unmarked Andres Perez found space on the right side of the box.
With Canada’s ’keeper out to close the angle, Perez’s attempt came back off Lars Hirschfeld’s chest to keep Canada on level terms.
“It was clear that they were playing for one chance,” Hart said. “We didn’t want the team to rush things. I wanted the team to keep the ball, try to open them up and then see what happens.”
Although the draw keeps Canada perfect through four of six second-round matches, the draw complicates the team’s position within its group.
With St. Kitts and Nevis drawing 1-1 with St. Lucia in Group D’s second match on the night, the Canadians missed an opportunity to clinch a third-round berth in front of the 12,178 in attendance.
“We got a point and more than likely we’ll go to the next round,” Hart said. “Sorry we didn’t win the game but the objective is to qualify for the World Cup.”
Canada outshot the visitors 13 to four and controlled large spells of possession from start to finish.
The Reds should have led on five minutes when Dwayne De Rosario’s long diagonal fell perfectly to Iane Hume at the back post. Needing the poise that produced a pair of goals in Canada’s win last week, Hume misjudged what should have been an easy finish.
“When we did get our opportunities, we didn’t take them.” Hart said. “In a game like that, you’re not going to get many (chances). It was very hard to break them down … Canadian teams aren’t accustomed to teams sitting (back).”
Puerto Rico’s only other chance came 18 minutes in, when a deflected corner sat up for Cristian Arrieta at the top of the penalty area. The defender’s full-volley rolled wide of Hirschfeld’s goal in an otherwise tame opening 45 minutes.
Canada poured on more following the break with back-to-back chances 10 minutes after halftime.
De Rosario rewarded a well-timed run from Simeon Jackson with a pass that split a stubborn back four. Jackson’s poor second touch put the striker in two minds before attempting a weak shot that didn’t threaten second-choice ’keeper Saldana.
The Mississauga native had a second opportunity to score his fifth of the tournament after receiving another pass from De Rosario in the 71st minute. Jackson did well to control the ball 10 metres from goal before attempting a half-volley that sailed harmlessly over the bar.
Canada resumes qualifying next month needing a draw in St. Kitts to qualify for CONCACAF’s third stage — a round of 12 teams divided into three groups of four.
The draw eliminates Puerto Rico from 2014 World Cup qualifying following three draws from four matches.
“(St. Kitts and Nevis) are very athletic,” Hart said. “(They have) two very good wide players and a big centre forward that battles.”
A pre-determined third-round group sees Canada battle Honduras, Cuba and likely Panama for a spot in the final round.
In back-to-back games against the island nation, Canada travels to Basseterre, St. Kitts and Nevis with a chance to advance from the second round on Nov. 11.
Should the Reds lose on Match Day 5, they’ll need a draw against St. Kitts and Nevis on the final day in Toronto four days later.