Only St. Kitts stands in Canada's way

KURTIS LARSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:13 PM ET

TORONTO - In the driver’s seat and four points clear of St. Kitts and Nevis ahead of tonight’s World Cup qualifying match in the Caribbean, Canada enters its fifth of six second-round games looking to hand the islanders their first defeat of the current stage.

Following a win and three draws in CONCACAF’s Group D, the nation of roughly 50,000 must take six points from its next two matches — both against Canada — if it’s to progress ahead of the Canadians to next June’s semifinal round.

A minimum of a draw from its next two matches — either tonight or next Tuesday in Toronto — assures Canada passage to the next stage against much stiffer competition in Honduras, Cuba and Panama.

“I’ll wait and see how this goes,” Canada head coach Stephen Hart said when asked about next week and beyond. “I haven’t even thought that far ahead yet.”

While St. Kitts’ No. 109 FIFA world ranking isn’t troublesome, current form — after a goalless draw against Puerto Rico in Toronto last month — is concerning for the remaining second-round matches and beyond.

Hart reiterated that while the squad is relaxed, as the match against Puerto Rico demonstrated, there’s no room for complacency despite the level the opponent is said to be playing at.

“(St. Kitts and Nevis) are quite quick in both wide positions and up front,” Hart said during a teleconference from the team’s camp in St. Kitts last night. “We have to be careful.”

Although greatly overmatched on paper, the home side enters tonight’s qualifier riding a wave of positive, if not unexpected, results.

Consecutive low-scoring draws against Puerto Rico in previous Group D matches indicates the potential for St. Kitts and Nevis to absorb for 90 minutes and search for a lucky counter.

“It’s a grass pitch but the ball is not rolling consistently — it’s very bumpy,” Hart said of tonight’s venue. “We’ve tried to get the players to play shorter and understand the playing conditions.”

With the great leveller of a poor surface in the equation, if Canada is to take three points, it must put forth a better effort than it did at BMO Field in October.

That said, while disappointing, another goalless draw would be enough to see it through regardless.

MLS NOTES

“Simple math” is the reason Major League Soccer appears set to implement scheduling changes that would see the league’s 19 teams compete in a 34-game, unbalanced schedule next year. Citing weather issues, travel and FIFA dates as a reason for altering next year’s slate, during a league teleconference, MLS Commissioner Don Garber pointed to a drop in player performance as a consequence of a balanced season in 2012 … There’s also talk of allowing next year’s highest remaining playoff seed to host the MLS Cup. All previous editions have been played at neutral venues … This season’s Best XI was announced Thursday by the league. Surprise selections included former TFC defender Todd Dunivant (LA) and an out-of-form Landon Donovan (LA). Brad Davis (HOU), Brek Shea (DAL) and David Beckham (LA) deservedly appeared on the list for the first time in their MLS careers.


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