High times for Canada soccer

Canada's Olivier Occean and Honduras' Maynor Figueroa battle for the ball at BMO Field on Tuesday....

Canada's Olivier Occean and Honduras' Maynor Figueroa battle for the ball at BMO Field on Tuesday. (QMI AGENCY)

KURTIS LARSON, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 5:01 PM ET

TORONTO - The buzz and belief around the Canadian men’s national team is at an all-time high after the Reds resumed World Cup qualifying with a disappointing four points from two games.

As strange as it may sound, new found belief and massive disappointment somehow sum up how the Canadians opened CONCACAF’s third round this week.

With Canada’s front four creating a number of quality chances each time out, nobody expected its defence to be so well-organized and tidy following a miserable Gold Cup.

Although the disappointment was evident among Canada’s players in the mix zone following Tuesday’s match, the excitement inside the venue was inspiring.

For the first time in a long time, after scoreless draws against the U.S. and Honduras, there’s a genuine belief among those who wear the colours that something special is beginning to take shape.

The only thing missing is goals.

‘IT’S A CLUB PROBLEM’

Head coach Stephen Hart’s dumbfounded demeanour summed up a night of missed chances during a goalless draw with Honduras Tuesday at BMO Field.

“If we keep creating chances then hopefully someone will hit form,” Canada’s bench boss said. “Now I don’t see these players until September. It’s a club problem.”

He shook his head and laughed. It was all he could do after nearly completing the unthinkable.

“I’m not happy with (four points),” Hart said after coming close to earning a perfect six points from two games. “We got into good situations and at times the final pass was just missing or some quality on the finish.”

That quality was replaced 10 minutes from time when Olivier Occean, Canada’s lone in-form striker, was replaced by Iain Hume, a decision many will question during the three-month break between qualifiers.

After providing the winner in Havana four days earlier, Occean’s absence at the end of Tuesday’s match might have cost the Reds when both Simeon Jackson and Hume failed to re-direct a number of late crosses on frame — one with seconds remaining.

“It’s not (about) a lack of chances,” Hart said. “I brought on Simeon (Jackson) and Iain (Hume) late, but I thought the Honduran centre backs were beginning to wilt a little bit and maybe something would fall for us. A couple of chances did.”

As he broke through in Canada’s opener, you can’t help but think Occean might have done better with those chances at the death.

DIFFERENT DE GUZMAN

“Fantastic” against Honduras and instrumental in helping Canada earn three clean sheets in just over a week, Julian de Guzman is a different player when he’s away from Toronto FC.

While some will say it’s the system or simply a different role for his country, TFC’s Designated Player performs at a level that makes his multi-million dollar contract seem reasonable when he’s away from MLSE.

Playing as the lone holding midfielder in Hart’s 4-1-4-1 formation, de Guzman finds the gaps and relieves pressure far more often with his country.

After singling out TFC’s Designated Player as a difference-maker in the match, Hart praised all three of his hard-working midfielders — de Guzman, Atiba Hutchinson and Will Johnson — for the part each played in securing four points through Canada’s first two games.

DE GUZMAN 2.0

Jonathan de Guzman likes himself — a lot.

“I know that I could be a very big impact on the Canadian national team,” he told The Score before saying he still hopes to play for the Netherlands. “If (I) did play for the Canadian national team it would be a lot stronger than now. But then again, that’s the choice I made — and I stand by that choice.”

Since his brother, Julian, told the Sun earlier this year there was a good chance his younger brother would join him with the Canadian setup, many thought it was only a matter of time before the Villarreal midfielder regained Canadian eligibility after pledging allegiance to the Dutch national team as a youth.

Hart travelled to Spain in advance of the current stage of qualifying in an effort to talk Jonathan into joining Canada.

But after setting the record straight Tuesday night, Canadian fans have a new villain (traitor) to endlessly bash in the stands.

Owen Hargreaves can finally breath a sigh of relief.

LOOKING FORWARD

Since moving to its current qualifying format in 1998 no nation has failed to qualify for CONCACAF’s final round after securing 11 points during the current stage.

On four points after two games, wins at home over Panama in September and Cuba in October along with a draw on the road against either Panama or Honduras will earn Canada passage to the final round for the first time in two decades.

Should it fail to pick up a pair of home wins in the fall, Canada will likely need the Cubans to take points off one or both of the two Central American nations in order to advance.

As long as the Reds take care of business at BMO Field, another likely scenario is Canada finishing level with either Honduras or Panama on 10 points — something that would call goal difference into question at the end of six matches.


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