Chris Black is an associate producer with Sportsnet. He is down in San Pedro Sula covering the Canadian national team and working on Sportsnet’s television broadcast of Tuesday’s World Cup qualifying match between Canada and Honduras.
Well, one night is in the books and there was no dancing in the streets to speak of, no fireworks, and no flares.
The only local intervention revealed itself when a pack of giggling women started snapping pictures of the Canadian team when the players were training in the hotel pool.
So, while it seems as if the scenes from last month in Panama won’t be repeated (there is a strong police presence outside the hotel, as well), that isn’t to say this trip will be comfortable for the Canadian side. As is often the case when this group travels south, the heat and the crowd will both be contributing factors to the challenge of earning that all-important draw.
First, because of both group spots being up for grabs on Tuesday, the two matches (the other being Cuba hosting Panama) must be played simultaneously. The stadium in Havana does not have lights for an evening kickoff, meaning Canada will now have to play in the oppressive heat at 2:00 local time instead of getting underway after sunset. There’s about a 10 degree Celsius difference between those two times, and as the temperature starts creeping up into the mid-30s, you have to expect it to impact a team that was playing in near freezing conditions just a few days ago.
But it sounds as if the much more uncomforting factor for the team will be the combination of crowd and stadium.
On the ride from the airport to hotel on Sunday evening, one of our group’s translators asked us point-blank and without a hint of sarcasm, "are people in Canada getting off work early to watch the game as well?" Maria went on to tell us that on gamedays, kids are allowed to wear Honduran jerseys to school, and that we should expect an "interesting" environment Tuesday (I think she’s trying to go easy on us).
"Interesting" isn’t how many former Canadian players called playing in Honduras. During Sportsnet’s pre-game coverage on Tuesday, there will be a feature that I helped put together that focuses on Canada’s challenges when playing in Central America. You’ll hear from Bob Lenarduzzi, Frank Yallop, Paul Dolan, Mark Watson, Carl Valentine, and Dwayne De Rosario.
Without giving too much away, they said the team can expect a variety of projectiles to be thrown their way. Dolan said the crowd was throwing full, one-litre plastic bottles of water towards the Canadian side last time they were in San Pedro Sula. And sometimes, other liquids are hurled as well.
The veterans on this current team seem to echo the alumni’s sentiments. Yesterday, centre back Andre Hainault called the stadium in San Pedro Sula "probably the most hostile atmosphere" he’s ever played in. He described the tunnel the team walks out of onto the pitch as if he was talking about a scene straight out of Gladiator. But if that’s the case — if Tuesday will be as much about taming the hostile crowd as it will be taming the opposition — I am not sure who this team’s Maximus Aurelius will be.
Who will this team look towards to lead them from that tunnel? If he was healthy, there’s no question Dwayne De Rosario would be the emotional centre of the team. With him on the sidelines due to injury, I don’t think we know who will take control of this club, but I think we’re about to find out.