Without key players, Canada shows flexibility in historic win vs. Honduras

Denil Maldonado had a 10th minute own goal followed by a highlight reel Jonathan David goal in the second half as Canada shut out Honduras 2-0 to stay atop of the table in World Cup qualifying.

The last time the Canadian men's national team won in Honduras, "Back to the Future" was the top-grossing movie in theatres.

Nearly 37 years later, Canada went back to the future to exorcise its longstanding demons in San Pedro Sula with a 2-0 victory over Honduras in World Cup qualifying, capped off by yet another world-class goal.

The win not only heals Canadian soccer's soul from a devastating 8-1 defeat at Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano in 2012, it keeps Canada atop the table and extends its lead over fourth-place Panama to five points, bolstering its hopes of automatic qualification for the World Cup in Qatar later this year.

Here are three takeaways from a historic night:

Defensive masterclass

Unlike that fateful night in October 2012, Canada's defence was as steady as a surgeon's hand on Thursday.

It's true that Honduras outshot Canada 14-7. That's partially due to the game situation with the early Canadian goal. The chopped-up pitch didn't aid efforts, either. But in the end, Les Rouges allowed just 0.66 expected goals.

On the two occasions when Canada's defence was breached, goalkeeper Milan Borjan proved decisive. He preserved the lead with a terrific diving save to his left on a powerful Kervin Arriaga header, then two minutes later, David doubled the advantage.

Borjan followed it up with another terrific save in second-half stoppage time, building a case for Man of the Match with those crucial stops.

"We knew with their quality, there had to be a strong performance at the back," said Canada coach John Herdman. "We knew Milan would be called upon. We primed him in that conversation, that he was going to have a big night because with the form [Anthony] Lozano, [Alberth] Elis and obviously the qualities of [Romell] Quioto and the way they lined up, it was always going to be a challenge."

But that was as close as Honduras came, thanks largely to a collective defensive effort. It was Tajon Buchanan who won the ball in Canada's defensive third before Liam Fraser picked out David for the second goal. Even the goal-scorer himself was putting in work defensively.

"If you watched him all night, he put that cover shadow on the centre midfielders," said Herdman. "He was always in a position to deny those two centre midfielders. ... He does the dirty work and he is a top player in Europe, and to find that player to do the dirty work when they are coming into environments like this, that is not easy."

Scott Kennedy, who only returned to Jahn Regensburg's starting lineup on Jan. 16, was sublime against Elis, one of Ligue 1's in-form strikers, and he needed to be alert. Honduras prioritized a direct approach by hitting long passes to the flanks, usually to Elis or Quioto, as this map of their received passes highlights.

Once the outlet pass was complete, Elis or Quioto laid it back for an on-rushing midfielder or full-back. That allowed the forwards to drift between the lines, execute a run into the box and latch onto a ball over the top of the Canadian defence. A perfect example can be viewed in the video below.

But Kennedy was up to the task. He finished the game with five tackles, five interceptions, five clearances, seven recoveries and 23 of 29 completed passes.

This match was never going to be easy on the eye and the Canadian defence expected this test. They passed it with flying colours.

Buchanan makes difference at wingback

No one on the men's national team experienced a meteoric rise like Tajon Buchanan did in 2021.

Keep in mind, his first call-up for any level was with the U-23s in March for Olympic qualifying. Four months later, he played a starring role at the Gold Cup and scored against Mexico in the semifinals. He finished the year as an equally important piece of the puzzle as Alphonso Davies.

Without Davies available, Buchanan needed to pick up where he left off and it took all of 10 minutes to do so. He darted down the flank, beat a couple defenders on the way and created an own goal.

That goal and the ensuing attacking sequences were conjured thanks to Buchanan's deployment as a right wingback. This allowed Buchanan to start his runs farther away from goal to evade Honduras' low defensive blocks and receive more time on the ball before running at defenders to unsettle their back line.

Eventually, Honduras left-back Diego Rodriguez started cheating and pushed farther up the pitch to pressure Buchanan and give him less time on the ball. However, by doing this, it exposed the entire flank for other Canadian players to exploit.

The Club Brugge youngster wasn't a major factor after the 25th minute but he didn't need to be after the early goal. He remained committed defensively and still provided the occasional counterattacking outlet. It just didn't result in any scoring chances.

Buchanan finished the match partnering David up front, which leaves a major question for Sunday's game against the U.S.: Where will he start?

Hutchinson like a fine wine

Not only was Canada missing Davies, it was also down a key midfielder in Stephen Eustaquio, who is recovering from COVID-19.

Eustaquio has been ever-present for Canada under Herdman, so losing his ability to orchestrate games and break up oncoming attacks would have been a key loss.

Thankfully for Canada, they still have Atiba Hutchinson.

Hutchinson, who turns 39 on Feb. 8, started in that 8-1 loss nearly 10 years ago. He has been through the ringer, so if anyone deserved a victory and an outstanding individual display to go with it, it was the veteran midfielder.

The captain finished the match with a team-high 32 of 37 completed passes, seven recoveries, two tackles and one interception in another stellar game for Canada's all-time appearances leader.

With Eustaquio's status still day-to-day, it's possible Hutchinson will need to replicate that performance against the U.S. on Sunday. That should not be a problem based on his track record, even as he pushes 40.

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