HOUSTON – Canada will be looking to reach rarefied air on Tuesday night when it takes on Costa Rica in its second game at the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
In addition to battling for first place in its opening-round group, something it hasn’t done since the 2009 edition of the tournament, Canada will also be looking to improve upon its short and unimpressive record at BBVA Compass Stadium, the home of the Houston Dynamo.
Canada has played two games here, including one in the Gold Cup two years ago against Jamaica, and has yet to score a goal. On top of that, Canada has tied Costa Rica three times and lost once since earning a 2-1 win over Los Ticos at the 2007 Gold Cup.
That’s a lot of history going against the Canadians.
“It’s not so much the stadium, but it’s the opponent. The last time we played them we tied them and I think we should have won,” Canadian defender Marcel de Jong offered. “So it’s not really the stadium but the opponent.”
The good news in the Canadian camp is that starting goalkeeper Milan Borjan has been cleared to play and will start against Costa Rica. Borjan’s status for Tuesday’s tilt was in doubt ever since he came off in the second half of last Friday’s 4-2 win over French Guiana in New Jersey with an impressive black eye after he collided with teammate Samuel Piette.
Borjan brings impressive shot-stopping ability to the table for Canada, and he is an effective organizer of his defenders, so his veteran presence will be invaluable against Costa Rica, one of CONCACAF’s elite sides.
The weather has been all over the map in the Houston area in the past few days. But none of it has been particularly conducive to playing 90 minutes of soccer at full speed. There has either been scoring heat, heavy thunderstorms, or overcast skies and squelching humidity.
At the very least, it won’t be as hot as it was two years ago when Jamaica scored in the dying moments to win 1-0 in a game that many Canadian players said was the toughest they’ve ever played.
“It’s hotter here than in New Jersey so it’s going to be tough during the game,” midfielder Michael Petrasso said. “Hopefully it’s as cloudy as it was today and we can go from there.”
Petrasso, who is six months fit after missing that same amount of time for Queens Park Rangers during last season with a thigh muscle injury, was deployed by coach Octavio Zambrano as a right fullback in Canada’s Gold Cup opener. Always an attacking player, Petrasso bombed down the wing with abandon against French Guiana. Against Costa Rica he’ll likely face a bigger test of his defensive abilities if he sees action in the same position.
Petrasso admitted that he’s been working hard on that side of his game.
“[Zambrano]’s given me a lot of freedom to go forward,” Petrasso explained. “But obviously, at right back, I need to focus on defensive duties, as well. I think he’s been teaching me and I’ve been doing OK, so hopefully I can continue performing there.
“Costa Rica will be good, being involved in the World Cup, so I think I’ll be involved more defensively so hopefully I can do well.”
Against French Guiana, Canada’s new, young core of players showed flashes of their potential, but they’ll have less freedom against Costa Rica. Don’t expect Canada to build up a 3-0 lead like they did in their first game. Costa Rica is at another level compared to French Guiana, and any dips in Canada’s focus will be exploited.
“If there is a lesson that is to be learned from the game against French Guiana, it’s that you can’t allow yourselves to think that, even with a 3-0 lead, a commanding lead, it’s over,” Zambrano stated. “That gets heightened against a team like Costa Rica so we have talked about that particular issue.”
Canada was three goals to the good when they lost that focus last Friday night, letting French Guiana score twice to make it a 3-2 game. They likely won’t be in that position against Costa Rica, so they simply can’t afford to have any lapses.
But in a Gold Cup tournament that’s already seen the United States drop points to Panama, and plucky Martinique beat Nicaragua, anything is possible.
And with a victory already in the books after a lengthy Gold Cup drought that dated back to 2011, Canada has a chance to show that its young group is a team on the rise.