Canada flashes potential but leaves room for improvement in Octogonal opener

Cyle Larin scored the equalizer as Canada and Honduras played to a 1-1 draw.

It was a dramatic night of near misses and determined play, but in the end, the Canadian men’s national team did not live up to expectations.

Stocked with young talent and a spirited will to win, the Canadians failed to gel when they needed it most and ended their inaugural “Octogonal” game in a 1-1 draw with Honduras.

With a roster of stars including Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David, Canada made its first appearance in the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying final round since 1997 — and took the pitch as heavy favourites over their Honduran rivals.

Close to 15,000 boisterous fans poured into BMO Field in Toronto for the team’s first match on Canadian soil since a statement 2-0 win over the United States in October 2019, and it was poised to be an electrifying night.

Les Rouges had been running on full cylinders, victorious in nine of its eleven matches in 2021 by blazing through the initial World Cup qualifying stages and reaching the Gold Cup semifinal.

But on Thursday night, a wake-up call.

Canada failed to pull away three points — a bitter reminder of past defeats to Honduras that have plagued the nation, including an 8-1 thud in a do-or-die match in 2012.

Still, 13 matches remain meaning 13 chances for Canada to finish among the top four teams in the “Octogonal” stage. But for that to happen this talented team will need to learn from this game and begin to meld.

Here are the main takeaways from Canada’s 1-1 draw versus Honduras on Thursday night:

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Failure to launch

Team Canada entered the field with confidence.

Canadian captain Atiba Hutchinson said the men’s national team was “fearless” and coach John Herdman backed that up by boldly selecting an offensive 11 that included all of Davies, David, Cyle Larin and Tajon Buchanan.

And from the start, Canada looked ready to control the match and back up Hutchinson’s words, but the fearless energy quickly turned to fear itself as Les Rouges lost their composure roughly 15 minutes into the first half and began to crumble.

The Canadian team failed to keep hold of the ball in the midfield and connect with the attackers while Herdman’s daring tactic of excluding midfielders Mark-Anthony Kaye and Jonathan Osorio — both of whom played pivotal roles in the Gold Cup — was not paying off.

Honduras was showing its mettle with continuous attacking pressure, when Buchanan made a poor challenge on winger Andy Najar, and the die was cast.

A converted penalty opened the scoring in the 40th minute and Honduras was in the lead.

Buchanan, a 22-year-old who will soon join Belgium’s Club Brugge on a $7 million transfer, was expected to make an impact on the match, but not that way. Especially after dazzling as the Gold Cup’s best youth player. He was then substituted at halftime for veteran Junior Hoilett.

Dominant, but disappointing second half

The second half told a different tale.

After being stunned in the first half, Canada came back fighting — displaying character and electrifying skill as they moved the Honduran players around the field and smothered them any time they touched the ball.

Led by Davies and his blistering runs down the left side of the pitch, the Canadian squad attacked the Hondurans with wave after wave in the first 10 minutes of the half.

Canada continued to mount pressure, and that boiled over in the 64th minute when it earned a penalty kick of its own after Richie Laryea played a ball into the box for Hoilett, who was fouled. Larin made no mistake from the spot to equalize the match.

Despite the constant pressure throughout the half and heroic saves from Canadian goalkeeper Milan Borjan when Honduras looked to bite back, the Canadians fell short of finding a winner.

Though Canada flashed its potential, the team left ample room for improvement, particularly in the final third where they only mustered three shots on target in 15 attempts.

Had Canada been a little less disjointed in its build-up and more clinical in the box, the dominant second half would’ve been enough to salvage three points.

Davies can’t do it alone

You couldn’t keep your eyes off Davies throughout the entire match.

If there was any doubt about who would be the best player on the pitch heading into the contest (there wasn’t), the 20-year-old FC Bayern superstar quickly silenced it. But for Canada to succeed and reach World Cup glory, Davies will need some help.

This isn’t to say Davies was the only one who played well. Borjan did everything he could in goal, Alistair Johnston shut down any Honduran player that came his way on defence and Stephen Eustàquio showed usual poise and great delivery in midfield. Laryea was also a catalyst for many of Canada’s chances with dangerous runs into the attacking third.

But for much of the match all the offence ran through Davies, and it seemed up to him to create a Canadian goal out of nothing with one of his dashes down the left side.

Davies can be depended on as a focal point for the Canadian team — he’s a world-class talent and a key reason Canada has the opportunity to qualify for the World Cup — but solely depending on him won’t be sustainable.

With three matches in seven days in this stretch, including Sunday against the United States and Wednesday at home against El Salvador, the Edmonton product could wear out, or worse, injure himself if he’s tasked with carrying that type of load.

The good news is the match couldn’t have gone much worse for Buchanan and David. Watch for them to bounce back and give Davies a boost next week.

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