Canadian men’s team in tough at Pan Am Games

Gerry Dobson and Craig Forrest break down a frustrating 0-0 draw for Canada against Panama at the Pan Am Games that showed the Reds could create scoring chances, but not bury them.

Goals have been at a premium for Canadian national teams this week.

The under-23 men’s side battled to a 0-0 draw against Panama on Thursday at the Pan Am Games, marking the third straight day that a Canadian national team failed to score—Canada was held to a 0-0 draw by Costa Rica on Tuesday at the Gold Cup, and the women’s team fell 2-0 to Costa Rica at the Pan Ams on Wednesday.

The first game resulted in Canada’s elimination from the Gold Cup, while the last two left Canadian teams with quite a bit of work to do in order to avoid a first round exit. Needless to say this hasn’t been the best week for Canadian soccer.

Here are my three thoughts on Thursday’s match.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

With Canada coming off a decent showing in its opener (yeah, a 4-1 loss to Brazil looks bad on paper, but the Reds acquitted themselves quite well against the South Americans), coach Antonio Floro made three changes to his line-up, swapping in right fullback Jonathan Grant for Alex Comsia, centre back Jackson Farmer for Adam Bouchard, and forward Ben Fisk for Caleb Clarke.

All three contributed to the Canadian cause, with Fisk nearly scoring in the opening minute before being subbed out in the second half, Grant looking solid on the right side of defence, and Farmer expertly breaking up attacks and comfortably playing the ball out from the back.

Aside from Fisk’s early chance, Canada never looked threatening in the final third, and Panama dictated the pace of the first half—they managed to win 11 corners in the first 45 minutes alone. Looking to give his team a spark, Antonio Floro made two substitutions in the second half when he brought on Clarke and Manuel Aparicio. The moves paid off as Canada was the far more dangerous side for the final 20 minutes, and they carved out a number of scoring chances thanks to the efforts of Clarke and Aparicio, and Hanson Boakai (more on him later).

Unlike Benito Floro at the Gold Cup, Antonio Floro understands goals win games, and that sometimes you have to make personnel and tactical changes when the situation calls for it. Maybe junior can have a word with his dad.


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Boakai a special talent

Hanson Boakai showed in this game why he is one of Canadian soccer’s most promising prospects. The FC Edmonton winger/forward demonstrated his best attributes against Panama: invention, creativity, a deft touch, dangerous pace, technical skill, and flair. He’s such a dynamic player with the ball at his feet, making him a nightmare for opposing players to mark and close down.

Boakai also carries himself with a bit a swagger (Canadian soccer could use more of that) and is capable of breaking games open with individual acts of brilliance, like he almost did in the 70th minute when he brushed off a Panama defender and curled a wicked low shot from outside of the box just wide of the far post.

He can dwell on the ball a bit much, and tries to be over-elaborate at times, but he’s still learning his craft. At 18, he’s a very exciting player to watch. Just imagine how good he’s going to become when he gains more experience and his overall game becomes more mature and poised.

All to do for the Reds vs. Peru

Thursday’s goal-less draw leaves Canada in a very tough spot going into its final group stage game against winless Peru next Monday in Hamilton. The Reds sit third in their group with one point, behind Brazil (six points) and Panama (four points).

The top two teams advance to the semifinals, which means Canada must beat Peru to have a chance at moving on. But even if they do it might not be enough, as Brazil would have to beat Panama, and Canada would have to overcome a big goal-difference—the Reds are at minus-1, while Panama is at plus-3.

Maybe Brazil can put four or five goals past the Panamanians, but those two teams play a few hours before Canada’s game on Monday, which means a draw would suit them both just fine before Canada even kicks a ball.

It’s a shame that the two group games aren’t being played at the same time—like at every other major international tournament—as it would eliminate any possibility of collusion between Panama and Brazil. Still, Canada only has itself to blame for this, as a win over a beatable Panama side on Thursday would have put the Reds in the driver’s seat going into the final round of the group stage.

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