Canada's soccer supporters group, The Voyageurs, branded yesterday's men's international friendly against Peru as the start of Mission 2014, Canada's quest to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The title Mission 2014 comes from a banner which boasts the signatures of Canadian soccer fans wishing their team good luck. The banner will go on a trip across the country so it can be signed by well-wishers of the national team everywhere from St. John's to Victoria, but despite the sentiment Canada's Mission 2014 got off to a poor start last night with a 2-0 loss to Peru.
Canada came out strong in the first half and tested the Peruvian keeper, Raul Fernandez, on several opportunities. Coach Stephen Hart opted to start the game in a 4-3-3 formation with Rob Friend as the target man through the centre alongside Dwayne De Rosario and Simeon Jackson on the wings. Throughout the first half Jackson was a major threat, beating men and making runs down the right hand side of the pitch. He was clearly Canada's most dangerous player on the night. The only thing missing from Jackson's game was the final ball into the box. This was a common theme for Canada last night as Friend was given very little service up top.
Without the usual face of Mike Klukowski at left back, Hart opted to start with Marcel De Jong. De Jong is solid defensively but cannot offer nearly as much going forward as Klukowski who many believe to be Canada's best crosser of the ball. Unfortunately De Jong's chance to impress at left back was cut short when he was carried off injured (with what was later revealed to be a broken shoulder) inside the thirty minute mark and was replaced by Ipswich's Jamie Peters. Peters looked uncomfortable all night and was at fault for the second goal letting his man run right into the box unmarked. The recently converted midfielder did very little to put himself higher on the depth chart for the that left back spot.
The centre back duo for Canada of Kevin McKenna and Adam Straith generally had a good match. The back four fell apart for the first twenty-five minutes or so of the second half committing numerous errors leading to the two Peruvian goals, but the youngster Straith and veteran McKenna righted the ship and held Peru for the last twenty minutes of the match. At the age of nineteen Straith is still proned to making rookie errors and he did several times throughout the match, but his ability to read the game is fantastic. He can cut out passes, his positioning is good and he looks to be an interesting prospect for Canada as they continue on Mission 2014.
The midfield three of Julian De Guzman, Atiba Hutchinson and Will Johnson put in a decent performance but were far from outstanding. De Guzman had one of his better games at BMO Field this year, looking to go forward much more than he does with TFC, but maintaining his defensive solidity. The biggest criticism of the three midfielders coming out of the Peru game was the same criticism they've been facing for the last four years. They cannot seem to find that incisive pass that carves open the opponents and leads to an opportunity. They keep possession well, they move the ball forward, but they just do not provide any threat in the attacking third of the pitch. Although this improved midfield helped Canada keep their shape throughout the first half.
Canada's 4-3-3 has often dissolved into a 4-5-1 with the two wingers hanging too far back, last night that was not the case. In the first half especially the Canadians kept their shape well and kept the ball well. Although the goal scoring chances were not there, this ability to play a 4-3-3 must have pleased Hart. If there is one main positive to take out of the loss to Peru it will be Canada's ability to maintain the ball in this formation.
Mission 2014 continues when Canada takes on Honduras in Montreal this Tuesday, where Hart will hope the team builds on this performance and comes out with a result against their CONCACAF rivals.