HIGHLIGHTS: Honduras vs. Canada in Concacaf Nations League (June 13, 2022)
Concacaf Nations League A
Final Score: Honduras 2-1 Canada
Goalscorers: López 13′, Arriaga 79′; David 86′
Match in a minute or less
The Canadian men’s national team fell in its second game of the 2022 Concacaf Nations League campaign, losing 2-1 to Honduras away from home in San Pedro Sula. On a night where rain pounded the Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano from start to finish and the soaked pitch was borderline unplayable, the Canadians ultimately couldn’t get through the Honduran defence enough to erase the pair of goals they conceded.
The hosts opened the scoring early as a ball across the box fell to Kevin López, who beat Milan Borjan with a good finish in just the 13th minute to put Honduras ahead. After a sluggish middle section of the match where neither side created much, the Hondurans found a second goal in the 79th minute thanks to Kervin Arriaga, who finished another well-worked play.
Jonathan David did get Canada on the board very late, as his excellent finish capped off a good transitional move with a great pass through from Cyle Larin, but that would be all Canada managed. The contest finished in tempestuous fashion, with Alistair Johnston earning a second yellow card in the 96th minute, but ultimately Les Rouges went home frustrated.
Few significant takeaways for Canada from ugly, water-logged match
Talking about the weather during a football match — or even worse, using it as an excuse — is never an ideal way to discuss a game. However, there’s no getting around the fact that the conditions in San Pedro Sula on Monday were unequivocally front of mind for players, coaches, and fans.
The pitch in the Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano appeared to have been absorbing rain for some time before the match, and continued to do so throughout the contest, which left it incredibly water-logged and heavy, not to mention uneven — certain spots on the field clearly drained more poorly than others, creating large puddles in various spots that would cause a ball to stop dead in its path. Both teams struggled to move the ball, but Canada seemed to have far more trouble adjusting to the conditions.
Perhaps by design, trying to play something as closely resembling their preferred brand of football as possible, Canada appeared intent on continuing to build up with ground passes and working the ball into the attacking third. Of course, John Herdman and co. would have hoped that this match might contribute to their preparations for the World Cup in the fall, with very few international windows left before Canada head to Qatar; every time they step on a pitch between now and November 23 (which will be no more than a small handful of times, most likely) is a chance for them to refine their tactics, develop partnerships, and improve as a unit.
As they often do, Canada did try and adjust tactics throughout the match to try and adapt to conditions and opponent alike; they began going forward with a back three after the first eight minutes or so, and later in the first half Herdman swapped Alphonso Davies and Tajon Buchanan to opposite sides, but regardless there weren’t many small tweaks that could have made much of an impact in this one.
Herdman was clearly looking to challenge certain players in his side on Monday — none more so than Iké Ugbo, who made his much-anticipated first start for Canada — but the challenge they got was not what he had in mind. Ultimately, Canada were unable to play the football they wanted to or prepared for; they made a valiant effort through most of the 90 minutes to get the ball to the attacking players that might normally have far more joy with their pace on a dry pitch. Still, this was not a game where that kind of play was likely to produce results.
Indeed, had this been a game under normal circumstances, it would’ve been a useful one for Canada against a tough opponent in a hostile environment — and they likely would have dominated, given the gulf in quality on the pitch and the amount of possession they had — but it was decidedly not played under normal circumstances.
“Credit Honduras, they handled the conditions well,” Herdman said in a Canada Soccer interview postmatch. “It’s like trying to put a Formula 1 car on an off-roading track, that’s what it felt like. Every time we looked to play in certain areas that could get our best players moving, it’d either hold up or slide off the pitch. Your wisdom doesn’t grow on the good days, so the learning’s there; tactically, could we have been more direct? When we got here, seen the conditions, could we have changed the lineup? I don’t know, you’re always trying to look at things you could’ve done differently, but I thought the boys kept plugging away. It was nice to see the goal go in, but it just felt like whoever scored that goal was going to take control of the match.”
Canada thus probably won’t take much away from the actual play in this match, aside from a moment of further evidence that Cyle Larin and Jonathan David can combine well together (which produced Canada’s only goal). There’s a compelling argument that Canada should have pivoted earlier to playing more direct balls over the top rather than continuing to pass through puddles in an effort to get a result from the game, but they clearly preferred to continue with the original tactical blueprint. At the end of the day, this was not a match to write home about.
Hondurans capitalize on chaos, confusion with direct moves
On a night like Monday, the match was always likely to be decided by one or two moments of confusion or individual errors. That was the case with both of the goals Honduras scored and thus a major factor in Canada’s defeat.
The first goal developed from a broken play in midfield, where the ball bounced high from the wide area and a Honduran player locked onto it first to secure possession. Kervin Arriaga received the pass backward and immediately played a long ball forward to his winger Romell Quioto, who had read the play well and began his run quickly. The ensuing cross came through the box before Canada had any chance to get their defence back into position and the finish was ultimately a fairly routine one for Kevin López.
Much later in the game, a similarly quick transition put the Hondurans further ahead. They latched onto a rare errant pass from Stephen Eustáquio in midfield and once again the attack developed quickly and simply. Edwin Solano, not as weighed down or battered by the conditions as others having entered the match two minutes prior, took it himself behind the Canadian line down the right flank and was fortunate enough that Kamal Miller, the defender tracking back to stop him, slipped on the wet pitch to let Solano into the box. His square pass to Arriaga was good enough, and the deflection of the shot off Doneil Henry was another fortunate break for Honduras, but nonetheless they were rewarded for the quickness and simplicity of their counter-attack.
It’s possible the Honduran team are more suited to a game like this; they’ve typically been a very direct team in attack anyway, with the likes of Quioto in particular causing problems for top Concacaf sides in the past with those sorts of runs that led to the first goal. Of course, Canada themselves do have the ability to strike quickly in transition with explosive forward movement — look no further than the build-up to David’s goal — but the Hondurans certainly beat them in that aspect on Monday.
Tempers boil over toward end after frustrating 90 minutes for Canada
This was, by all accounts, a bad night at the office for the Canadian men’s national team. Ninety-plus minutes in the pouring rain in Honduras, with most players standing ankle-deep in puddles more often than not, is by no means the glamourous night under the lights that footballers dream of.
Nonetheless, it was a game that the Hondurans objectively handled better than their opponents. As the match wore on, the Canadian players’ body language certainly gave away how frustrated they were becoming by the evening — not just the pitch conditions (though that was chief among their concerns), but a litany of other things that weren’t going right for them, from early yellow cards to sloppy decision-making to the physicality of the opposition.
On a slippery pitch, it’s easy for players to let tackles get away from them and commit more egregious fouls than normal, particularly if a tackled player goes to ground. Canada ran into that problem somewhat in the first half, and the referee was not shy to reach into his pocket early in the game. Steven Vitória was in the book just five minutes in, and Alistair Johnston and Junior Hoilett both joined him in the first 40 minutes. In some ways, it felt like a matter of time before at least one team had a player sent off, given the perceived ferocity of tackles in the ugly conditions.
Both teams would, mercifully, remain at full strength until stoppage time in the second half. At that point, though, the game truly descended into chaos. After David scored, Canada had made a handful of other trips to the attacking third, feeling they might still have a chance to get something out of the game, but as soon as Honduras picked up the ball in transition and came bursting down the left flank everything devolved.
A clearance from Johnston, with which he struck the ball cleanly before landing with his studs on a Honduran attacker’s foot, drew a second yellow card and an ejection for him, at which point the Canadian team’s frustration finally boiled over — although it had been simmering for some time, through a number of heated confrontations with the referee. Three other Canada players — Milan Borjan, Cyle Larin, and Doneil Henry — picked up yellow cards from that exchange (bringing the team’s total to eight in the match), and matters were not helped when the fulltime whistle went just after the 97th minute, despite perhaps three of the allotted six stoppage time minutes being played due to the aforementioned scuffle as well as a handful of different pitch invasion incidents.
“This is Concacaf, these are the learnings we’ve got to look at,” Herdman said postgame. “Sometimes you’ve just got to grind a result out, and we weren’t able to do that today. All credit to Honduras; the conditions couldn’t have been more perfect for their style of play and their physicality. Our time will come back round again, and we’ll get them at home.”
Truly, Monday’s game was a masterclass in how things can go wrong for even the most talented team, particularly in the Concacaf region. Pretty much everything did indeed go wrong for Canada in Honduras, including the litany of circumstances and injustices beyond their control, but the key now for Herdman’s group will be to ensure they return to form whenever they return to the pitch in the early fall.