TACTICAL PREVIEW: 3 things to watch in CanMNT's crucial home clash with Honduras
They’re back, and ready for revenge.
For the first time in exactly one year and one day, the Canadian Men’s National Team are back at BMO Field, as they get set to take on Honduras in a crucial CONCACAF Nations League match on Tuesday.
The site of their historic qualification for the 2022 World Cup, where they famously snapped a 36-year drought with a 4-0 win over Jamaica, Canada now returns with new goals in mind, as they kick off their first game on home soil in the run to the 2026 World Cup.
With goals of qualifying for their first-ever CONCACAF Nations League finals, which they’d do with a win or a draw, a result that should also give them a bye in next year’s tournament (giving them a leg up in qualifying for 2024 Copa América), there’s no doubt that they’ll come out firing for this game.
Awaiting them, though, is a team that is similarly hungry - Honduras. A side that has always haunted Canada, they remain Canada’s final barrier to accomplishing those aforementioned goals, of which you just know they’re eager to halt.
Yet, Canada will be aware of that, and will want to dish out revenge of their own, especially after what went down the last time these two teams met. Also coming as part of this competition, Canada travelled down to Honduras last June, where they were welcomed on a pitch better suited to swimming than for soccer, which proved to be a big advantage for their opponents in a 2-1 win.
Because of that, Canada will have every reason to want to show that on a much better pitch, the result should be far different, something they’ll now look to go out and prove on Tuesday.
Before then, however, here are three things you need to know about these sides in this match.
Honduras looking to frustrate Canada once again
Honduras may have had a 2022 World Cup qualifying cycle to forget, as they finished last in the Octagonal with four points, but make no mistake - this is a new team.
As part of the fallout that came with that disappointing output, they brought in a new coach, the Argentine Diego Vásquez, who had spent the past decade coaching in Honduras with club side Motagua.
Along with a lengthy playing career that included several stints in the country, it meant that he came equipped with a vast knowledge of what the team needed to return to past heights, such as when they qualified for back-to-back World Cups in 2010 and 2014.
And so far, he’s done well to get the most out of his squad. Having won four games, lost three and drawn one since his arrival, with wins over Canada and El Salvador standing out among the bunch, he’s got Honduras looking a lot more like the team that no one used to like playing in CONCACAF.
Because of that, they’re expected to bring a big challenge to Canada, who hasn’t exactly fancied playing them in the past themselves.
Even a decade removed from Canada’s 8-1 loss to them, Honduras has caused them problems in recent matches, such as in that 2-1 mudbath game, or when both sides met in the opening match of the Octagonal, in which Honduras came to BMO Field and snatched a 1-1 draw, the only game where Canada has dropped points in Canada since 2016.
#CanMNT head coach John Herdman admits that this game was quite the eye-opener for his team:— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) September 3, 2021
"It was a holy shit moment, like wow, this is real"
Therefore, expect Honduras to enter this game filled with much more confidence than what one would typically expect from a team almost 30 ranking spots lower than Canada, having done well in past encounters.
Yet, for Canada, that’s a good challenge for them to have. If they’re to prove that they’re the top team in CONCACAF, a goal they’ve been chasing, they’ll have to get used to teams bringing their best in games, finding a way to not get tripped up by that.
“Yeah, it’ll be hard for us tomorrow night,” CanMNT head coach, John Herdman, noted on Monday. “There's no doubt that they're hungry - they could put themselves in a Nations League final. And for us, it's all on the line for us. It’s winner takes all, and I've been clear with the group, we put ourselves in a great position to come in here and maybe control tactically how the game might start and finish today.”
“We’re no longer the hunter, we’re potentially the hunted,” defender Alistair Johnston added. “But we don't really see that for ourselves, because there's constantly another level that we're striving to get to, so we still feel like we have so many things that we want to do to grow as a group.”
Direct Honduras to offer a different challenge to Canada
On the field, however, this promised to be an interesting matchup for Canada, as Honduras brings a unique style of play to the table.
Always known for their direct play, especially in transition, they’ve built a reputation off of being a team that will be organized, hard-working and opportunistic, and should bring that ethos to BMO Field.
Especially now under Vásquez, who has helped them regain that identity after they’d strayed away from it during qualifiers, it’s made them a tough outfit to take on.
Canada got a taste of that last year, as their mudbath game came in Vásquez’s third game in charge, in which Honduras showed early signs of having grasped what the Argentine was looking to implement.
Since then, they’ve only gone and improved on that, and showed it in the first game this window, where they clawed out a tidy 1-0 win against El Salvador in LA, where they rode a first half own goal to victory after a resolute defensive performance.
Yet, that just shows what they’re capable of as a side now. In particular, they’ve really become a defensively resolute side under Vásquez, as they’ve conceded more than one goal just twice since he took over.
Not only that, but they’ve also allowed more than one xG just once as well, showing that the way they’re going about that defensive success has been sustainable, and isn't relying on some sort of luck. Especially considering that one of those lone times where they allowed more than one goal and one xG in a game came in a September friendly with World Cup winners Argentina, who were at the time tuning up for that tournament, that gives an even better idea of how defensively solid they’ve been recently.
On the flipside, however, Honduras has also struggled offensively as of late, which is a stark contrast to their strong defensive form. They’ve only scored more than one goal twice since Vásquez took over, and are averaging just around 0.5 xG and five shots per game, which are far from prolific numbers.
That can sometimes be enough for them to get on the board, as they showed against Canada when they nabbed two goals despite generating just 0.55 xG on six shots, but for the most part, their offence has run dry in recent games.
As for a potential set-up, look for them to either come out in a 4-4-2, as has been their preferred formation, or a 5-4-1, something they experimented with against El Salvador. Either way, a bank of four sitting in front of the defence will be the priority, as they try to nullify Canada’s ability to play in midfield, with the extra body in defence a possibility if they want to limit Canada’s wide threat.
From there, the goal will be to unlock their main threats in attack, Romell Quioto and Anthony Lozano, especially given that the dangerous Alberth Elis looks to have been ruled out of this game due to a paperwork issue that prohibited him from entering Canada.
Otherwise, some names to watch on the pitch include experienced goalkeeper Luis López, who is a veteran of over 50 caps, while defender Denis Maldonado of LAFC will lead the backline.
Elsewhere, options such as Deybi Flores, Kervin Arriaga and Joseph Rosales could all feature in midfield, with the task of trying to keep things tidy and organized, stopping Canada from trying to control things in that area of the park.
Because of that, there should be minimal surprises with their approach, as they have a clear way of playing, and will look to impose that on Canada.
“I think they're absolute killers in transition with Quioto,” Herdman said of Honduras. “There aren’t many better at him than that in CONCACAF, other than some of the lads I’ve got, so I've got a feeling that they’ll be patient (and try to open that up). The last time they came here, they were very patient, very stubborn, and hard to break down. They really nullified our flank play last time, so I'm anticipating them to just soak up some pressure and try to hit us on the counter.”
Canada looking to continue strong home form
On Canada’s side, they’ll look to take advantage of a long-awaited return home in this game, as not only will it have been over a year since they played at BMO Field, it’s been 10 months, period, since they’ve played in Canada.
Coming when they took on Curaçao last June in Nations League, a 4-0 win at BC Place in Vancouver, they’ve since been on quite the journey since, one that saw them first head to Europe in the fall, before heading to Qatar in the World Cup.
Because of that, they’ll be happy to be back on home soil, especially since it’s their first game at home since the World Cup, giving them a chance to both reconnect with fans, as well as show off some of the growth they’ve been able to have over the last 10 months.
Plus, on top of that, they also have quite the streak to maintain, as they’ve won seven straight home games, and are undefeated in their last 14 at home, as they’ve been quite the unit to play at home.
That’s key, as before, Canada was often a place for teams to get comfortable on the road against, but Canada has done well to shed the label that they’re a team whose stereotypical kindness shone through a bit too much in these sorts of games.
Now, teams typically expect a tough time when they come to Canada, and they’ll look to keep that up against Honduras.
As a result, look for Canada to really try and dictate the tempo of the game, and try to take over proceedings. Looking likely to line up in a 5-3-2, the new formation that they rolled out against Curaçao, midfield control and taking over the flanks will be the main goals for Canada, as well as not getting burned in transition by Honduras’s speed.
From there, patience and finishing will be the watchwords, as Canada will need to work hard to break down that Honduras block, one that won’t be eager to leak chances.
If they can do that, they’ll be able to get the result that they need, allowing them to progress to the next step of their journey.
“Tomorrow is a big game for us,” midfielder Jonathan Osorio noted. “So we need to come together as a team and take everything that we've learned, and put in a good performance tomorrow.”