FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Qualifiers Final Score: Canada 1-1 Honduras Goalscorers: Larin 66' (pen); Lopez 40' (pen)
RELATED READING: HIGHLIGHTS: CanMNT draws Honduras in exhilarating final round World Cup qualifying homecoming|| Sights & Sounds: Canada 1-1 Honduras – 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying || REACTION: CanMNT coach John Herdman following Honduras draw
Match in a minute or lessConsidering John Herdman's message on Wednesday when speaking to the media, it's clear he'll feel Canada dropped two points at home as they settled for a 1-1 draw against Honduras on Thursday evening at BMO Field in Toronto. Lining up in a 4-4-2 shape that featured some fascinating tactical tweaks (more on those later), the Canadians looked uncomfortable in transition for much of the first half and failed to create too many dangerous chances in the opening 45'. Honduras would make Canada pay for that slow start just before the break as right back Andy Najar found space behind the Les Rouges backline before Tajon Buchanan barreled him over inside the area — Alexander Lopez would convert the ensuing spot kick to give the visitors the lead at halftime. Canada looked a much more organized and balanced group in the second half as Junior Hoilett came on to replace Buchanan. Their relentless pressure in the final third would be rewarded midway through the final 45' as Hoilett was taken down in the Honduras 18 yard box. Cyle Larin would step up to level things at 1. Almost all of the action to close came in the Honduran half of the field but the best chance to win fell to Deybi Flores who's 74th minute effort was kept out by some combination of Milan Borjan and the Canadian goalpost.
Three ObservationsLaryea or Buchanan? How about both Most of the selections regarding who would start Canada's first qualifying match felt clear cut ahead of Thursday but perhaps the debate over which one of Richie Laryea and Tajon Buchanan would make the XI was the most contentious. In the end, Herdman found a place for both Laryea and Buchanan to start with the former lining up at left back — albeit with plenty of freedom to get forward in the attack (more on that after) — and the latter providing the width on the other flank in something of a right midfield role. Results were ultimately mixed as Buchanan failed to really make his mark on this match and show the sort of eagerness to get at opposing backlines he demonstrated earlier this summer at the Gold Cup, while Laryea grew into the game particularly in the second half when his influence up the pitch felt more natural. With the way in which Alistair Johnston performed in the right back spot on Thursday evening, it seems likely he's the favourite for that position assuming Herdman stays with this 4-4-2 going forward. Were he to switch back a 3-4-3 or perhaps a 3-5-2 later in this window, Johnston could come inside into a back three as he as in the past — in turn opening up the right wingback role many expected Laryea and Buchanan to fight over for this game. While it's hard to draw too many conclusions from Buchanan's performance on Thursday given he played just 45 minutes, the spot feels Laryea's to lose for the time being. Herdman experiments with tactics throughout While some tactical decisions worked better than others for Herdman in hindsight, the willingness to try different formations and nuances within those alignments was on full display against Honduras. Defensively, it was very much a traditional 4-4-2 with Jonathan David and Cyle Larin sitting on top of two blocks of four, but once Canada won possession and was looking to build and advance into attacking areas, the shape of the whole team and the roles particular players were responsible for changed. With something of a front five once in control of the ball, Laryea pushed up into an advanced central role to join the likes of David, Larin, Buchanan, and Alphonso Davies while Stephen Eustaqiuo and Atiba Hutchinson dropped deep to screen the now three-man defensive unit. In theory, the idea of getting as many bodies with pace and attacking threat in the final third makes sense but Herdman admits Honduras was more than up for the test —particularly in the opening 45' — thanks to their rigid defensive structure and strong reading of the game: "That Honduran team were well organized, their medium block, the low block, was tight, they didn't give anyone an inch," Herdman told reporters post match. "They thrived on that lack of chemistry, that lack of cohesion in the first half." Where Honduras hurt Canada in the first half was in transition on the flanks as they exploited the space in wide areas left behind by Laryea advanced up the field and Johnston tucked inside. It was after Buchanan and Davies swapped wings that Najar found room down the right before Buchanan ultimately fouled him leading to the opening goal from the spot. Recognizing the need for alterations at the break, Herdman opted to introduce Hoilett in place of Buchanan — a move which gave Canada a different dynamic in attack and one which ultimately gave them more balance centrally in the second half: "You could just sense we needed that extra player to overload their midfield screens," Herdman said of the second-half adjustments. "They just found it too easy to match up against Jonny (David), Cyle (Larin) and Phonzie (Davies)." Fresh options available for Sunday While Herdman was adamant after the match that the full focus on Thursday was on three points, the realities of such a congested window will surely have played a role in some of his coaching decisions on the night including substitutions and team selection to start. Opting to use just two of his five options from the bench — Hoilett at the half for Buchanan and Scott Kennedy for Kamal Miller in the closing moments — Canada now has fully rested midfield options in Mark-Anthony Kaye and Jonathan Osorio available to feature if not start away to the Americans on Sunday, while striker Lucas Cavallini, still regaining full match fitness, was also given the night off. Although some level of rotation will be necessary given the turnaround, Herdman suggested players who put in a shift on Thursday that clear the necessary fitness hurdles in training ahead of Sunday will be given every chance to start once again on the weekend: "These guys are going to be warriors, they'll patch themselves back up, we'll take every game like it's our last and we'll be giving everything so some of these guys will recover and do the work to reset themselves for the USA." At times the breakdown for Canada to transition into the attack and get their frontmen involved with more regularity seemed to happen in midfield with just Eustaqiuo and Hutchinson occupying natural central roles in the middle of the park. In what's sure to be another high-intensity affair on the road against stiff competition, a rested Kaye or Osorio could do wonders for a Canadian team still trying to find the best formula for getting the most out of its abundance of riches in the attack.
CanPL.ca Player of the MatchAlistair Johnston, Canada Suiting up as a right fullback as he often does for his club team, Johnston was tested several times in the opening half but seemingly won every duel he was a part of down that flank. His tackling and bravery in stepping up to win headers and kill transitions was essential for Canada to continue to send bodies forward as they searched for a winner.
What’s next?Canada head south of the border this weekend to take on the United States on Sunday evening at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee (8 pm ET), while Honduras takes on El Salvador on Sunday away at the Estadio Cuscatlan (7 pm ET).