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Two games into Canada's World Cup qualification campaign and they've done the job. They beat St. Lucia at Toronto's BMO Field and they overcame the toughest match of the group by knocking off Puerto Rico away. Of course, this is soccer and anything can happen but it should be clear Caribbean sailing from here on out.
The powers-that-be in Canadian soccer seem confident. Thus, we see Toronto FC prospect Ashtone Morgan and Russian Premier League reservist Joseph di Chiara on the full national team for a pair of World Cup qualifiers. Houston Dynamo defender Andre Hainault, previously a devoted servant of Canada, declined a call-up to World Cup qualifying citing minor injuries and a desire to help the Dynamo's playoff run even though, with Dejan Jakovic and now Kevin McKenna unavailable, Canada's situation at centre back is actually quite precarious.
Up front, Canada is without the services of ace striker Ali Gerba due to injury. Canada's best player, midfielder Atiba Hutchinson, is also injured and unavailable. Both of Canada's top left backs, Michael Klukowski and Marcel de Jong, are staying home: Klukowski with an injury and de Jong with personal issues.
So Canada's defense will be improvised, anchored by second-division role players like David Edgar and Adam Straith as well as the elderly Ante Jazic. We still haven't got an actual right back but the smart money says Nik Ledgerwood will play as he did in the Gold Cup. The midfield is cobbled together, while the forwards are a succession of guys who have struggled to score for Canada. Backup goalkeeper Milan Borjan is also hurt and has been replaced by the oh-god-no Kenny Stamatopoulos. Through all of this will run Dwayne De Rosario, doubtless in standard MeRo mode as he tries to score nine goals by himself and pass classy non-douchebag Dale Mitchell as our nation's all-time leading scorer.
Funnily enough, nobody in Canada seems all that worried by any of this. Really, even I'm not. St. Lucia is dreadful and they've lost goalkeeper Iran Cassius to a training injury. But we're playing in their park, a park so slip-shod that they didn't even have goal nets for training yesterday because they were being sewn up at the marina. Such environments, and such Canadian lineups, are invitations to a catastrophic upset.
No, I'm not worried. But that doesn't mean I won't be bloody glad when this game is over.
It's rare for a real minnow like St. Lucia to beat a middle power like Canada. So far in CONCACAF qualifying there haven't been any upsets of significance: Belize beat Grenada 3-0 away in a surprise result but that's the best we've seen. Panama, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Trinidad and Tobago — Canada's closest peers — have been taking care of business with maximum points all around. Guatemala's got a +5 goal differential in a somewhat tougher group than us.
This isn't to say that upsets don't happen, but the gulf between the Caribbean minnows and the middle powers is so large that such games are incredibly uncommon. In 2010 World Cup qualifying, little Bermuda scored CONCACAF's biggest upset when they beat Trinidad and Tobago 2-1 away thanks to a brace from Crystal Palace Baltimore journeyman John Barry Nusum in his moment of glory. Sadly, Jack Warner's homeland avenged themselves with a 2-0 win in Bermuda.
Canada has a reputation for choking in the clutch, 2000 Gold Cup aside, but even we haven't lost to a World Cup qualifying minnow in my lifetime. So far we've gotten results against St. Lucia and Puerto Rico, even if we haven't necessarily gotten the performances. Last time around we handled St. Vincent and the Grenadines easily; in the previous cycle we thrashed Belize 8-0 on aggregate. Our most ignominious result in recent history against such competition was our 2-0 loss to Cuba in the 2003 Gold Cup, but even Cuba is goddamned Brazil compared to St. Lucia.
There is, however, one famous upset on our record: on December 6, 1992 Canada drew Bermuda 0-0 away in qualifying for the 1994 World Cup. A win would have seen Canada through to the final round of qualifying; a draw would probably be enough but could still see us eliminated if Jamaica beat El Salvador by more than four goals. This was always unlikely but Canada still wanted the win. They were, perhaps, a little complacent. Canada was playing a quality lineup but were unable to break through the Bermudans. I have never seen this game but I see that Canadian head coach Bob Lenarduzzi was going for offense: with twenty minutes left he brought in Paul Peschisolido, and eight minutes later Carl Valentine also came on. It was clear he wanted a win, that the team was playing for one, and they didn't get it. Luckily, in the event, El Salvador beat Jamaica 2-1 making Canada's worry unnecessary and paving the way to the most heart-breaking Canadian game of all time.
That is where I can see history repeating itself. Canada will probably win in St. Lucia and even if we draw (or, the gods forbid, lose) it won't matter if we do our duty the rest of the way. But the last thing an inexperienced team needs is to have its confidence shaken by a fluke result on the road while the team is missing 80% of its quality.
I don't think I'll be upset with an ugly win today. 1-0 and get out of there. That's fine by me.