Canada enter the biggest game in John Herdman’s reign so far this evening in Houston, when they take on Haiti for a place in the Gold Cup semi-finals, something that has not been achieved since 2007.
Haiti have not finished in the top four since way back in 1977, when in fact they were runners-up, but after going through Group B with a 100% record, upsetting Costa Rica in a thrilling group decider, optimism and the appetite for further progress, is high.
They came into this tournament hopeful of qualifying for the knock-out stages on the coat-tails of more fancied Costa Rica, provided they could get the better of Nicaragua and Bermuda. They did that and more, but the element of surprise after that Costa Rica result has gone now. Canada will need to be focused and at the top of their game. In a way it’s done Herdman’s job for him. Any side that can beat Costa Rica in this region needs to be taken seriously.
Herdman said of Haiti, “They are a very cohesive team.”
“They’re excellent in that transitional moment. They have so much athleticism and it’s the speed at which they can send numbers forward … for Canada, it’s definitely a red flag.”
We’ve heard so many positives about the current Canada team, and to be fair, it’s not the squad or its management who have been shouting from the rooftops, it’s more their success-starved followers, who feel there is now a real chance to achieve something with the current squad. But there have been so many false dawns, and they have not achieved even one result of note yet.
It needs to change tonight. And with respect to Haiti, to not reach the last four now will be considered Gold Cup failure.
Undoubtedly from an offensive perspective there seems much to admire with Jonathan David, Cavallini, Hoilett and Davies, but it’s at the back that will be of most concern. The centre-back pairing is not solid enough to discount the possibility that Herdman may start this evening with 36 year-old Atiba Hutchinson, whose experience could be vital.
Many of the Haitians these days play outside their own country, in Europe mainly. Not with top clubs or leagues, but nonetheless getting better and more competitive experience than they would by staying home.
There’s the Belgian connection, Duckens Nazon and Frantzdy Pierrot of St-Truiden and Mouscron respectively, who have plundered three goals between them in this tournament. Duckens also spent time on loan with St-Mirren of the Scottish Premier League last season scoring once in 10 appearances.
This is a game that Les Rouges must win if they intend to be taken seriously. And coach Herdman knows it well.
“These are the moments our team has been questioned,” said Herdman. “They’ve got a goal, and they’re very clear on that goal, and I’m pretty confident they will give their best without any distractions to get the result for Canada.”
“These players are very clear on what their mission is: to bring respect to our flag in the football world and to really step forward with a talented group.”
It’s time for the excuses to stop. Canada has not had a depressing time in recent years, due to unfavourable refereeing, or being teated any way indifferently by CONCACAF. It’s had a depressing time because the program, its own program, has failed miserably.
Early, encouraging signs are emerging from the Herdman-era, but we’re now at the stage of ‘put-up or shut-up.’ Defeating Haiti will not provide this team with the significant scalp required to make people sit up and take notice, but defeat, and it’s possible, will see further cries of ‘false dawn’.
In short it needs to be a stepping stone, with another opportunity to go head to head with either Mexico or Costa Rica in Tuesday’s semi-final in Arizona.