3 thoughts: Canada not quite in sync vs. Haiti in Concacaf Olympic qualifier

The Canadian men’s under-23 team played out a 0-0 draw with Haiti on Monday in their second Group B match at the Concacaf Olympic Qualifying tournament, putting them on a total of four points.

Despite 56 per cent possession and 12 shots, Canada was never able to find the back of the net, with a number of attacking moves ultimately coming to nothing. The draw keeps them very much in contention for top spot in Group B, however, with a massive clash with Honduras coming up on Thursday evening.

Monday’s game was certainly more frustrating than Friday’s win over El Salvador, but a few positives – like the play of goalkeeper James Pantemis, and the solid 90-minute performance from Cavalry FC’s David Norman Jr. at centre-back – do emerge from the game.

Here are three key thoughts after Canada’s draw with Haiti.

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James Pantemis, take a bow

On an evening where Canada had most of the possession, the Haitians still had their fair share of dangerous scoring chances – indeed, they probably had more than their opponents.

The Canadians owe a lot of gratitude to James Pantemis for preserving the result on Monday. The CF Montréal (formerly Valour FC) shot-stopper was at the top of his game against Haiti, making four superb saves in the second half after a quiet first 45 minutes.

Pantemis made one phenomenal save in particular on Haitian forward Dutherson Clerveaux in the second half, stopping a hard shot from right on the doorstep after a pass happened to fall into a dangerous area. It’s certainly not ideal to be outshot 17 to 12 while holding over 55 per cent possession, but Canada will be thankful that their goalkeeper was more than up to the task.

With two straight clean sheets now for Pantemis and his defence, Canada should be happy to be entering their third match with a sparkling record at the back. Certainly, they needed some exceptional saves from Pantemis to maintain it, but it’s an undeniable positive from the first two games.

Attack not fully in sync

Tajon Buchanan in action for Canada against Haiti in Concacaf Olympic qualifying. (Canada Soccer photo)
Tajon Buchanan in action for Canada against Haiti in Concacaf Olympic qualifying. (Canada Soccer photo)

Although Canada dictated the pace of play for most of this game, they didn’t necessarily dominate with the ball. Like in the previous contest against El Salvador, the Canadians tried to play out of the back with regularity, prioritizing possession, but they weren’t often able to link up with their forwards.

To their credit, Haiti deliberately sat in a low block in an effort to prevent Canada from executing any fast-paced attacking moves like Tajon Buchanan’s first goal against El Salvador. The Canadian midfielders tried on a few occasions to pick out the pacey forwards with through balls, but the attackers – Buchanan or Theo Bair, in most cases – were more often than not caught offside.

Some of Canada’s best opportunities came late in the game, as the more stretched-out game allowed Buchanan and Ballou Tabla to put their pace to good use, but a mix of poor finishing and strong goalkeeping from the Haitians turned them away.

Canada also struggled to test the Haitian goalkeeper on set-piece opportunities, despite a few corners and some free-kick positions very close to the box.

In the final Group B match against Honduras, Canada will need to find a way to get their key attackers better service in more dangerous areas.

Deep bench can help with fatigue

No two ways about it: Canada started to fade a little around the 60-minute mark. After a lively match against El Salvador just three days ago, it was clear that the Canadian players were starting to slow down – understandably, with most of them having not played in months.

Mauro Biello reacted fairly quickly to the obvious fatigue by turning to his bench, putting Ballou Tabla in early to inject some pace and later introducing Lucas Dias, Zorhan Bassong, and Ryan Raposo. All of the substitutes helped liven up the Canadian attack, particularly in the final 10 minutes or so, and it was somewhat unfortunate that they never quite found that final ball.

Haiti were at their most dangerous when jumping on errant passes or mistakes high up the pitch from the Canadians and then punishing on the counter-attack, which left the exhausted fullbacks and midfielders unable to get back in time to defend. Not only does a tired team struggle to defend counter-attacks, it may also be more prone to mistakes that spring them.

Biello only made two changes to the lineup for this match, with David Norman Jr. coming in at centre-back (and performing quite well) and Theo Bair replacing Tabla upfront. It’s unlikely he makes many more changes for Thursday’s game against Honduras, but anything Canada can do to keep things as fresh as possible will be important.

The good news is the Hondurans will be operating on the same amount of rest between matches, of course.

Perhaps an early goal could change Canada’s fortunes and allow them to slow things down in certain phases, or maybe getting the bench more involved earlier is the solution.

Either way, it’s another quick turnaround.