PREVIEW: CanMNT return home to finish second WCQ window against Panama

FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Qualifiers
Canada vs. Panama
October 13, 2021 at 7:30 pm ET
BMO Field, Toronto, Ontario
Watch live on OneSoccer, TELUS Ch. 980, and Sportsnet NOW // Buy tickets HERE


Home at last.

The Canadian men’s national team will finish this October international window on Wednesday night with a massive homecoming clash at BMO Field against Panama, as they look to add three more points to their total in this Octagonal stage of FIFA World Cup Qualifying.

John Herdman’s side enter this third match in six days with some solid results already in the bag, including an historic 1-1 draw at Estadio Azteca against Mexico, as well as a hard-fought 0-0 result in Jamaica on Sunday. So, at the moment they sit fourth in the standings of the Concacaf Octagon with five matches played; Canada have a win and four draws, which means they’re one of just two undefeated sides so far (along with Mexico), but seven points means they’re one behind both Panama and the United States for a place in the top three (and thus automatic qualification for Qatar 2022).

Panama, meanwhile, will be brimming with confidence, having secured a massive 1-0 win over the United States on Sunday at home. However, they also lost on the road against El Salvador on Thursday, so this window has been up-and-down for them. As mentioned, they’re one point up on Canada to put them in third place, with a record of two wins, two draws, and a loss. In September, they produced one of the more shocking results in the Octagon so far by beating Jamaica 3-0 in Kingston. They also managed a 1-1 draw with Mexico at home in that window.

In the last World Cup Qualifying cycle, the Panamanians surprised the North American soccer community by qualifying for the 2018 World Cup — their first time ever doing so — ahead of the United States. Though they ended up losing all three of their games in Russia, they made national history and proved themselves a strong contender in Concacaf. Their current squad still features 11 of the players from their 2018 World Cup campaign, so there’s plenty of experience within the group.

Los Canaleros are currently 68th in the FIFA World Rankings — the lowest out of the teams in the Octagon — but they’re sure to jump up the standings after beating the United States. In the most recently published rankings, they moved up more than anybody else in the Octagon, collecting 23.92 points (compared with Canada, who moved up the second most with 16.88 points).

Canada and Panama have some history against one another, having met 10 times before. Typically, there’s been little to separate the two sides: six of their previous contests have ended in draws. Canada have won three meetings — the only three contests played on Canadian soil — and Panama have taken one, a World Cup Qualifier in Panama City back in 2012. The only time these two nations have met at BMO Field was in that same 2012 World Cup Qualifying cycle, where Canada won 1-0 thanks to a 77th-minute Dwayne De Rosario goal.

The last two games between Canada and Panama have ended in 0-0 draws: a friendly in 2014 and a Gold Cup group stage fixture in 2013. Canada will be looking to score their first goal against Panama since the aforementioned WCQ win in 2012.


More pressure for Canada than last two October games

This third fixture of the October window was always going to be the one with the highest expectations for Canada. Absolutely nobody would’ve faulted a loss at the Azteca — where they outperformed the historical standard significantly — and playing on the road in Jamaica was never going to be an easy result, either. However, this home game against Panama will be the deciding factor in whether or not this window is a successful one or not. There are no “must-win” games at this relatively early stage just yet, but Wednesday is reasonably close; a win at BMO Field would put Canada in extremely good position after six matches and leave them within the top three at the end of the international break.

In September, Canada found themselves in a similar place heading into their third game against El Salvador: returning home after bagging a point in each of their prior two contests. In that case, Canada thrived under pressure and defeated El Salvador quite handily, scoring early and remaining in control throughout the affair. Herdman will be hoping to see a similar kind of response from his team this time around, to close out the October round of games on a high note.

CanMNT boosted by reinforcements

Squad selection was very difficult for Herdman ahead of the Jamaica game, where a trio of key players (Richie Laryea, Tajon Buchanan, and Steven Vitória) missed out due to suspension, on top of an already-significant list of injuries. Those three will be back on Wednesday night, and it’s likely all three will get the start for Canada — as they did against Mexico last week. Les Rouges were certainly missing the pace and wide threat of Buchanan and Laryea against the Jamaicans, so their inclusion is sure to be a boost.

With Cyle Larin, Atiba Hutchinson, Lucas Cavallini, and Milan Borjan already out, this group is already missing enough key contributors, but it turns out Junior Hoilett’s hamstring injury will keep him out as well. John Herdman highlighted Jacob Shaffelburg of Toronto FC as a potential player who could make an impact in lieu of more regular contributors.

Either way, though, Canada will be relying heavily on their stars: Alphonso Davies is sure to be the key focal point of Canada’s play, and they’ll be hoping to get Jonathan David more involved up front than he has been so far in World Cup Qualifying.

What to watch for with Panama

Don’t look past this Panamanian side, because there’s a lot of talent and experience in their squad. Coached by former Leeds United boss Thomas Christiansen, they’ve got a strong cast of players based in Europe and the Americas. They’ve got a very experienced midfield, led usually by Aníbal Godoy of MLS side Nashville SC (a teammate of Canada’s Alistair Johnston) and 33-year-old Alberto Quintero of Peruvian team Universitario. Both players have over 100 caps for Panama, and they’ve started together in all five of the team’s games in the Octagon so far.

Panama typically goes for a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2 formation, with experienced Leganés winger typically providing a threat with 31-year-old Rolando Blackburn, who plays for Bolivian club The Strongest, leading the line up front — he already has two goals in the Octagon, including one against Mexico.

Consistency seems to be a theme in this Panama team, with their back four remaining pretty much carved in stone for every game: Michael Amir Murillo (formerly of the New York Red Bulls, now of Belgian club Anderlecht) has started every WCQ match at right-back, with Dunajská Streda’s Eric Davis opposite him at left-back. Fidel Escobar has lined up for every game at centre-back, too. In the first window, Andrés Andrade was Escobar’s partner, but due to injury he’s been replaced in the starting XI the past two games by Harold Cummings.

Ultimately, Canada are unlikely to be surprised by anything in Panama’s approach to this game — but familiarity and consistency can be a major advantage as well.


Canada wins: 3 || Panama wins: 1 || Draws: 6

Previous match:

September 2, 2017 — Canada 2-0 Jamaica