By Neil Davidson
THE CANADIAN PRESS
TORONTO _ Canadian soccer may never forget the 8-1 drubbing in Honduras that ended Canada’s World Cup qualifying drive in brutal fashion.
But almost two years on, the Canadian men finally gave fans something to cheer about by ending a 16-game winless streak (0-11-5) that began that hot, humid day in San Pedro Sula.
Canada needed just one point from that Honduras game to advance to the final round of CONCACAF qualifying, where anything can happen. Instead the Central Americans joyfully put Canada to the sword in October 2012, turning what could have been a celebration into a wake.
The road back started 13 months ago under new coach Benito Floro, who marked a milestone Tuesday with his first win in his first game on Canadian soil.
Second-half goals by Marcel de Jong and Tosaint Ricketts gave Canada a 3-1 victory over Jamaica in an international soccer friendly, marking the end to one of the darkest chapters in Canadian soccer annals.
“This is what the guys needed,” said captain Julian de Guzman. “It (Honduras) is still hard to forget but getting these wins and performing well will definitely help that go away.”
“Massive, a massive win at home … We’re all delighted,” added Simeon Jackson.
The Canadians were treated to a pre-game dressing room visit by Mike Tyson and George Chuvalo.
The win was the first in eight games (1-4-3) for Floro, a 62-year-old Spaniard who has coached around the world. And it marked the first time since 1995 that Canada has turned a 1-0 deficit into a 3-1 lead (the 1995 Caribbean Cup against Jamaica).
Floro estimated his team is perhaps only at 40 per cent of where it should be. He liked some of what he saw but that didn’t stop him from reeling off a shopping list of mistakes on the night.
In truth, Canada’s defence was carved open at times and there were too many giveaways. But on this night, the glass was more than half-full.
Canada outshot Jamaica 16-8 (8-5 in shots on target) and had seven corners to the Jamaicans‘ one.
Canada had not won since Oct. 12, 2012, when it beat Cuba 3-0 in a World Cup qualifying game at BMO Field. The Canadians had gone winless since, starting with the Honduras drubbing four days later.
Canada was outscored 29-4 during the winless run. But under Floro it has now scored five goals in its last three outings.
Fresh from ending one streak, the Canadians are building another. They are unbeaten in three, with ties against Moldova and Bulgaria in their two prior matches.
Jamaica is ranked 85th in the world, compared to No. 122 for Canada.
The night seemed right for Canada to end its winless streak. The Canadians were playing at home, had the benefit of a lengthy camp under Floro, a side that was close to full strength and was facing a young and green Jamaican side that had only two short training sessions in advance of the game.
De Jong, a fullback, gave Canada a 2-1 lead in the 68th minute with a stylish left-footed free kick that curled in from just outside the penalty box for his second in Canadian colours. Ricketts padded the lead in the 72nd minute, pouncing on a mistake by goalie Andre Blake after he dropped a cross from Jackson. It was his seventh goal for Canada.
Fellow defender David Edgar had scored a highlight-reel goal via volley for Canada in the 31st-minute, one minute after Jamaica‘s Kemar Lawrence scored on a free kick that was a carbon copy of de Jong’s strike.
Goalie Milan Borjan had to be sharp in the second half to blunt Jamaican attacks as the Canadian defence wobbled at times before a BMO Field crowd of 12,162.
And the Canadians, after some early jitters, did play some attractive football. The Jamaicans relied on Canadian mistakes largely for their counter-attacks.
Jamaica went ahead via free kick after de Guzman hauled down an attacker just outside the box. Lawrence, who plays club soccer in Jamaica, curled a left-footed shot into the top corner in the 30th minute.
Canada answered a minute later with a set play off a corner from Patrice Bernier, who found Edgar outside the box. The Birmingham City player volleyed home a low long-range shot through traffic, reminiscent of his 2007 strike for Newcastle against Manchester United in terms of distance and velocity. It was Edgar’s second goal for his country.
Bernier becomes the third Canadian to record an assist in his milestone 50th match, joining Dwayne De Rosario and Atiba Hutchinson.
De Rosario, who came on in the 85th minute, made his 78th appearance for Canada, tying Mark Watson for third on the Canadian all-time list (Paul Stalteri leads with 84, while Randy Samuel is at 82).
Both teams turned the ball over repeatedly in a cautious start to the match.
The Jamaican squad featured just one player (midfielder Je-Vaughn Watson of FC Dallas) with more than 20 caps. Eleven players came in to the game with less than 10 national team appearances.
The entire Jamaican squad totalled 126 caps. Canadian veterans de Guzman (71), Hutchinson (67), and Bernier (49) came into the game with 187 caps between them.
The visitors’ roster featured four players with English clubs, one from Finland and four from the MLS with one from the second-tier North American Soccer League. Six others were from domestic clubs and one plays NCAA soccer.
Vancouver Whitecaps striker Darren Mattocks withdrew from the Jamaican squad this week due to an ankle knock.
The Reggae Boyz starting 11 included Philadelphia Union goalie Blake, defenders Morgan of Leicester City, Nyron Nosworthy of Bristol City, Alvas Powell of the Portland Timbers, midfielder Watson of FC Dallas and forwards Simon Dawkins of Derby County and Deshorn Brown of the Colorado Rapids.
Jamaican head coach Winfried Schaefer, who won the African Nations Cup in 2002 with Cameroon, was using the game as a warmup for the mid-November Caribbean Cup.
Jamaica was coming off an 8-0 loss in June to a World Cup-bound France in Lille. Prior to that, the Jamaicans lost away to Serbia (2-1) and Switzerland (1-0) and tied with Egypt (2-2).
Schaefer brought only 10 players from his summer roster to Toronto.
“The level is not very high for our team,” said Schaefer, lamenting the squad’s lack of practice time before the game.
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