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Canadian men show signs of promise under Floro but bigger challenges await

By Neil Davidson


TORONTO _ The big games for Benito Floro’s Canadian team lie ahead but there are promising signs.

Tesho Akindele scored his first international goal and set up one of two by Tosaint Ricketts as Canada dispatched Dominica 4-0 Tuesday for a 6-0 aggregate win over the Caribbean minnow in the first stop on the Canadian men’s 2018 World Cup qualifying journey.

“It’s definitely a small step but we approach these games no different than we would if it was against the U.S. or any other team,” said captain Julian de Guzman. “It’s a World Cup qualifier.”

Still, de Guzman acknowledged Canada should have scored more, a refrain not too often heard in past years.

Canada, ranked 109th in the world, dominated the part-timers from No. 168 Dominica before an announced crowd of 9,749 on a pleasant, breezy 20-plus-degree night at BMO Field. A contingent of green-clad Dominica fans in the north stand did their best to cheer on the visitors whose roster included fishermen, construction workers and students.

Cyle Larin also scored for Canada, which could have padded its lead. Dominica goalie Glenson Prince, who had a fine night despite the score, saved a David Edgar penalty early in the second half and Canada’s Jonathan Osorio hit the goalpost in the 89th minute.

Canada outshot Dominica 22-7 (17-3 in shots on target).

It was Canada’s first four-goal performance since a 4-0 victory over St. Kitts and Nevis in November 2011 in World Cup qualifying.

Floro said after the game that Larin was supposed to take the penalty, after winning a competition in training. But Edgar stepped up instead.

“It’s hard to take a veteran off a penalty,” the 20-year-old Larin said with a somewhat nervous laugh. “Maybe next game.”

That would be fine by de Guzman, who wants to see more hunger from his young strike force.

“We need them to have a little bit of arrogance in that sense when it comes to PKs or free kicks.”

Next up for Canada is the Gold Cup in July where Canada’s education under Floro will continue. The veteran Spanish coach is renowned for his breaking down of tactics, usually via video.

Floro’s team will find out who it faces next in qualifying at the July 25 World Cup preliminary draw in St. Petersburg. Canada, whose only World Cup appearance came in 1986, has at least 18 more games to go if it is to be successful in its bid to represent CONCACAF, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean, in Russia in 2018.

The play of Larin, a native of Brampton, Ont., taken first overall in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft by Orlando City, and Calgary-born Akindele, MLS rookie of the year in 2014 for FC Dallas, bodes well for future challenges.

Both looked vibrant against the lesser opposition.

“I feel like there’s nothing better than scoring your first goal in front of the home crowd,” the 23-year-old Akindele said after his second outing for Canada. “I could just kind of feel everybody’s energy. Just a perfect day for me.”

Larin, who took his lumps from a physical Dominica defence, has now scored in three straight Canada matches.

For Dominica coach Shane Marshall, it was valuable international exposure for his team.

“All in all it was a very good experience playing at this level,” said Marshall, a former Dominica captain whose day job is driving a taxi.

Marshall said Canada was his country’s biggest opponent since losing 10-0 and 7-0 to Mexico in World Cup qualifying in 2004.

Canada, which skipped the first round of qualifying, will be joined in the third round of CONCACAF play by Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Curacao, Guatemala, Grenada, Nicaragua, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and El Salvador.

Those 10 second-round winners join Jamaica and Haiti _ the seventh- and eighth-seeded teams in the region _ in six home-and-away series to be played Aug. 21 to Sept. 8.

The winners advance to Round 4 joining the six top-ranked teams: Costa Rica, Mexico, U.S., Honduras, Panama and Trinidad and Tobago. Those 12 teams will be placed in three round-robin groups, playing from November to September 2016, with the top two from each pool advancing to the final round.

The final six teams will face off in the CONCACAF hexagonal, to be played from November 2016 to October 2017. The top three in the group will advance directly to the World Cup with the fourth country taking part in an intercontinental playoff.

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