A draw, yes, but encouraging signs for Canada’s national soccer team.
Tosaint Ricketts scored in injury time to help Canada earn a remarkable 2-2 tie against Ecuador Wednesday night in an international friendly.
Julian de Guzman took a quick free kick before Ecuador could set up its defensive wall, and Ricketts snuck into the box before slotting the ball home while the South Americans stood around stunned.
"My first goal for Canada – I can’t describe the feeling," said Ricketts.
Wednesday’s encounter was the Canadians' lone exhibition match before it participates at the CONCACAF Gold Cup later this month in the United States.
Ecuador is 64th in the current FIFA world rankings, 12 spots ahead of Canada, so the Canadians head to the Gold Cup with a bit of confidence and momentum.
Leading up to the match, coach Stephen Hart stressed the need for Canada to improve its build—up play and hone its attacking instincts.
He saw plenty of that in the first half. Josh Simpson and Will Johnson were dangerous in midfield, making probing runs and effectively linking up with forwards Simeon Jackson and Dwayne De Rosario.
Now all Hart has to do is figure out how to get a complete performance out of his players – a promising opening half gave way to a final 45 minutes that saw Canada outplayed by the South American.
Despite Canada’s solid effort, Hart admitted he didn’t think his team played very well.
"Too many of the players didn’t want to accept the responsibility to keep the ball and do what was right," Hart told reporters. "Even though at times we played [well] in spurts it was not good enough."
Hart called for more team balance in the future if Canada is to achieve more cohesion over a full 90-minute match.
"When we went into those attacking phases and we lost the ball, we lost our shape a bit. We have to do better and maintain a balance, even when you attack. That’s a matter of positioning and playing to your task," Hart said.
Defender Dejan Jakovic exited the game in the first half with a hamstring injury, and Hart hinted that he may not recover in time to play at the Gold Cup.
Wednesday's match was also Canada’s first on home soil since a 2-1 win over Honduras last September in Montreal. But this was not a case of absence making the heart grow fonder.
Although an announced crowd of 14,356 was in attendance, the majority were opposing fans who turned portions of the stands into a sea of yellow wearing their Ecuadorian jerseys.
Two sections of vocal red-and-white clad supporters in the stadium’s south stands did their best to encourage the Canadian players. But this was, in effect, a road game for the home team.
Both goals from the visitors saw the predominantly pro-Ecuador crowd erupt in celebration.
"Why are we the only country in the world that never plays a home game? #frustrating," Tweeted Jason de Vos, a former Canadian national team captain who was in attendance.
The opening goal was the product of some very efficient possession from Canada. Johnson made a nice run down the left flank, and Simpson played a perfect pass to Terry Dunfield who swerved a 25-yard screamer into the back of the net.
It was Dunfield’s first goal for Canada in three appearances.
"I've been waiting and dreaming of this day for 29 years, so it’s pretty special," said Dunfield, a 29-year-old native of Vancouver.
Johnson could have easily made it 2-0 moments later, but he failed to bury a chance with the Ecuador goal gaping open. A giveaway at midfield in the 30th minute allowed Jackson to go on a long run and get off a shot that stung the palms for Ecuadorian goalkeeper Marcelo Elizaga.
Milan Borjan came up big in the 37th minute, making two saves on Christian Benitez from in close to preserve Canada’s lead.
Canada quickly fell apart at the second half, with Ecuador dominating play and putting the Canadian defence under pressure.
Goals by Benitez in the 62nd minute (a free header off a corner kick) and Michael Arroyo two minutes later (a blast from 30 yards out) swung the game in the South Americans’ favour.
Ricketts’ heroics deep into injury time allowed Canada to salvage a draw.
Ecuador’s players surrounded the referee after the match to protest Ricketts’ goal, but Hart stated Canada did nothing wrong.
"I always tell the players is to look for opportunities when you have free kicks to take [it quickly] and take advantage of [the opponents'] disorganization. It is our right to take a quick free kick, and we did. Simple," Hart explained.
NOTES: Kevin McKenna earned his 50th cap for Canada Wednesday night. The 31-year-old defender made his national team debut in 2000… Canada's last match was in March when it defeated Belarus 1-0 in another friendly held in Turkey… Ecuador beat Canada 2-0 the last time these teams met at the 2002 Gold Cup…Canada plays the U.S. (June 7), Guadeloupe (June 11) and Panama (June 14) in the first round of the Gold Cup.