Maybe those dark storm clouds hovering over BMO Field in Toronto were a sign of things to come.
The Canadian men's national soccer team returned home Saturday night for the first time in almost two years, but failed to reward their long-suffering fans, losing 2-0 to Peru in an international friendly.
After a fairly even opening 45 minutes, Canada fell apart in the second half, conceding two quick goals in succession to the South Americans.
"I thought when I saw how we approached the first half that we were doing quite well — possession-wise and we created a couple of chances. In the second half, we became careless with the ball and we seemed to die physically," said Canadian coach Stephen Hart.
Jose Carlos Fernandez scored Peru's first goal in the 68th minute after a poor clearance attempt. Jean Tragodara doubled the score four minutes later, taking an exquisite defence-splitting pass and firing a low shot past Canadian goalkeeper Lars Hirschfeld.
This match and next Tuesday's against Honduras in Montreal are the first steps toward qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, allowing coach Hart to create depth in the squad and give more players some valuable international experience.
In the grand scheme of things, this result doesn't mean much. The CONCACAF Gold Cup is nine months away and the qualifiers for the next World Cup don't begin until 2012, so it's much too early to push the panic button.
But let's not kid ourselves either: Hart clearly has some work to do.
Friend falls short
First and foremost on his "to do" list has to be installing someone who can effectively lead the line because forward Rob Friend is clearly not up to the task. The Hertha Berlin man, who has just two goals in 26 appearances for the national team, was comfortably contained by the Peruvian defence, and he contributed little to what little offence Canada created.
Instead of playing Dwayne De Rosario in the hole behind the main striker, Hart might be better off pushing the Toronto FC star forward and let him spearhead the attack. De Rosario had an off night against Peru, as he was continuously hacked down by the South Americans and found little room to operate.
Norwich City forward Simeon Jackson is another option, although the youngster looked very lively playing on the right wing against Peru. Jackson was at his best when he collected the ball deep and then drifted toward the middle, taking on the Peruvian defenders before dishing off to a teammate.
Hart also has to coax more out of Julian de Guzman and Attiba Hutchinson. Both are talented midfielders, but de Guzman gives away possession too cheaply (as he did a few times against Peru) and Hutchinson needs to make more penetrating runs.
And if anybody had any doubts about Canada’s lack of defensive depth, they surely won't anymore. Marcel de Jong was forced out of the game early with a shoulder injury, leaving attacking midfielder Jaime Peters to fill in.
Paul Stalteri earned his 82nd cap to tie Randy Samuel for the national team record, but too often the veteran fullback was exposed by the speedy Peruvians.
As for Kevin McKenna, he's been a loyal servant to the national team but he is too error-prone — it was his botched clearance and subsequent lack of positioning that led to Peru’s first goal.
Unlike when Toronto FC plays at home, BMO Field was pretty empty, with an announced crowd of 10,619 spectators passing through the turnstiles.