Another controversial officiating decision turns into another disappointing loss for Canada.
It's becoming a refrain — one Canada's players are tired of hearing.
A penalty call by Salvadoran referee Joel Aguilar in the first half of the CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinal on a phantom interference in the penalty area gift-wrapped an early advantage for the Hondurans.
Captain Walter Martinez unwrapped the present in the 36th minute to give Honduras a 1-0 lead, which held up against Canada, earning the Hondurans a trip to the semifinals of the tournament.
"We tried to play through the middle, we wanted to keep the ball away from the bottle in the middle and that's where their counterattack comes from," said Canadian coach Stephen Hart. "In the second half we did much, much better. [Goalkeeper Greg] Sutton came up big on some chances, in the end you lose on a penalty, what can you do?"
Bad officiating haunts Canada
Hate-hate would be the best way to describe Canada's relationship with referees right now.
Following the game, Canadian coach Stephen Hart and defender Julian de Guzman criticized the officiating and took it a step further by claiming that it seems Canada advancing in the Gold Cup is not in the best interest of CONCACAF.
"It's pretty obvious that it would be bad business for CONCACAF if Canada was to make it to the finals or semifinals," said de Guzman. "We don't bring in the crowds that CONCACAF would like."
In the 2007 Gold Cup, Canada lost 2-1 to the U.S. in the semifinals when Mexican referee Benito Archundia disallowed Atiba Hutchinson's tying goal on an offside.
Replays showed the goal should have counted as the ball hit a U.S. defender before coming to Hutchinson.
On Sept. 4, 2004, Honduras and current Toronto FC midfielder Amado Guevara scored on a controversial penalty kick in the 88th minute to deny Canada an important home win in a 2006 World Cup Qualifier.
Archundia was the referee in that game, too.
The two controversial calls have turned Archundia into somewhat of a folk hero in Canada.
Salvadoran referee Joel Aguilar may earn similar status after his performance.
"The same thing happens over and over," said Hutchinson. "I thought it was a horrible call from the ref. If he looks at it [the call] himself, he should be ashamed."
The controversial call overshadowed a stellar performance by the Honduran captain.
For 72 minutes, Walter Martinez was a one-man offensive dynamo for the Hondurans on the counterattack, firing shots, spreading the defence, springing teammates and even drawing cautions.
It was only a matter of time before he figured in the scoring. Unfortunately for Canada, the referee had a hand in it too.
In the 35th minute, Canadian defender Paul Stalteri seemingly interfered with Martinez on a bicycle kick shot inside the penalty area. Aguilar immediately cautioned Canada's captain for the infraction and signaled for the penalty kick.
Martinez then calmly drilled the ball into the top of the goal past a low-diving Sutton, sending the partisan Honduran crowd at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia into a frenzy.
Honduras will now advance to face the U.S. next Wednesday at Chicago's Soldier Field.
The Americans beat Panama 2-1 in overtime, also thanks to a controversial penalty-kick call, in the second game of the doubleheader.
Canada failed to convert
The loss capped a frustrating evening for Canada, which had the majority of possession, yet couldn't convert its chances.
Canada out-chanced Honduras 14 to seven overall and had nine corners compared to zero for the Central Americans.
Canada had plenty of opportunities to tie the game in the second half, but couldn't get the equalizer.
In the 50th minute, Will Johnson took a giveaway from a Honduran defender in the penalty area, but didn't get much on the point-blank shot
Six minutes later, Patrice Bernier's cross found Josh Simpson, whose header was saved by diving Honduran goalkeeper Donis Escobar.
In the 72nd Atiba Hutchinson's header off a Mike Klukowski cross sailed just over the crossbar.
Then, in the 85th minute Stalteri found defender McKenna with a centring pass, but Escobar dove to save McKenna's header.
"We expected to come out strong for the first few minutes with pressure and we dealt with that pretty well," said Canadian midfielder Hutchinson.
"As the game went on, they dropped off more and more which made it more difficult for us to create a lot of chances, but saying that we still created some good chances, but didn't finish."
The first half played out as Hart had predicted, with Canada controlling much of the possession and Honduras relying on counterattacks.
'All referees make mistakes'
But Canada couldn't parlay that ball control into many quality scoring chances against a Honduras defence that closed in on Canada in the middle as it approached the goal.
"I thought in the first we moved the ball too slow. We tried to go through the middle, we rectified that in the second half. It was a much better performance in the second half," said Hart.
"We started to get some penetration, we started to get some crosses and cause some trouble, but it wasn't enough for the day."
Honduras had limited chances, but were dangerous each time, almost opening the scoring in the third minute. Martinez came into contact with Canadian defender Dejan Jakovic in the penalty area, but Aguillar didn't buy the dive and called for play to go on.
The Man of the Match would eventually get his penalty call.
"I think that at the very beginning the penalty kick was very clear, I was ready to score," said Martinez. "All referees make mistakes, they're human. I can say that I don't think it was a penalty kick, it wasn't my call, but I'm happy with the result."
Canada will now head home with its players dispersing to their club teams in Canada and Europe.