Canada overpowers Puerto Rico, leads qualifier pool
Iain Hume provided the spark Canada needed to overcome harsh conditions and take another small step toward World Cup qualification.
Hume turned around his team's sluggish start with a late first-half goal as Canada defeated Puerto Rico 3-0 in a 2014 World Cup qualifying match Tuesday.
The weather definitely suited the hosts. At kickoff in the San Juan suburb of Bayamon, the temperature was still over 30 degrees and when the humidity was factored in, it felt closer to 40.
"The weather down here's been horrendous," said Hume, whose goal was his third for Canada. "It's been tough for us to cope. We've only had one chance to train and then coming into the game today it was a lot warmer than it was yesterday."
Hume's goal came when Mike Klukowski swung in a cross from the left. After the ball missed a few players and was partially cleared, Hume hit a low, one-touch volley that found its way inside the left post of the Puerto Rican goal in the 42nd minute.
Substitutes Simeon Jackson and Tosaint Ricketts added insurance goals late in the second half.
"I know coming in late in the games that players are tired and just with my pace alone I'm going to get chances so I just came in and worked hard and the chance came," said Ricketts.
Canada (2-0) leads the pool with six points, while St. Kitts and Nevis have four after beating St. Lucia on Tuesday. Puerto Rico now sits in third with a single point and St. Lucia has none.
Canada's next game is Oct. 7 in St. Kitts and Nevis.
Only the pool winner advances to the third stage of qualifying in CONCACAF, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean. The qualifying journey would continue with a fourth stage.
Qualifying for the 2014 World Cup final could take Canada two years and 22 matches.
Canada got off to a slow start until Hume's goal provided a spark.
Canadian goalkeeper Lars Hirschfeld was called upon to make saves early, while Canada conceded three corners in the first 12 minutes. The team looked disorganized early with a starting lineup that had several changes from the win over St. Lucia.
"I think mentally we were prepared to realize that they would come early in the game, trying to get a goal on us and probably rattle us," said Canadian head coach Stephen Hart. "I told the guys the game was probably going to be won in the second half especially in this heat so be patient. Don't give the ball away."
As the half progressed, the Canadians settled down and start to manage the bulk of the possession. At about the 30-minute mark, Will Johnson got his head to a high cross from David Edgar but it went just wide of the goal.
After Hume put the Canadians up 1-0, Canada continued to dominate the game throughout the second half. After misfiring on a number of chances, the team was ultimately rewarded.
"I know it's not the prettiest game we've played or the best football but they were talking to us about the stats and I think the last 15 minutes of the first half we had something like 85 per cent of the ball," said Hume. "Then in the second half we probably had as much as that."
In the 84th minute, Jackson was in the right position after a free kick was deflected right into his path by the Puerto Rican goalkeeper and he banged in his third career goal for Canada.
Jackson then set up Ricketts' close-range goal in the 89th minute.
"We knew coming into Puerto Rico — the environment, the weather, the pitch that it was going to be a tough game," saidRicketts. "The guys came together very well and got the result so we're all happy about it."
The home side was buoyed early by a small but boisterous crowd at the Estadio Juan Ramon Loubriel.
The stadium, the home of the Puerto Rico Islanders of the North American Soccer League, was originally built as a baseball stadium but it's been repurposed for soccer. Because of that, the stands only cover about half the field. The Canadians had to come out of one of the dugouts for the national anthems.