Jackson’s Miss Prolongs Canada’s Wait To Topple Neighbor

Written by Ian Thomson

Canadian rocker Bryan Adams was riding high in the charts when Canada last beat the United States in April 1985.

Some reckless finishing by Norwich City forward Simeon Jackson prevented the Canucks from ending that 27-year drought in last night’s friendly to mark the centenary of the Canadian Soccer Association.

Both sides created their clearest scoring chances in injury-time as a drab affair at Toronto’s BMO Field ended in stalemate.

Line-Ups

De Rosario's central playmaking skills make way for a third industrious central midfielder in Stephen Hart's 4-3-3

Canada’s Head Coach Stephen Hart set his team out in a 4-3-3 formation with reigning Major League Soccer MVP Dwayne De Rosario stationed on the left wing. Toronto F.C.’s Julian De Guzman anchored the center of the park between Real Salt Lake’s tenacious midfielder Will Johnson and Germany-based Nik Ledgerwood.

United States Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann moved away from the 4-3-3 system that had worked to great effect against Scotland in Jacksonville, Fla., one week earlier. Star forwards Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan started together under Klinsmann for the first time. The Fulham man operated in the hole between lone striker Herculez Gomez and a four-man midfield, with Donovan on the right.

Klinsmann switched to a 4-4-1-1 formation with Dempsey and Donovan starting together for the first time during the German's tenure

Bright Opening By The U.S.

The visitors began confidently with a commanding stretch of possession that led to two early corner kicks. Carlos Bocanegra flicked Donovan’s second delivery from the right into the path of center-back partner Clarence Goodson. The Brondby defender couldn’t adjust his body to divert the ball on target from six yards.

Canada goalkeeper Lars Hirschfeld was called upon to make his first save on 15 minutes. Tosaint Ricketts’ clearing header from Jose Francisco Torres’ free-kick landed invitingly for Edgar Castillo to strike on the volley. The Tijuana left-back’s dipping shot forced Hirschfeld to tip over his crossbar.

Hart’s three-man midfield quickly became a five-man line when the U.S. had possession, with De Rosario and Ricketts dropping deep on the wings. That left Olivier Occean marooned up front and made it difficult for the Canucks to provide support. A rare first-half chance arrived on 17 minutes when Occean pulled off Goodson’s shoulder to the back post. The former Lillestrom striker couldn’t reach David Edgar’s deep cross.

Klinsmann’s side looked lively down the left flank via Torres and Castillo. Torres showed a willingness to drift inside as Dempsey went searching for the ball and the Pachuca midfielder threatened when he received possession. The 24-year-old spearheaded a charge forward on 19 minutes that ended disappointingly when Donovan’s cross was blocked.

Contentious Call Frustrates Canada

Edgar’s long throw caused a problem for the U.S. defense on 23 minutes and Tim Howard needed to smother a shot from Ricketts after a scramble in the penalty box. The visitors survived a greater scare 10 minutes later after an outlandish officiating error.

De Rosario harassed Castillo back toward his corner flag while Edgar cut off his escape route across the field. The defender coughed up a slack pass that Ledgerwood pounced upon, leaving Bocanegra grounded before rifling his shot high into Howard’s net from a tight angle. It was a fantastic finish although ultimately futile. The assistant referee had flagged for a dubious foul against De Rosario.

Dempsey and Donovan finally combined with menace on 39 minutes, swapping passes to release the former through on Hirschfeld’s goal. The Valerenga stopper dived smartly at Dempsey’s feet to smother his shot from close range.

Canada’s DeRo Dilemma

De Rosario is the type of mercurial playmaker that teams are built around. Not this Canada team, though. Hart employs the D.C. United captain on the left of his front line, which allows him to protect the defense with a combative midfield trio. De Rosario might not possess blistering pace to outrun his marker, but he still has the trickery to dribble round opponents and deliver accurate crosses for the central striker.

Sheer speed comes from Canada’s right side. The 24-year-old Ricketts burned Castillo on 49 minutes before sending in a dangerous cross that just evaded Occean as Goodson checked the striker’s run.

The U.S. were struggling to replicate the passing and cutting movements shown recently using their 4-3-3 system. Dempsey started their best move of the game on 52 minutes, dropping into his own half to receive the ball and link up with Torres before feeding Jermaine Jones. The Schalke 04 midfielder made a run for the back post after finding Donovan in space on the right touchline. Edgar blocked his attempted header back across the 6-yard box from Donovan’s cross.

Bocanegra headed Torres’ inswinging free-kick over the bar three minutes later under pressure from Cologne defender Kevin McKenna.

Coaches Ring The Changes

Excitement was largely absent during the game’s first hour and the pattern of play disintegrated further in the closing 30 minutes as both coaches made five substitutions. That at least made for more goal-scoring opportunities as unfamiliar line-ups allowed space in the final third.

Howard easily fielded Ledgerwood’s shot on 65 minutes after the U.S. defense struggled to clear another long throw from Edgar. The Everton goalkeeper was called upon again two minutes later to stop De Guzman’s effort after excellent set-up play down the left from De Rosario.

Substitute Jackson had a great chance to open the scoring on 68 minutes after Ledgerwood intercepted Michael Bradley’s telegraphed pass to Dempsey in midfield. De Guzman found the Jamaica-born forward with space to attack the visitors’ retreating defense, but he curled his shot high over the target from 25 yards.

That miss wasn’t in the same league as Jackson’s injury-time howler to keep the scores level. De Rosario danced around Michael Parkhurst on the left of the penalty area before firing over a low cross that found the striker unmarked three yards from goal. All Jackson needed to do was steer the ball into Howard’s exposed net. He somehow contrived to fluff it wide of the target.

Goodson nearly punished the hosts with the game’s final chance when he climbed to power Bradley’s free-kick toward goal. Hirschfeld sprang nimbly to tip over his bar and preserve the tie.

Conclusion

Canada’s attempts to reach the 2010 FIFA World Cup ended in dismal failure as the Canucks picked up just two points from six preliminary qualifying round games against Honduras, Mexico and Jamaica. The defense looks more secure this time around ahead of Friday’s opening 2014 World Cup qualifier in Cuba. McKenna and Andre Hainault are ably guarded by the midfield three, but scoring goals at the other end looks as though it could be problematic against stronger opposition.

The U.S. open their qualifying campaign against Antigua and Barbuda in Tampa, Fla. Klinsmann’s formation for that game is unlikely to matter. The past three friendly displays have shown his side to be more assured and threatening when adopting a modern 4-3-3 style.