Canada was once again blanked in international play, falling 2-0 to the Czech Republic in Olomouc. What can Benito Floro take away from yet another toothless loss?
It feels a bit like that movie Groundhog Day, doesn't it?
Perhaps the best thing that can be said about 2013 is that it's almost over, and Canada is close to putting its worst year in memory behind it. But for the time being, games are still being played, including another toothless performance on Friday in Olomouc, where the host Czech Republic never seemed in trouble in a 2-0 win over Benito Floro's hapless Canadians.
So what can we learn from yet another scoreless effort from our boys in red? Here's three things that stood out during the match:
When a team goes down within the first three minutes after lazily defending a high ball into its own box, it may be considered a momentary lapse in judgement. When that team starts two matches in a row in that fashion, it's the start of a worrying trend.
Just like it did against Australia last month, Canada allowed a soul-crushingly early goal to the Czechs. In both instances, neither was a moment of brilliance by the attacking side, but rather sloppy defending by a makeshift Canadian back line, one that is suffering from a lack of leadership and organizaion.
On Friday, Czech debutant Ondrej Celutska was allowed to sneak around the back and get his head on a floated ball in that should have been easily taken care of by the Canadian defence. Instead, Celutska nodded home in just the third minute of play, setting the tone early.
"We were told before the game to look out for that exact same play and we just got caught sleeping," Canadian defender Adam Straith said after the match. "[Celutska] came in late and it seemed like everyone took one step back instead of one person stepping up to the ball.
"The ball was played in well and we were a step late and in the first couple of minutes you have to be the most concentrated. The first couple minutes of the game and right after the half are key moments where you have to be tuned in and we weren’t."
A lot of scorn was thrown Doneil Henry's way for his sub-par first half, but it was 27-year-old Bundesliga veteran Marcel de Jong who was caught ball-watching on Celtutska's goal. That simply cannot happen from a player that will be looked upon to provide leadership to the younger players on the back line.
The past several months seemed to be the beginning of the end for goalkeeper Lars Hirschfeld, both at the club level and internationally.
With Valerenga, the 35-year-old ceded his starting job to a twentysomething, and with Canada it appeared to be the same scenario as 26-year-old Milan Borjan gained an increasing number of starts.
However, the wily veteran earned back his starting spot with his club towards the end of the season, and with Borjan currently in limbo at his Turkish side, the job as Canada's starter is also there for the taking.
Hirschfeld's stellar play against the Czechs kept the game within reach, and reaffirmed that he still has something to contribute to the rebuilding program under Floro.
3. Canada misses Will Johnson
Canada could have certainly used a number of absent players on Friday, including the likes of Atiba Hutchinson, Julian de Guzman and David Edgar.
But perhaps the biggest absence was that of Portland Timbers captain Will Johnson, the 26-year-old midfield engine who has seen his career skyrocket at the club level this year. Unfortunately, we've never been given the opportunity to see if his improved MLS play will translate to the international level, as Johnson has been unavailable to Floro since the Spaniard took over in August.
Even under interim head coach Colin Miller, Johnson was ruled ineligible for various reasons, and Canada has suffered for it.
Against the Czechs, the inexperienced Canadian midfield was overrun at times, and Johnson's tireless work ethic would have been a welcome change of pace. Perhaps more importantly, his dead ball delivery would likely have been a big improvement over what was on offer in Olomouc, as set pieces was an area that Floro singled out as needing extra work.
"In this match, in one free kick the opponent scored a goal," the coach explained. "We had a one against their goalkeeper and didn’t score so we need to improve. When you don’t take advantage of your free kicks, it’s another very important matter."
While Hutchinson is still likely Canada's best player, it can be argued that Johnson was the one the team missed the most.