Canada was once again blanked in international play, falling 1-0 to Slovenia in Celje. What can Benito Floro take away from yet another toothless loss?A scoreless loss is a fitting end to 2013 for Canada, given the dearth of goals the side scored in one of its most forgettable years.
But Tuesday's 1-0 loss to Slovenia showed signs of hope for beleaguered Canadian soccer fans, as Benito Floro's preferred style and tactics started to demonstrate themselves in brief moments. It was still a scoreless loss at the end of the day, but it wasn't nearly as soul-crushing as previous outings have been.
So what can we learn from yet another toothless effort from our boys in red? Here's three things that stood out during the match:
1. The rocky evolution of Doneil Henry
Everyone seems to agree that 20-year-old defender Doneil Henry has all the tools to make it as a top-level centre back. Quick, tall, and exceeding athletic, Henry represents a new breed of Canadian defenders.
Yet the Toronto FC man always seems to come under fire for his decision-making, and he did again on Tuesday. His brash method to defending can lead to some nervy moments at the back, but anyone who has watched the youngster closely over the years has seen those moments decrease as time wore on. It's reasonable to believe that, as he gets more playing time, his mistakes will continue to decrease and his good qualities -- and there are tons of them -- will shine brighter.
One thing to remember about Doneil Henry is that he's just coming off his first full year as a starter in MLS, and he didn't even begin the season as part of Ryan Nelsen's go-to central defence pairing at TFC. His learning curve has been a steep one, but no one can reasonably say that he's not a better player today than he was at the beginning of 2013.
And he's only going to get better.
2. Defence on set pieces - what the heck?
On Friday against the Czechs, Canada was burned just moments after kickoff by setting up its defence on a set piece far too deep within its own area. Against Slovenia on Tuesday, the team did not pay the price for its set piece defending, but on numerous occasions it still lined up inside its own six-yard box when the opposition had free kicks in the offensive third.
It's a puzzling tactic, as it hampers defenders from attacking the ball and, more importantly, it allows opposing players to be far too close to the goal.
If it was simply a result of an inexperienced back line not taking charge in these past two matches, then it's somewhat excusable -- if only for the fact that it can be rectified in future training camps. But if the deep defending on set pieces was by design of the coaching staff, then it's inexcusable and needs to stop immediately.
If 2013 showed us anything, it's that Canada struggles to score goals. One of the ways to combat that is by being airtight at the back, giving the team an opportunity to compete.
But this type of amateurish defending will only serve to put Canada further behind the eight ball in matches to come, so no matter who is responsible, it needs to change quickly.
3. Better organization, still can't score
The flip side of the puzzling set piece defending is the overall organization of Canada's team tactics, which was vastly improved against the Slovenians after we saw flashes of it versus the Czechs last week.
The Canadians pressed when not in possession and tried to move the ball smartly when they did have it, and while it didn't always work as planned, you could see what Floro was trying to have his team do.
For spells, Canada looked equal to its 30th-ranked opponent, despite fielding what Floro implied was a 'mixed' team of players in Celje. One has to imagine that the return of regulars like Will Johnson, Atiba Hutchinson, and Julian de Guzman will allow Canada to be more effective at executing these tactics, but credit must be given to veterans Pedro Pacheco and Dwayne De Rosario, as well as up-and-comers Jonathan Osorio and Kyle Bekker, for keeping the Slovenians on their toes with or without the ball.
That being said, all possession and positive movement is nullified when the team doesn't score, and Canada's bogeyman will continue to be its lack of ideas in front of the net.
Where will the goals come from?