TORONTO - On a night when it seemed like Canada was never going to score despite dominating possession and chances, it took a little bit of experience and guile for the Canadians to finally pot one.
In the 77th minute, after seeing Panama soak up several Canadian goalscoring opportunities, midfielder Atiba Hutchinson played a quick free kick into the six-yard box, catching everyone in the stadium off-guard.
Everyone, except Dwayne De Rosario.
"I never get caught by surprise, especially in front of the net," De Rosario said with a laugh after Canada 1-0 victory over the Panamanians on Friday night. The win gave Canada a massive three points in the highly competitive Group C of CONCACAF's World Cup qualification tournament, propelling the Canadians into first place after three matches.
De Rosario's goal was the turning point in a match that could be considered prototypical for Canada in World Cup qualification so far, with the Canadians once again relying on great team defence and opportunism to stifle their opponents.
"Great vision on a set piece has caught a team off-guard and that's the way you've got to score sometimes," the 34-year-old said of the quick-thinking play by Hutchinson that found the reigning MLS most valuable player wide open in front of goal.
Hutchinson had lined up behind the ball after Simeon Jackson was hauled down just outside the Panamanian penalty area, but instead of taking his time and allowing the Central Americans to set up defensively, he slotted a pass over to De Rosario, who easily tapped it home.
"I looked up, and there was nobody in front of the ball so I just thought I'll kind of swing it in there," Hutchinson explained. "It worked out, [but] I was a little bit worried that they might call it back, maybe for a rolling ball or something."
De Rosario also thought that the officials may call the goal back, and he delayed his trademark shake-and-bake celebration until he was absolutely sure that his strike counted.
"It was one of those were it was great anticipation from Atiba," De Rosario said. "We didn't ask [the referee] for ten yards, we didn't ask for a whistle, and again, [it was] an experienced play by his part."
The goal not only catapulted Canada into possession of top spot in the group, but it also gave De Rosario sole custody of Canada's all-time scoring record. He had entered the match tied with former national team head coach Dale Mitchell.
Canada's newest record-holder won't have to wait long to pad his lead, as Canada will face the same Panamanian squad on Tuesday night in Panama City.