Heading into Friday's match vs. Cuba, Canada sits in a decent position to advance. If it wants to put itself in the best spot, Canada will need to win big against the Cubans."Just win, baby!"
It's perhaps the most over-used cliché in sports (and by extension, sports writing), but only because it applies so thoroughly to just about every situation. There's almost nothing that a win can't cure in sporting terms, and an ugly win is almost always favored over losing pretty.
But what about those rare times when 'just win' isn't enough?
Canada finds itself in something of a pickle ahead of its match against Cuba. The islanders are already eliminated, and Stephen Hart's Canucks are heavily favored to grab all three points when the two sides meet at a chilly BMO Field on Friday night.
In most cases, a 'W' earned in a small round robin format is a precious commodity, one that should be had at all costs. Canada itself has eeked out two of these already in this round - at home against Panama last month and back in June against the very same Cuban side it'll face on the weekend.
It's those two 1-0 victories, plus a disappointing scoreless draw with Honduras, that has given the Canadians a very real shot at moving on to the final round of World Cup qualifying in this region for the first time in 16 years. Yet despite this, Canada cannot simply hope for another prototypical squeaker against Cuba on Friday.
No, Canada needs to win big.
The way things are shaping up, a mere one-goal victory won't provide enough of a cushion for what's shaping up to be a do-or-die match in Honduras next week. Even though the Canadians are tied on points with the Catrachos, Honduras has a sizable margin in goal differential thanks to beating up on the hapless Cubans last month.
So even if Canada wins 1-0 on Friday and Honduras loses in Panama, that result would still require a draw in San Pedro Sula on Tuesday - in front of 40,000+ screaming locals - for the Canadians to advance. Those of us who have been watching Canadian soccer for any reasonable amount of time know that pinning all of your hopes on an away draw in CONCACAF is not exactly the safest of bets.
With that in mind, Canada will have to endeavor to pummel the group's doormat before heading to the Central American cauldron.
It seems simple enough at a glance. Cuba has yet to score a goal in four matches played so far, and as such is already eliminated from contention. A defeated, possibly inexperienced Cuban lineup playing at near-freezing temperatures on the shores of Lake Ontario should be easy pickings, right?
Not so fast.
In stark contrast to the woeful Cuba team that showed up almost willing to be throttled at last year's Gold Cup, this Cuban side has shown a remarkable resolve in putting a scare into all three of Group C's other combatants so far.
A 3-0 loss to Honduras in Havana aside, the Cubans have shown that they can compete, especially away from home. In two road matches so far, Cuba has been beaten by the narrowest of margin each time, losing 1-0 in Panama City and San Pedro Sula.
Let's not forget that the island side came within inches of tying up the group's opener, which would have changed things massively as far as Canada's fortunes are concerned.
Add in the fact that the Canada is a traditionally low-scoring side and is staying true to form so far this year. Despite sitting on seven points from four games, Canada has only scored twice in those matches, relying on a tight defense and a keen sense of opportunism to propel itself to success.
With all-time leading goalscorer Dwayne De Rosario on the shelf and number one target man Olivier Occean coming off a very recent injury, it's not unfair to ask where the goals are going to come from. Even with those two in the lineup, Canada has hardly looked menacing in the final third.
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As such, Hart needs to have his troops preparing for this match in the same way they did in last year's preliminary round, where Canada was the overwhelming favorite in a group full of minnows.
Even against the likes of Puerto Rico and St. Kitts, the Canadians had trouble scoring goals at times, drawing both of those teams in underwhelming performances that raised a lot of questions. On the flip side, Canada also destroyed each of those teams, contrasting dual 0-0 draws with a 3-0 win at Puerto Rico and a 4-0 drubbing of St. Kitts in Toronto.
With the close game out of the way, perhaps now is the time to blow things open against a very similar Cuba squad, too.
The benefit of nullifying, or even reversing, Honduras' goal differential advantage by destroying the Cubans is obvious. But one also has to think that a lopsided victory would only do wonders for the confidence of the Canadians if they do, in fact, still have to grab some sort of result next week in Honduras.
For the next few days, Canada's new mantra should be "just win BIG, baby!"
Anything less will represent a golden chance gone wanting.
Rudi Schuller is the Chief Editor of Goal.com Canada.