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Nick Sabetti: Worst is over for the Canadian national team

Nick Sabetti: Worst is over for the Canadian national team

Canada Soccer / Giamou

After the disaster in San Pedro Sula and a dismal 2013, results against Bulgaria and Moldova offered the first signs of recovery for the Canadian national team.

MONTREAL — When Benito Floro was appointed head coach of the Canadian national team last year, he was staring at a wasteland: the dejected remains of a team that, a few months earlier, had suffered one of its heaviest and most humiliating defeats.

The 8-1 hammering at the hands of Honduras in Oct. 2012 ruined Canada’s hopes of qualifying for the World Cup. All the team needed was a draw to keep it alive.

That result in San Pedro Sula left the men’s team completely torn apart. Last year, Floro spent much of his time simply trying to pick up the pieces. And it wasn’t easy. Under the Spaniard’s tenure, the Reds didn’t win a single game in 2013; what was worse was that they didn’t even score a goal.

Like a year ago when he first started, Floro’s main concern has been simply to build confidence and cohesion.

“We want to try to improve our morale and mentality,” Floro said, speaking to reporters last week by telephone from Austria. “We want to prepare players for our system of play, because we need to improve our level.”

Of course, there’s no better way of raising the spirits of a team than by getting results. In the first series of friendly games of 2014 against Bulgaria and Moldova, Canada managed to do just that.

Floro wasn’t very optimistic of his team's chances against a Bulgarian side ranked 73rd in the FIFA world rankings, but the game proved to be the Reds’ best under the 61-year-old’s direction. The Canadians finally scored, a task which had eluded them for nearly 1000 minutes of play. The goal was also good enough to earn a draw, and the Reds even came close to securing a victory on the day — without any of its MLS players and against a Bulgarian side at almost full strength.

MATCH REPORT: Moldova 1-1 Canada

After going down early against Moldova on Tuesday, Canada found a quick equalizer. The Canadians controlled most of the game, but couldn’t find the winner. Though they probably wish they could have won the game, considering the hell they’ve been through, it’s a result they’ll take for now.

Floro has been charged with leading Canada to the World Cup in 2018. There is of course the Gold Cup next year and the chance to play in the new Copa America Centenario, but Floro insists that the only thing that matters is qualifying for Russia 2018.

It’s a tall order for sure, and one not made easy by Canada’s relatively very small player pool. Floro revealed that he has approximately 60 players on his radar. When it comes to picking forwards, the options are very limited, so much so that Floro gave Cyle Larin his first caps against Bulgaria and Moldova, despite the fact that the 19-year-old from Brampton, Ontario, isn’t even playing professional soccer — he’s currently starring with the University of Connecticut in the NCAA. 

Of course, Floro could have called upon a more experienced player like Ian Hume, but he’s looking long term to 2016, when the first phase of World Cup qualification begins. Any young Canadian that could potentially blossom into a quality player by that time, Floro has taken him under his wing, trying to push his development.

Larin is just one example.

“I’m learning so much,” Larin told Goal Canada by telephone. “He’s given me all sorts of tips. I mean, he coached a guy like Raul at Real Madrid, so he knows a thing or two about how a forward needs to move.”

There’s certainly a long road ahead for the Reds. What progress has been made until now might only feel like baby steps, but that’s already something. The worst is behind them. 

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