By Vijay Setlur
TORONTO - Dwayne De Rosario scored a Canadian record 20th goal and gave the Canucks a 1-0 victory over Panama on Friday that moved them atop their CONCACAF World Cup qualifying semifinal round group.
De Rosario tallied in the 77th minute, capitalizing on a quick free kick by Atiba Hutchinson and directing a first-time touch past goalkeeper Jaime Penedo.
"Atiba is an experienced player. When you see an opportunity you penetrate and attack it and that's what he did," De Rosario said. "He didn't ask for a whistle. We made eye contact and he played a great ball in. My focus was just keeping my eye on the ball, getting over and putting the ball in the back of the net."
The goal moved the DC United midfielder past former national team coach Dale Mitchell for the most goals in Canadian history.
"Hopefully I can have more special moments in the future, but I'm happy I got the moment in front of our fans and most importantly we got the win," De Rosario said.
The win improved Canada to seven points in Group C, one ahead of Panama and three more than Honduras. Earlier Friday, Honduras beat Cuba 3-0 in Havana to climb back into contention for one of two berths from the group in the final round of qualifying.
The two will face off again on Tuesday in Panama City.
The win before 17,586 was a measure of revenge against Panama, which drew with Canada at the CONCACAF Gold Cup last year and knocked it out of the tournament. It also continued Canada's unbeaten string over the Central Americans with a third win in five matches.
"I think we can only gain confidence from this because let's not fool ourselves—Panama is a very good team," said Canada coach Stephen Hart. "(They're) extremely organized. Technically they play the ball well. They have one or two or maybe three individuals that can change a game at any moment."
The performance extended Canada's streak of not allowing a goal to five matches, dating back to a 3-1 friendly loss to Armenia earlier this year.
Knowing the Honduras result, Canada came out strong controlling most of the play early and pinning Panama in its own end.
But it couldn't translate its possession into scoring opportunities in the final third.
Canada was nearly rewarded in the 36th minute. After Olivier Occean was taken down in the right corner, Will Johnson's free kick found captain Kevin McKenna, whose header ricocheted off the right post.
Panama failed to mount any serious attacks, and suffered its first loss in seven matches in World Cup qualifying.
"What we knew before coming here was that we had two games at home and those
games at home we have to go and make it happen," Panama manager Julio Dely Valdes said.
"As generally, anything in terms of tactics, but definitely the Gold Cup
there was more consistency in the second half. Also I saw a more aggressive
Canadian team in the sense of more aggressive in the play."
In the 59th minute, Occean came close to opening the scoring. Julian de Guzman sent the ball into the penalty area to De Rosario. The DC midfielder corralled it and sent it back out to Occean, who sent a low drive wide.
Before the match, the Canadian women's national team was honored at midfield for its bronze medal at the London 2012 Olympics