Junior Hoilett (red jersey) was one of six players to make their Canada debuts in an international friendly against Ghana in Washington, D.C., on October 13, 2015. (Photo courtesy of Canada Soccer)
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Junior Hoilett made his long-anticipated debut, Marcel de Jong scored on an astonishing 35-yard strike, and a youthful Canada squad matched World Cup-tested Ghana chance for chance in a 1-1 draw Tuesday night at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium.
Those developments should boost the morale of a team that hasn’t qualified for the globe’s largest sporting event in nearly 30 years.
Still, assistant coach Mark Findlay cautioned against being too optimistic following a result in Canada’s final tune-up before resuming World Cup Qualifying next month.
“We’re pleased that each and every one of the players that appeared tonight played with not just honor for the country, but they played with a sense of pride and positive play that we’ve lacked,” said Findlay, with head coach Benito Floro away at CONCACAF Olympic qualifying. “But I will say this: we can’t be satisfied. We didn’t win the game.”
If Canada is going to progress beyond the fourth round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying, it will have to earn equal or better results against teams with pedigrees similar to that of Ghana, ranked No. 25 in the FIFA World Rankings.
Among its Group A foes, Mexico has qualified for every World Cup since 1990 and is reigning regional champion. Honduras is coming off two consecutive World Cup trips, while El Salvador has had less recent success, but drew Canada in the 2015 Gold Cup group phase.
With Canada’s last World Cup appearance coming in 1986, Findlay indicated Floro won’t necessarily bow to experience when choosing the squad that faces Honduras in Vancouver next month.
While the 25-year-old Hoilett has played in the Premier League with current club Queens Park Rangers, on Tuesday he joined starters Wandrille Lefevre, Kianz Froese and Charlie Trafford, as well as subs Fraser Aird and Marco Bustos, as Canadian debutants.
Froese and Trafford were particularly bright early, each nearly tucking away chances that would’ve padded Canada’s first-half lead.
“There will be some players here that will make our decisions and Benito’s ultimate decisions very difficult,” Findlay said.
Hoilett put in an 88-minute shift on the left flank against a Ghanaian side with speed and strength in droves.
“I was pushing to get to get to 80,” he admitted. “I didn’t know what to expect. I just wanted to go out there and play for my first debut. I was just excited to go out there and put on a jersey and work hard for my teammates and get a result and achieve things for the nation.”
As for de Jong, he may never be able to replicate his 30th-minute strike, a 35-yard effort that whizzed into the top right corner for just his third career international goal.
“I don’t think this goal, I’ve ever scored one like that,” said the Sporting KC fullback. “It was a free kick for us, and we took it quick. I heard somebody say have it. So I was just like, ‘Yeah, what the hell, let’s do it.’”