Defensive frailties reared their ugly head once again for Canada's men's national team, as they conceded a third-minute goal to the Czech Republic on their way to a 2-0 defeat in Olomouc on Friday. The game was the first of two international friendlies that Canada is playing during the international break, with the second game against Slovenia set for Tuesday in Celje.
Canada looked uncomfortable defensively throughout the game, and every free kick that came into Canada's penalty box looked like ending up in the back of the net. They were fortunate to go into the break only trailing 1-0.
At the other end of the pitch, Canada had chances to equalize in the first half. 30 minutes into the game, after a well-worked free kick, Tosaint Ricketts saw his shot blocked by Petr Cech. Minutes later, Canada was awarded a dubious penalty kick after Dwayne De Rosario fell in the box under pressure from Marek Suchy. De Rosario picked himself up to take the kick, but his effort was pushed around the post by Petr Cech. It was the last time that Canada would genuinely threaten Cech's goal.
In the second half, only the Czechs looked like scoring, and it was no surprise that they got a second goal to put the result to bed. Some will try to put a positive spin on the performance by suggesting that a 2-0 loss was a reasonable showing against the 27th ranked team in the world. The reality is that the score remained respectable due more to the wastefulness of the Czechs and to the performance of Lars Hirschfeld in Canada's goal, rather than to anything Canada did to influence the game.
It's becoming a tired narrative. Canada concedes sloppy goals and, when combined with creating very little scoring chances, come away with their tails between their legs. Which brings about the usual questions: When is Canada going to have a competitive men's team? When are we going to become legitimate contenders to qualify for the World Cup?
Spaniard Benito Floro was hired to coach the team in July, and has only had four games in charge of the team. Four games is nowhere near enough of a sampling to pass judgment on Floro's ability to take the program forward - he is still, in many respects, coming to terms with the size of the task before him. But it is enough time to make some observations about what he has done so far.
Defensively, I've never seen Canada look more fragile. Whenever we come up against decent opposition, defensive errors and organizational mistakes are our undoing. That is partly down to the players failing to take responsibility on the pitch, but it is also down to the coach.
Against the Czech Republic, the first goal was conceded because Canada were far too deep defending a free kick. In fact, Canada dropped right onto the edge of their own 6-yard box - a cardinal sin when defending - before the ball had been played. This left no room for Hirschfeld to come and claim the ball and, coupled with poor marking from Marcel de Jong, left Ondrej Celustka with an easy header to give the Czechs the lead.
If this had been a one-off, you could put it down to individual errors. But it was a theme that was prevalent throughout the first half, and worryingly, it continued into the second half, as well. This tells me that the problem was never properly addressed at the half by the coach.
Floro did acknowledge after the game that the team "needs to improve" when defending set pieces, but there was little evidence to suggest that he addressed the issue during the game or at the half. This isn't a problem that has magically appeared though - Floro should have spent more time addressing it in training in the camp leading up to the game.
Canada's lack of creativity at the other end of the pitch was not unexpected; it is the norm for scoring chances to be as rare a sighting for Canadian forwards as Halley's Comet. When Ricketts and De Rosario did have a sight of goal, they couldn't find a way past Petr Cech. It's hard to be critical, as Cech is one of the world's best goalkeepers. But when you get a penalty kick, regardless of the opponent, you need to find the back of the net. De Rosario's penalty kick was poor, and Cech easily parried it around the post.
Floro was hired to take Canada forward into World Cup qualifying in 2016, to give them the best chance possible of reaching the final qualifying round, the Hex. While that process won't begin for another three years, in the short-term, Floro needs to show tangible signs of progress. Otherwise, the little hope that Canadian soccer supporters have for a brighter future will fade away to nothing.