Stephen Hart has studied every angle of Canada’s World Cup qualifying loss to Panama — as much of what happened off the field as on.
Fans set off fireworks and blared car stereos in front of the Canadians’ hotel to keep them awake the night before the bleary-eyed squad stumbled to a 2-0 defeat, a big blow to Canada’s quest for a spot in the final qualifying round.
Hart said the team will take precautions to avoid a repeat of the Panama debacle when Canada plays in Honduras next month to cap this penultimate qualifying stage.
“It’s a matter of sleep patterns and that sort of thing. What we’re going to try to do is eliminate what disrupted the sleep patterns in the first place,” Hart said.
Exactly how the Canadians plan to do that is unknown; the team’s head coach is keeping close to his chest.
“Obviously we had made provisions for some sort of disturbance outside the hotel in Panama,” Hart said. “But what we can’t do anything is when it’s allowed to be stereo systems, fireworks display, and everything else that went on.
“We can’t control what goes on in the street, but we are and will be taking a number of precautions along those lines. I don’t want to talk too much about it for obvious reasons.”
The loss dropped Canada to third in its qualifying group with two games to go — Oct. 12 versus Cuba at BMO Field and four days later at Honduras. Panama leads the group while Honduras is second. The top two countries advance to final six-team CONCACAF stage, which Canada hasn’t played in since 1998.
For now, Hart is closely monitoring his players ahead of announcing his roster next Thursday.
He’s optimistic forward Olivier Occean will be back in the lineup after missing the Panama game with a back injury. The ailing Occean sat Frankfurt’s 3-3 draw with Borussia Dortmund earlier this week.
“I expect him to play, but of course that will depend on the medical team at his club,” Hart said. “They told me they’re working on him on a daily basis.”
What the coach does know for certain is he’ll be without leading scorer Dwayne De Rosario, who suffered an MCL sprain in his knee early in Canada’s loss to Panama. Attacking midfielder Josh Simpson, who broke his leg in May, also won’t be returning to squad any time soon.
“It’s going to be a long time with Josh, unfortunately,” Hart said.
De Rosario scored in Toronto’s 1-0 win over Panama at BMO Field, his 20th goal in 71 appearances making him the country’s all-time men’s scoring leader.
Hart said he’ll be looking to have Marcel De Jong fill in for De Rosario down the left side of the midfield.
The Canadians are considered favourites to beat the Cubans, who’ve already been mathematically eliminated from making the final round.
Honduras could prove problematic if the reception in that country is anything like what the Canadians experienced in Panama.
“I’ve never seen anything like Panama. . . ,” Hart said. “I’ve witnessed some street stuff before in Honduras in the past, but nothing like what was done in Panama.”
The coach said the Canadians were helpless to halt the major ruckus going on in front of their hotel.
“It was organized, it was allowed, the officials who were supposed to monitor that sort of thing could do nothing about it. The police military, everybody allowed it to go on. A complete fireworks display outside the hotel,” Hart said. “There’s nothing you can do about that. What can you do? You just try to take certain precautions that it doesn’t happen again or it doesn’t affect you if it does help you.”
The massive street demonstration wasn’t the only misadventure the Canadians faced in Panama. The game was delayed for about 15 minutes when a large section of the lights went out in the stadium.
“The only thing I can remember is the fourth official telling me that if they don’t get the lights on, we will play the game,” Hart said laughing. “I asked him, ‘Why aren’t we just playing the game? If a decision was made that the game was going to continue playing with a piece of the lights off, then continue playing the game.“’
Hart, speaking to the media on a conference call Thursday, was asked if the interruption affected his team.
“I don’t want to make any excuses. We lost,” Hart said. “The buck stops with me, the players did their best, that’s all I ever ask of them.”