TORONTO — Early strikes by Atiba Hutchinson and Jonathan David gave Canada the lead and Tajon Buchanan added an exclamation-point goal in the second half of a convincing 3-0 win over El Salvador in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying Wednesday.
Needing points after two straight draws to open the final qualifying round, Canada (1-0-2) came out with purpose, moved the ball quickly and led 2-0 after 11 minutes.
The Canadians put on a show, spraying the ball around. Buchanan dazzled early, contorting his body to keep a ball in. Veteran Junior Hoilett nonchalantly flicked passes.
It was an impressive show of early offence against an El Salvador defence that had posted nine shutouts in 12 competitive matches this year. The physical Salvadorans tried unsuccessfully to bully their way back into the game.
The Canadian men were without injured Bayern Munich star Alphonso Davies, who has returned to Germany to have his injury assessed. But the offence still purred.
Canada struck in the sixth minute after Jonathan Osorio stole the ball from a Salvadoran. He played a nice give-and-go with Hoilett who slid the ball to a charging Richie Laryea in the penalty box. Laryea beat Toronto FC teammate Eriq Zavaleta, the El Salvador captain, at the byline and sent the ball to goal where Hutchinson, cutting to the near post, beat several defenders to knock it in.
It was Canada goal No. 8 for Hutchinson, an icon in Turkey with his Besiktas club side. The 38-year-old midfielder earned his 88th cap, one behind Julian de Guzman’s Canadian men’s record of 89.
Five minutes later it was 2-0 after El Salvador (0-1-2) was penalized in its own end. Towering defender Steven Vitoria got to the ensuing free kick and headed it past the other post where Buchanan acrobatically sent it back in front of goal for David to head in.
It was the 16th goal in 19 Canadian appearances for the Lille forward.
Trailing 2-0, El Salvador began to make inroads in the Canadian half as the first half wore on. Enrico Duenas’ shot deflected off a Canadian defender in the 37th minute as the Canadian defence was opened up.
Looking to turn things round, El Salvador made three changes to start the second half.
But Canada added to its lead in the 59th minute after an errant pass by Zavaleta was intercepted by David, leading to a 2-on-1. David sent the ball over to Buchanan, who slipped under goalkeeper Mario Gonzalez for his second goal in 12 appearances.
The jubilant crowd began to chant “This is our house.”
El Salvador threatened in the 67th minute with goalkeeper Milan Borjan having to get to a cross before Laryea broke up another attack. It was pretty much Borjan’s only action on the night.
Canada rang in the changes in the second half, sending on fresh legs in its third game in a week.
Attendance at BMO Field was capped at 15,000 under COVID-19 protocols. Canada Soccer said it was a sellout. There was plenty of blue in the loud crowd as well as Canada red and the visitors’ supporters belted out their national anthem.
There was no shortage of bile in the match with Buchanan, upset at yet another rough challenge, booked in the 18th minute for shoving defender Alexander Larin to the ground.
Canada has outscored its opposition 47-8 in 14 matches this year.
Both teams came into the game on two points, having drawn their first two matches of the round against No. 63 Honduras and the 10th-ranked U.S. Canada, ranked 59th, hosted Honduras and faced the U.S. in Nashville while No. 64 El Salvador opened with two home games in San Salvador.
The players now return to their clubs before returning for the October international window that will see Canada visit No. 9 Mexico and No. 50 Jamaica before hosting No. 74 Panama on Oct. 13 in Toronto.
Each of the eight teams play 14 games in the so-called Octagonal. Come March the top three will qualify for Qatar 2022, representing North and Central America and the Caribbean. The fourth-place team takes part in an intercontinental playoff to see who joins them.
El Salvador has qualified for two men’s World Cups (1970, 1982) compared to one for Canada (1986).
Hutchinson, who came off the bench against the U.S., returned to the starting lineup. John Herdman made five other changes, bringing in Kamal Miller, Vitoria, Osorio, Buchanan and David.
Zavaleta, who qualifies for El Salvador via his father, won his 11th cap for the Central American side. He was greeted with boos when he touched the ball in the second half in front of the vocal south stand.
Canada came into the game with an 8-5-4 all-time record against El Salvador, including a 3-1-1 record at home. El Salvador won the previous meeting, 1-0 at the 2017 Gold Cup in Houston.
Canadian women’s coach Bev Priestman, fresh from her team’s gold medal performance at the Tokyo Olympics, was honoured before the match.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press