TORONTO - Frustration for Canada. Celebration for Puerto Rico.
Both teams left BMO Field with a point after a 0-0 tie Tuesday night but the 145th-ranked Puerto Ricans were the ones smiling — even though the result eliminated them from advancing to the next round of World Cup qualifying in the CONCACAF region.
Canada (3-0-1) remains in the driving seat, likely to move on, but it was hard to tell after the match before 12,178.
"For us it's a great result, (being) a small country," said Puerto Rico assistant coach Dariel Collazo.
"It's a win for us, for the future," he added.
In contrast, Canadian coach Stephen Hart looked pained after watching his team outshoot Puerto Rico 13-4 (4-2 in shots on target). It could have been a loss had 'keeper Lars Hirschfeld not pulled off a big save off Andres Perez in the 84th minute to preserve the tie.
"Extremely disappointed in the fact we couldn't score," said Hart, whose team was coming off a 7-0 thumping of St. Lucia on Friday.
"We tried to find the answers. They basically parked the bus (in front of goal) and waited for us, allowed us to have the ball. ... and when we did get our opportunities, we didn't take it."
There was little damage done in the grand scheme of things given St. Kitts and Nevis and St. Lucia played to a 1-1 tie of their own Tuesday.
Canada was just six minutes away from booking its ticket to the next round but Ian Lake equalized for St. Kitts and Nevis in the 84th minute, keeping them in the hunt — but only just.
Instead No. 87 Canada needs just one point from a home-and-away series next month with No. 123 St. Kitts and Nevis to advance to the third round of CONCACAF qualifying.
Canada has 10 points while St. Kitts and Nevis (1-0-3) has six with just six left on the table. St. Lucia (0-3-1), like Puerto Rico (0-1-3), has already been eliminated from advancing.
Asked what he might say to disappointed Canadian fans, some of whom booed at the final whistle, Hart was pragmatic.
"I'd say we got a point. And more than likely we'll go to the next round. ... The objective is to qualify for the World Cup and if we had thrown ourself reckless into that game, we would have lost. I'll tell you that right now."
While Canada has outscored its modest opposition 14-1 in four games to date, it has wasted a raft of scoring chances.
Perhaps more worrying it has not shown much creativity in changing direction when the avenue it is pursuing is blocked.
"What we didn't do is play differently in the last 10 minutes," said a clearly frustrated Hart. "We said to the players if what we're doing is not working in the last 10 minutes, let's push numbers into the penalty box and rain some crosses in and batter away at them. And we just didn't do. We just didn't do it.
"That's how it is. You're powerless on the sideline."
Time and time again, the Canadians tried to unlock the Puerto Rican defence with a low percentage, high-difficulty pass. At other times, Canadian attackers got in each other's way.
Hart called the evening a "huge lesson" in learning the need to adapt on the fly.
Puerto Rico needed a win to stay alive but seemed content to defend in numbers and counter-attack.
The visitors proved hard to break down in the early going, with Perez shielding a four-man backline and four midfielders also ready to defend in front of him.
"It was clear that they were playing for one chance, either one free kick, one set play or one breakaway opportunity," Hart said.
"So I didn't want the team to rush things. Play the game, keep the ball, try to open them up and see what happens. ... we just couldn't finish the chances we had.
"And in a game like that you're not going to get many. I don't care who you're playing against. A team plays five at the back, four in front of them, it's very hard to break down."
The Puerto Rican squad draws players from the second-tier North American Soccer League, college teams and local sides.
Hart made three changes from the team that walloped St. Lucia, bringing in Hirschfeld and midfielders Terry Dunfield and Josh Simpson for Kenny Stamatopoulos, Will Johnson and Olivier Occean.
Canada was a 3-0 winner in Puerto Rico on Sept. 6.
With Johnson nursing an ankle injury, Canada could only put out a depleted six-man bench and Hart was forced to go to it early, bringing on Occean in the 34th minute for an injured Hume (hamstring).
The third round of qualifying features the six group winners from Stage 2 and six seeded teams — the big boys of the region like Mexico and the U.S.
Six countries will advance to the final round in CONCACAF, with the top three qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and the fourth-place team taking part in a playoff with a team from another confederation to see who joins them.