TORONTO — No stranger to banging the drum and leading the Viking Clap in front of the BMO Field south stand during Toronto FC's halcyon days, Jonathan Osorio got to do it wearing the Maple Leaf on Wednesday.
Osorio and his Canadian teammates celebrated a convincing 3-0 win over El Salvador, securing maximum points from their second home game in the final round of CONCACAF World qualifying.
"These are our first games really at home in a very long time," said Osorio. "And they're our most meaningful games in a very very long time."
"Obviously we know the hype that we're getting," he added. "And now the expectations that we're getting with the quality that we have on our team, it was special, special to come and get the victory."
Added coach John Herdman: "This is what this team lives for, to feel that connection with their country and we only feel it through the fans. That connection was special tonight."
With home points at a premium in the 14-game qualifying road, it was a productive, satisfying evening for Canada (1-0-2). And with Panama (1-0-2) holding visiting Mexico (2-0-1) to a 1-1 draw, the Canadians moved within two points of the leading Mexicans in the Octagonal standings.
Early strikes by Atiba Hutchinson and Jonathan David gave Canada the lead and Tajon Buchanan added an exclamation-point goal in the second half.
Canada 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 Canadians did not back down, standing up to the Salvadorans whenever they tried to take advantage.
"When one guys goes down, all 11 are in," Herdman said of his team.
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 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.
Canada has never lost when Hutchinson scores, with a 5-0-3 record in those games.
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.
Herdman said his players were fired up after being booed getting off the bus by Salvadoran fans. Canada's early surge helped quieten the rival supporters.
There was no shortage of bile in the match with Buchanan targeted repeatedly. He was eventually booked in the 18th minute for shoving defender Alexander Larin to the ground in retaliation for yet another rough challenge
"You are learning there are dark arts here in the games in CONCACAF," said Herdman.
Canada is putting up some impressive numbers these days.
The Canadian men have outscored their opposition 47-8 in 14 matches this year. Herdman, meanwhile, set a national record with his 22nd win as coach while Borjan tied the Canadian men's mark for clean sheets with his 25th.
"It's exciting to be with this group because they're so fricking talented. It's an absolute gift," said Herdman.
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.
Both Canada and El Salvador 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.
Come March the top three in the Octagonal 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. Herdman made five other changes, bringing in Kamal Miller, Vitoria, Osorio, Buchanan and David.
Striker Cyle Larin, who had a sore quad, was given the night off.
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 improved to 9-5-4 all-time against El Salvador.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 8, 2021