Canadian soccer record books, meet Dwayne de Rosario.
The Scarborough-native became Canada’s all-time leading goal-scorer on Friday in Toronto, converting his 20th off of an Atiba Hutchinson free kick in the 78th minute of a vital World Cup qualifier against Panama.
His tally was enough to give the hosts a 1-0 victory and send them back to the Central American country for the rematch next Tuesday on a positive note.
De Rosario was both excited and relieved, as the Canadian offence had been impotent at home thus far on the road to Brazil 2014. His goal was the first at BMO Field in two contests this round.
“It was a special day today, to score and help our country get over that hump,” he said to reporters in a scrum afterwards.
“It was a great play by all the guys, great team effort defensively, and great vision by Atiba Hutchinson to catch the defence sleeping.
“All I had to do was focus on the ball and put it in the back of the net.”
Canada’s goal came off a free kick on the left side of the Panamanian 18-yard box. Just as the ball was settled, and the defence had its back turned, Hutchinson ran in and sent a cross into the box that DeRosario converted past a shocked keeper Jaime Penedo.
It was a chippy affair where the visitors displayed some Central American flair for the dramatic. Referee Jeffrey Solis of Costa Rica did a superb job of controlling the match, however, awarding four yellow cards and zero reds.
Veteran midfielder Julian de Guzman believes that the Canadians have enough experience to push past that particular reality of playing in CONCACAF.
“For us we have a lot of experienced players,” he said. “The one great thing about this group is that we have guys who have played three or four World Cup qualifiers already so we know what to expect.
“We have the proper team for this type of atmosphere.”
F.C. Koln and Canada defender Kevin McKenna had the best chance of the first half in the 34th minute when he headed Will Johnson’s indirect free kick off the outside of the post.
Amilcar Henriquez had taken down Olivier Occean to the left of the box, creating the opportunity.
Hutchinson, of PSV Eindhoven, was the midfield general Canada so desperately wanted, and the Brampton-native created a near clear breakaway for Simeon Jackson in the sixth minute that the Norwich City F.C. forward muffed.
Panama came out hard in the second half, forcing a goalmouth clearance by Occean, and a near miss past Lars Hirschfeld’s far post by Blas Perez on a blast from inside the box in the 56th minute.
Occean, the forward from Eintracht Frankfurt, rocketed a shot wide from just outside the area in the 59th minute, but his attempt did not trouble the Panamanian keeper.
Hart injected Tosaint Ricketts, and the Montreal Impact’s in-form midfielder Patrice Bernier into the match at the 66th, and 72nd minute-marks respectively, and they both played key roles in exerting pressure on Panama’s back line.
Bernier almost doubled the lead in the 82nd, just curling a free kick wide of Penedo’s left post from 20 yards out.
The questions concerning Canada’s ability to finish in the final third had been the hottest topic entering proceedings, as the home side had not scored on Canadian soil since last November.
Yet De Rosario believed that a breakthrough was only a matter of time.
“The main thing is the mentality [that we have],” he said. “We didn’t let the [lack of finishing] get to us, we kept plugging away, we kept creating chances and we knew eventually it will come.”
Notes: Members of the bronze medal-winning Canadian Olympic Women’s Football team were honoured before the game … Canada sits at seven points in the group, Panama took the maximum six … Canada was at almost its full strength with only Josh Simpson still injured … Canada has yet to concede a single goal in three third round CONCACAF qualifiers … De Rosario passed Dale Mitchell as Canada’s all-time scorer … Attendance was 17,586