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Canada better on the road than at home: Hart

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Home sweet home – or is it? The Canadian men’s national team returned home after a convincing 7-0 win against St. Lucia on Friday in World Cup qualifying. The national side is now preparing for its next match against Puerto Rico on Tuesday night at BMO Field.

For the most part, playing at home is a contradiction for Canada. It has now been well documented that supporters of other countries come out to cheer for its team and often outnumber Canadian fans.

However, coach Stephen Hart has another concern with playing on its home turf — playing recklessly and not according to the game plan. Canada won its opening qualifier 4-1 over St. Lucia at home, but looked shaky in the first half with the team taking chances by throwing players forward – something Hart did not draw up on his playbook.

The next two games were on the road, where the team looked more comfortable and patient on the ball. The results were back-to-back clean sheets. Hart is looking for that trend to continue on Tuesday.

“I think this team actually plays better away from home,” said Hart at practice on Sunday. “For some reason they look way more relaxed in the dressing room and the way they played the game was very patient.

“We didn’t throw ourselves forward like we did in the first half of the opening game in a sort of swashbuckling, reckless way. I think that calculated approach led to the goals being scored early (against St. Lucia on Friday) and the game basically being finished by halftime.”

However, Hart is happy to be back at home where his club can play in a more welcoming and controlled environment.

“This is a more comfortable environment — to be fair to the Canadian players it’s only been in recent times that we’ve played a fair amount of home games…But it’s nice to be home and to know that we will have some following and the screaming regulars and that sort of thing.”

Canada had a tough match against Puerto Rico when the two sides met in Bayamón on Sept. 6, but the red and white came out on top 3-0. Hart is still weary of the island nation in the return leg due to the chemistry the team has built up over the years.

“They were impressive in Puerto Rico, of course they were comfortable at home and knew the pitch and knew the ball and knew everything. I think people are going to be surprised by the quality of that team because it’s a team that understands each other really, really well.

“They have a good understanding, they have a good coach and I’m a little surprised they haven’t actually – I guess they tied a game – I would have thought they would have come away with a result.”

Canada is ranked seventh in the CONCACAF region and just missed out on the second-round bye of World Cup qualifying that was given to the top six teams. Although the national side has had to play more games and win another round of qualifying, it could prove to be an advantage as the team builds chemistry and an understanding of its own. This will especially prove useful if the team advances to the next stage.

“Well I think everybody would be happy to know that we’re OK and we’re in the next round but I think the games will be a blessing,” said Hart. “We have a chance to get together — the group is very tightly knit — good banter, very relaxed and I think that’s a product of being able to play some games and be on the road and travel and make what you need to do.”

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