Canadian Press - A spectacular strike by Dwayne de Rosario early in the second half lifted Canada to a 1-1 draw with Costa Rica in a soccer friendly in Toronto on Wednesday night.
The opening goal came in the 48th minute against the run of play when Costa Rica carved open the Canadian defence to find Victor Nunez streaking down the left and his shot beat goalkeeper Lars Hirschfeld.
Two minutes later, the visitors were reduced to 10 men when midfielder Randall Azofeifa was sent off for a second yellow card after taking down Tomasz Radzinski to the artificial turf. And the game got more ill-tempered, as the evening wore on.
De Rosario answered in the 54th minute, taking a majestic cross-field pass from Julian de Guzman and hammering a left-footed shot past Costa Rican goalkeeper Jose Francisco Porras. The Houston Dynamo attacking midfielder has a history of spectacular goals in Major League Soccer play and this strike was a worthy addition to his collection.
Substitute Rob Friend had a half-chance to win it in the 86th minute, but a Costa Rican defender took the ball off his boot from in close, as the Canadian was about to shoot.
Canada looked lively on the night and will feel they should have won the contest. Coach Dale Mitchell did his bit, throwing on fresh attackers as the match progressed.
The game was the first in Toronto for the national team since a 0-0 draw with Mexico in a World Cup qualifier on November 15, 2000, a gap largely due to lack of a suitable venue after Varsity Stadium was demolished. Since then, the Canadian men have played 53 internationals of which only seven have been at home Burnaby, BC (3), Kingston, Ontario (2), Edmonton (1) and Montreal (1).
Not many showed up to welcome the national team back to Canada's largest city. The match, with singles tickets ranging from $15 to $100, drew a sparse crowd of 9,325 on a cloudy night at BMO Field.
There were more players on the field than fans in the top tier of the west stand - the stadium's biggest - when the anthems started.
For Canadian players who had left their clubs in Europe to make the long flight home in economy, the empty seats must have made for a depressing sight. Especially when the expansion MLS side Toronto FC has sold out all its home games with raucous crowds of some 20,000 per game.
After a slow start, Canada got into the game and both sides enjoyed good stretches of possession in the first half, although neither goalkeeper was threatened. The closest call was in the 39th minute when Costa Rica's Porras came out to punch a Canadian cross away.
Porras had to be sharp to stop Atiba Hutchinson's low shot in first-half injury time after a nice buildup by de Guzman and Radzinski.
Costa Rica's midfield duo of veteran Walter Centeno (formerly of AEK Athens) and Azofeifa (KAA Gent, Belgium) ruled early on, but Canada's de Guzman (Deportivo La Coruna, Spain) and de Rosario gradually began to make their mark.
Canada outshot Costa Rica 7-0 in the first half.
Canada came close again in the 46th when Porras deflected Ali Gerba's shot over the crossbar.
Both teams made extensive changes from their Gold Cup meeting in June, when Canada won 2-1. The home side's starting 11 Wednesday featured six players who started in the Gold Cup game, while the Costa Rican lineup had just four of the Gold Cup starters.
Costa Rica is ranked 52nd in the world, one place above Canada. The two teams are third and fourth, respectively, in CONCACAF, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean. Mexico (number 11 overall) and the USA (number 17) are number one and two in the confederation.
Canada and Costa Rica will be battling for a World Cup berth in the region, probably behind the Mexicans and Americans. The top three CONCACAF teams advance to the 2010 tournament in South Africa, with the fourth-place side meeting the fifth-placed South American team from CONMEBOL qualifying to determine who joins them.
Notes: The game was the second for Mitchell as Canadian coach. The Canadians tied 1-1 in Iceland in his debut last month. A coalition of Canadian fan groups asked supporters to wear black at the game for "Black Wednesday" to protest upheaval at the Canadian Soccer Association. It was hard to tell the extent of the protest.