Will Johnson with Canada
Paul Giamou / Canadia Soccer Association

Canada reveal key to win vs. US: Shut down American mids

TORONTO — Despite having potent threats like Dwayne De Rosario and Simeon Jackson, goals don’t come easily for Canada.

Yes, they put four past St. Kitts and Nevis last fall, but they were blanked by the Caribbean minnows in the earlier away leg and also by Puerto Rico a month before that. And in a friendly loss to Armenia this past February, they managed only one goal and four total shots compared to Armenia's 25 shots.

“We’re not a team that scores goals in bunches,” midfielder Will Johnson said on Saturday after training ahead of the Sunday’s friendly against the United States at BMO Field (4 pm PT, NBCSN/Sportsnet, live chat on MLSsoccer.com). “We’re a team that can score goals, but the most important thing is to get [a shutout].”

According to Johnson, defense in the midfield will be the key to getting a result against the Americans. Canada manager Stephen Hart indicated on Saturday that the injured Atiba Hutchinson will likely be held out, a move which could shift RSL’s Johnson alongside Toronto FC’s Julian de Guzman in the central midfield. They will be the main counterbalance to the US’ talented midfield trio of Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones and Maurice Edu.

WATCH: Canadians preview US match

“We have to limit their time,” Johnson said. “They’ve got great midfielders — Bradley, Jones, Edu, [Kyle] Beckerman, if he gets in. They have great guys who can play one touch, who like to move, and play forward well. We have to deny the service into the strikers, take the pressure off our back four. Good defense will lead to some decent attacking chances.”

If those chances come, D.C. United’s De Rosario and Norwich City’s Jackson will be the main beneficiaries.

While defense is the focus for Johnson and his fellow Canadian midfielders against the Americans, then building chemistry is paramount for the attackers, as the canucks looks toward next Friday’s World Cup qualifier away to Cuba.

“The system we’re playing is very similar to the US: attacking down the flanks and pushing through the middle,” De Rosario said. “We have guys with good pace and guys playing regularly overseas and in the US.

"The main thing is getting that understanding of each other — where a guy likes the ball, where he makes his runs, where he’s most productive for us. That’s what this game is for against the US.”