Under the closed roof of BC Place, the Canadian Men’s National Team continued their romp through CONCACAF Nations League Qualifying, beating French Guyana handily to finish second in the qualifying stage, securing another qualification to the Gold Cup and a spot in the top division of the inaugural Nations League A in September. While the match was all over the place, Canada did what they had to do and turned in a professional performance, going about their business with efficiency. While some may be quick to criticize, saying that it could have been a more dominant result, a hallmark of great teams is not always how they perform when they’re on their game, but instead how they perform when things aren’t going their way. They did what they had to do, and now have a few months to continue to develop chemistry and adopt John Herdman’s ideas, allowing them to come into the Gold Cup well prepared and ready to face some tough sides in what has been an unforgiving tournament format over the years. They have their best shot of any they’ve had in recent times to bring home the cup, as they look to win it for the first time in 19 years. With World Cup qualifiers not that far away on the horizon, the competitive matches provided through the Gold Cup and Nations League will go a long way for a program looking to find its way and establish itself as one to be reckoned with in the near future.
The match itself was an interesting one, with Canada controlling the play, as expected, but failing to carve up much of substance going forward. They look comfortable in possession, showcasing fluidity as they recycled the ball effectively and limited turnovers, but looked unfamiliar with the higher line that French Guyana employed defensively. After playing sides that like to bunker down and defend with a low block, Canada was offered a different challenge going forward against this French Guyana side. While there was not much offence to come from the plucky underdogs, the threat of a draw remained for a lot of the first half, with Canada finally pushing through offensively to end the half.
It was much of the same in the second half, with not much going on and glimpses of action from both teams. With Canada carrying the lead, having the result and qualification all but assured, they did not really push the issue, keeping tidy in possession and moving it around the midfield and backlines a lot. French Guyana were not able to keep up and seemed rather demoralized after starting out the match positively. They had a good training session on Saturday at BC Place, and their intensity carried over into the beginning of this match, but they did not impose themselves as much as expected, much to the disappointment of their head coach Thierry Deneef.
“We were not so good at different levels, and we were a bit too shy in our approach to the game” Deneef said after the match. “Canada was better in that level, so I think that is one of the reasons that we had a bad result”
It was unfortunate for the small nation, as they have to deal with a lot of complications due to being a French colony. While it may seem beneficial to gain independence, they do not have the financial stability and the proper circumstances under which to do so, so they remain tied to France in many ways, including losing top talent or having players skip out on the national team due to a lack of motivation. Without designation from FIFA as an official country, it makes things a lot harder to get competitive matches as they can only partake in CONCACAF sanctioned competitions. Missing out on the Gold Cup robs them of a chance to continue to progress as a team and play top matches, but thankfully Nations League helps them out in that regard, as League B matches will still be good as noted by Deneef.
“We’ll start to play those matches in the B section,” he said “We’ll get everyone together, and we’ll try to go further (to try and get a promotion to League A)”
For Canada, there were lot of positive performances to dissect, with Junior Hoilett, Lucas Cavallini and Jonathan David having strong performances up front, collecting all 4 of the goals between them. David was spectacular on the day, running around and getting into spaces between defenders. Hoilett did well, picking up a goal and showing off the wealth of experience he has, opening the scoring with a nice strike after a creative play. Cavallini picked up a brace, continuing his good form, as well as holding up the play and contributing to help create chances for Canada.
Doneil Henry and Derek Cornelius had a solid performance, marshalling effectively and mopping up danger. Milan Borjan had the pretty ugly mistake on the conceded goal but did not have much else to do on the day. He will be good in matches where he faces more action, as he has done well in competitions such as the UEFA Champions League and Europa League where he has played some big teams, keeping his clubs in matches they had no business being in.
Samuel Piette continued to be solid for Canada, hunting down balls and adding a calming presence to the field. While he might not get forward much, he plays his role as a shield effectively, giving freedom for the other midfielders and full-backs to get forward. He was uncharacteristically lackadaisical on the backpass that led to the French Guyana goal, but he has been so solid for both club and country that many will forgive him easily for that one. As Atiba Hutchinson’s potential retirement remains in doubt, Piette will allow fans to rest a little easier for when that day eventually comes, knowing he will take care of business.
Speaking of Hutchinson, he did what he does best on the night, using his lanky legs to travel the pitch and disrupt things defensively, pushing forward when the opportunity is right. While his legs may not be the same they were 5 or 10 years ago, he still has a lot of juice for a man his age and as long as he feels comfortable putting on the Canadian Shirt and accepting call-ups, he will provide value both on and off the pitch. He touched on it a bit after the game, as he talks about how he has accepted his role as more of a mentor for the team.
“As a veteran in the team, one with more experience, all I can do is talk to them as much as I can” Hutchinson said in the post-match press conference.” (Share) the experiences that I have been through. A lot of them are young players playing in big clubs, so the confidence is there, they don’t need me to be pushing them, (so it’s more) just talking to them, being as much of a leader as possible”
Canada has always remained close to his heart, and he has put a lot of effort to continue to make the trek out to matches, despite playing at a pretty high level in Europe for many years, so it would be unfortunate to have him retire right at the beginning of this generation. Hopefully, the youth gives him some jump, and he continues to accept call-ups, providing the wealth of experience and game that he has especially with the emergence of potential replacement in the young but talented new recruit Stephen Eustaquio.
Otherwise, it was solid performances from the other 3 starters that we haven’t mentioned, with Jonathan Osorio being a workhorse in the middle, Mark-Anthony Kaye putting in a good shift at an unfamiliar position in left-back and Zachary Brault-Guillard looking energetic on the other flank. While many may have questioned the decision to put in Kaye over the likes of Sam Adekugbe, he showcased once again the versatility of a lot of these players, giving Canda the ability to adopt flexible game plans against the various nations that they will come up against on this journey.
The result allowed Herdman to change up his substitute plan, with Russell Teibert, Sam Adekugbe and Cyle Larin coming on, gaining valuable minutes. Especially with Teibert, who is recovering from an injury after a great season, it was good to see him play for the first time since October. He finished with a bit of an injury scare, but his return will provide options for both Canada and the Vancouver Whitecaps, who have had a bit of a midfield conundrum so far. Adekugbe looked solid, as his game has matured a lot from his travels and Europe, and he provides a solid option at full back as he continues to ply his trade in Norway. Cyle Larin looked good in his 15 or so minutes, but the only thing holding him back is Cavallini’s form, as he has been banging in goals in Liga MX and continued that today, with the 2 he bagged on the afternoon. While Larin’s playing time at Besiktas has been all over the place, his development has been evident. His game is rounding out nicely and provides a nice pick your poison scenario to choose from up front.
Man Of The Match:
This one has to go to Jonathan David, as he was dangerous in creating chances for himself and his teammates. He bagged a calm goal, could have had a few more and created for Lucas Cavallini. He has been doing very well in Belgium, with many German clubs after him, including the famed Borussia Dortmund. If he keeps this up, it would not be a surprise to see him make a move to the Bundesliga, as he has done so well, especially considering he was born in 2000. It is tantalizing to imagine what he will do with Alphonso Davies when Davies is fit, as they give Canada a lot of pace and creativity going forward. Along with Larin, Cavallini, Hoilett, Ballou Tabla and Liam Millar, there is a lot of attacking depth to go around.
It’s been a strong start for Herdman, so he will hope to continue that with some monumental results at this summer’s Gold Cup. Hopefully, his players stay in good form and keep getting minutes, and they hit the camp with their feet running and are able to continue to implement ideas that will help them be successful. Until then we keep an eye on them with their club teams, as many are deep in title races or just beginning a new season.
Thanks to Canada Soccer for all their help this week, as they were very accommodating and allowed us chances to go to training and pick up a lot of interviews. It was a great weekend for us and we are excited for what’s to come!