Off and Running: CanMNT get off to strong start in World Cup qualifiers thanks to big 5-1 win over Bermuda

After a long wait, Canada’s Men’s National Soccer Team kicked off its road to the 2022 World Cup on Thursday, as they took on Bermuda, dispatching their Group B rivals with a big 5-1 win. Here’s what stood out from that one. 

The road is long, so you want to start off smoothly. 

Canada’s Men’s National Soccer Team did just that on Thursday, as they took down Bermuda with a big 5-1 win, giving them 3 valuable points in their quest to progress past Round 1 of CONCACAF’s World Cup qualifiers and beyond.

It was far from a vintage Canadian performance, if there is such a thing, but they were ruthless when they needed to be, led by Cyle Larin and Alphonso Davies, who paced the Canadians with a hat trick of goals and assists, respectively. 

You would like to see a bit more from Canada going forward, but considering that many of these players hadn’t played together in nearly a year and a half, they did what they had to do to win, which was all that you can ask for in a game such as this one. 

“Yeah, I think we addressed it prior to the game, the performance wasn’t gonna be perfect,” Canadian head coach John Herdman told reporters after the game. “You could sense that in training, building up, you’ve got a tactical framework, but the reality is, these guys hadn’t played together in 16 months.”

With the goal being to progress out of this first round without too much trouble, they took a strong step towards doing that in this game, showing why many are saying that Canada is one of CONCACAF’s up-and-rising teams at the moment. They were favourites to win, no doubt, but as Canadian soccer fans know all too well, that sometimes means nothing in this region, so to see them take care of business like this was reassuring. 

Stiffer tests await them, without a doubt, but it was good to see them avoid tripping at the first hurdle, setting them in panic mode right from the get-go. 

They’ve got one more game this window, coming on Sunday against the Cayman Islands, where they’ll look to build off of this performance with another win, but until then, here’s what stood out from their opener against Bermuda. 

Cyle Larin can’t stop scoring: 

If you had to make a bet before the game started, you probably would’ve put your money on Cyle Larin scoring a goal in this game, especially if you’ve been keeping an eye on his play for Besiktas over in Turkey.

With 14 goals in 28 league games for them, he’s played a big role in their push to try and win the Turkish SuperLig title, as they currently sit 3 points ahead of second-placed Galatasary with a game in hand. 

He continued that strong form in this game, scoring 2 goals inside 30 minutes to put Canada up 2-0, and he could’ve arguably had a hat trick not long after, but he tried to be unselfish with a great chance, passing off a great shooting opportunity. For Canada, those goals couldn’t have come at a better time, as they helped them calm things down after a frenetic start to the game, one where they struggled to string together simple passes. 

Plus, Larin did later pick up the hat trick in the second half, as well, giving a much-deserved reward for a strong performance from him. In a game where Canada needed someone to spearhead their offensive efforts, he stepped up to the plate big time, making up for a night where fellow starting striker Lucas Cavallini couldn’t score to save his life. 

“He’s an absolute predator,” Herdman said to describe Larin’s performance Thursday. “He knows how to time that run into the box and he just glides when he moves, and he has that ability to finish in so many different ways.” 

Going forward, it’s going to be interesting to see where Larin falls in Canada’s starting XI, because although he’s seen as more of a #9, he likes to operate in half-spaces between defenders, playing as a false #9 of sorts. With someone like Jonathan David also being someone who has a similar profile as a striker, it’ll be interesting to see how Herdman deploys the pair of them together for Canada, as there is the chance they try to occupy the same areas on the field.

But either way, if Larin’s going to keep scoring at this rate, you’ll be confident in his ability to help Canada win games, as he showed in this one, so that shouldn’t be too much of a worry. 

And at the very least, if you’re worried about fitting everyone into a balanced lineup, that benefit of having that sort of competition for starting places can only benefit a team in the long-term, so you’re more than happy that Larin’s playing the way that he is. 

Alphonso Davies and Atiba Hutchinson play a big role:

In a sense, it was almost like a passing of the torch. 

But on the other hand, with Atiba Hutchinson clearly still being a while away from taking his retirement, he’s making sure that he gets to share the warmth of that torch with Alphonso Davies, Canada’s biggest rising star, for as long as he can.

That torch was on display on Thursday night, as the 20-year-old Davies and 38-year-old Hutchinson played big roles for Canada in this win, helping them control the game throughout 90 minutes.

From Davies’s dominant display down the left side, to Hutchinson’s typical mastery in midfield, they played a big role in making sure this game went exactly as planned for Canada, showing why they’re two of Canada’s most important players at the moment. 

Starting with Davies, his performance was truly mesmerizing. He had 3 assists, coming on all 3 of Larin’s goals, but he could’ve had way more, as he finished with 10 key passes, including a few to Lucas Cavallini that probably should’ve been turned into assists. 

On top of his defensive work, as he made sure to track back and help Canada out defensively whenever possible, and it was overall just a solid two-way performance from Canada’s star man, who certainly lived up to that billing on Thursday. 

As for Hutchinson, it was the sort of display we’ve become accustomed to seeing from him in a Canadian shirt, putting up a solid defensive shift in midfield, showing why he’s nicknamed the ‘Octopus’. 

Whenever he could, he stuck his long legs into any Bermudan player who dared come near him, picking up 3 tackles and 3 interceptions/aerial duels won. Offensively, he wasn’t as active of a participant, which to be fair, isn’t something he needed to be, but he still chipped in with a few important progressive passes that helped Canada find some good chances.

At 38 years of age, he continues to defy father time, and he showed that again in this one. 

“When you look at Atiba, I was just so pleased that he was back for this game, you can see how much he was enjoying it,” Herdman said of his captain. “He’s enjoyed the camp immensely. He’ll leave us tomorrow morning to get back to Besiktas to start his recovery, but again, you look at him and he probably could’ve went another 90 minutes, and he’s 38 years of age.”

“I think every time he takes the field, I think our guys they rise up because they know they’ve got an absolute legend on the field.”

Unfortunately for Canadian fans, we won’t see them play together again until June, with Herdman revealing there that Hutchinson’s (understandably) heading back to Turkey to rest ahead of Besiktas’s next game, but based on the small sampling they gave up together in this match, you’ll be excited to see more of them sharing the field in the future. 

With there being so much emphasis on Canada being in the midst of a youth movement, though, it was nice to see some veterans show that they’re still here to play, and that they can coexist hand-in-hand with some of Canada’s young guns going forward. 

Atiba Hutchinson in action for Canada against Bermuda on Thursday (Canada Soccer/Jeremy Reper)

Defence needs a test:

But while there was a lot of positive chatter surrounding Canada’s offensive play, there were a few concerns on defence throughout this game, and that was only compounded when Bermuda found a surprising second-half goal via a Milan Borjan error. 

To be fair, although the goal wasn’t really indicative of Canada’s defensive struggles, as it was more due to an individual mistake that may haunt Borjan for a couple of nights, it still did feel like something like that was bound to happen at some point, making the gaffe less surprising. 

It wasn’t the end of the world, because with the firepower that Canada has up front, they don’t need their defence to be world-beaters in order to win games, and that showed today. 

On the other hand, they should not be conceding against the likes of Bermuda if they want to have aspirations of making some noise in World Cup qualifiers, as you do worry about what might happen when they play stiffer opposition that can really ramp up the offensive pressure. 

They’re not helped by the fact that they’re missing Derek Cornelius, arguably their best defender, who’s currently down in Mexico with the U23 team, but you’d hope that they’d be fine without him in this sort of game, anyways.

It’s still early in this qualifying cycle, and they’ll have plenty of time to work on their defence, so it’s not time to sound the alarm quite yet, but it’ll definitely be something to focus on in the coming games. 

Lots of familiar tactics on display: 

Diving into the Xs and Os, we saw some familiar decisions from Herdman and his staff in this one, as Canada continued their quest to build their tactical identity, something they’ve been working on for a while now. 

They haven’t quite finalized that identity, as it continues to remain a work-in-progress, but they’ve started to show some familiar ideas and patterns of play at both ends of the field. 

Offensively, they played a fluid 4-4-2, one that could sometimes morph into a 3-3-4 in possession, allowing Canada to flood bodies forward. Against an overworked Bermudan defence, it allowed them to create some pretty solid overloads in wide areas, which proved to be a profitable avenue of attack for Canada. 

The attack was a bit one-sided, as they were almost forcing play through Alphonso Davies on the left-hand side, but to be fair, Davies was good enough to make it work. You’d like to see them mix it up more, though, as Junior Hoilett could’ve seen more of the ball on the right-hand side, as he had a few decent flashes when possession found itself his way. 

Defensively, Canada actually pressed really well, forcing Bermuda to give up the ball in some tough areas on a few occasions, which was positive to see from a Canadian perspective. Seeing that Herdman has long mentioned that he wants Canada to press more, it was good to see them put that sort of defensive effort from front-to-back. 

But when the ball did break that press, Canada did sit back into a 4-4-2, allowing them to absorb pressure. They allowed a bit too much space between the lines, giving Bermuda a bit of time on the ball in some dangerous areas, which was a worry, but it was good to see Canada try to and play a mid-to-low block when that happened, as that was something we did say we wanted to see more of from them in the leadup to this game. 

It might not have prevented Bermuda from getting a few opportunities, but at least the defensive framework is there, so Canada just needs to find a way to execute it at a higher level now. 

So all-in-all, while there certainly could’ve been improvements across the board, the game plan was more than solid enough as a whole, as it allowed Canada to do what they needed to do to win. 

Where were the subs?

But while the preparation for the game was solid, the substitution plan seemed a bit haphazard, as Canada waited until the 69th minute to make their first sub, which considering they had 5 of them at their disposal, was less than ideal. 

That’s not to say that they should’ve made a sub just to make a sub, as that’s never a good plan, but there were a few tired legs who could’ve used an earlier rest, so it would’ve been good to see Herdman to address that a little earlier than he did. 

Especially considering they went up 3-0 at the 53rd minute, that could’ve been an ideal moment for Canada to turn to their bench, allowing them to freshen up their team in the last 30-35 minutes of the match. 

Seeing how well the substitutes did perform when they came on the pitch, that added further fuel to that conversation, showing that Canada did have quality options on the bench, nullifying that potential argument against making changes. 

Heading into their next game versus the Cayman Islands on Sunday, you do wonder if that’ll make them more willing to turn to their bench in that game, knowing that A) they’ll have even more tired legs to manage and B) they’ve got the depth to give those aforementioned tired players a rest. 

Some strong debuts: 

Lastly, it’s worth highlighting some strong debuts from two youngsters off of the bench, Alistair Johnston and Theo Corbeanu, who looked composed when coming on to earn their first caps for Canada. 

Starting with Johnston, he was confident at right back in deputy for Richie Laryea, making some good runs forward and keeping things relatively tidy when called upon defensively. He didn’t have to do a whole lot, but he looked confident in his ability, which is everything you want to see out of a 22-year-old earning his first National Team cap at any level. 

But while Johnston quietly put together a good first cameo for Canada, Corbeanu did so quite loudly, quickly announcing himself to the Canadian Soccer world. He scored less than 5 minutes after being subbed in, and nearly added another goal and an assist not long after, all inside 15 minutes of action. 

And that’s just what he did in the counting stats department. He had plenty of flair, even bringing down one ball with a rabona touch made popular by Neymar, and took on a few Bermudan defenders with dribbles, leaving some of them in the dust. 

For his first National Team cap, he showed why so many people are so high on him as a player, giving a slight taste of what he can do on a soccer pitch, certainly making a good claim for more minutes based on that.

“I mean in 15 minutes, he nearly got man of the match with all the damage he did coming on the field,” Herdman said with a smile after the game. 

The most impressive part about it all, as well? He only just turned 18, and is yet to play at the senior professional level, having so far only played in Wolves’ youth set-up. 

If this is just the start of what he can do as a player, boy, watch out. 

Stats:

As we tend to do for these games, we tracked some of the stats during this game. Here’s a chart with how everyone fared in the numbers department. 

PlayerSavesGoalsAssistsKey PassTacklesInterceptions/Aerial Duels wonBlocks
Borjan
Laryea1242
K.Miller131
Vitoria16
Adekugbe1122
Eustaquio25
Hutchinson34
Hoilett21
Davies3101
Larin3111
Cavallini132
Johnston1
L.Millar11
Corbeanu11
Piette1
Wotherspoon

Looking Forward: 

Now, Canada gets a few days off before taking on the Cayman Islands down in Florida, with a chance to make it 6 points out of 6 from these first two games in World Cup qualifiers. 

Considering that they’ve only got 4 games in this first round, it’s important that they avoid any sort of slip-ups along the way, as they did well to do in this one, so hopefully they can repeat that trick on Sunday. 

With their biggest game in this first round looking more and more like a June clash with Suriname, they’ve got to make sure they collect all the points they can before they get to that match, which will likely be one that decides the outcome of this group. 

But as seen today by Canada, if their star players are on their game, they’ve got the potential to do some damage this World Cup cycle. 

So as long as they find a way to keep their foot on the gas pedal, you have to be confident in their chances, as they look to put several years of less than memorable Canadian soccer history behind them.

Up Next: Canada vs the Cayman Islands, Sunday, March, 28th, 13:00 PDT, 16:00 EST (IMG Soccer Stadium, Bradenton)

Cover Photo via: Canada Soccer/Jeremy Reper

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