Strategizing for Suriname: An in-depth tactical preview ahead of the CanMNT’s clash with Suriname in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying action

Canada Soccer’s Men’s National Team takes on Suriname in a huge round 1 CONCACAF World Cup qualifier on Tuesday. In this, we preview the game tactically, looking at the strategies, individuals and battles that might decide this massive match for both sides. 

It’s all come down to this. 

Canada versus Suriname.

A spot in round 2 of CONCACAF’s World Cup qualifiers on the line. 

For one country, a chance for a golden generation to avenge past missteps. For another, a chance to prove that they’re on an accelerated path to the top.                   

Yet, 8 months ago, this could’ve never been predicted. When it was announced that Canada Soccer’s Men’s National Team would be drawn with Suriname in Group B back in August of 2020, no one batted much of an eyelid, yet less than a year later, the two are getting set to face off in a game with massive stakes for both countries. 

Thanks to some law changes that have allowed a wave of very talented dual-nationals to get the paperwork required to represent the country while still keeping their valuable Dutch passports, a wave of new arrivals have bolstered this Suriname squad for these games, allowing them to get off to a rocking start to these World Cup qualifiers. 

Through their first 3 games of this 1st round, they’ve won all 3 of their matches, outscoring their opponents 15-0 in the process, showing that they have the credentials to be a potentially pretty good team in CONCACAF.

On the other side, there’s Canada. Much like Suriname, they’re a rising power in the region, but unlike their foes, this Canadian team has been a constant in CONCACAF for decades, but were a team that often failed to take that next step forward in big games. 

But thanks to a wave of talent coming both from within the country, as well as some talented dual-nationals joining from outside of it, as well, they too have amassed quite the group, one that people hope can change that narrative. That’s also manifested itself through their first 3 games of qualifiers, as they’ve won all 3 of their matches, outscoring opponents 23-1 along the way. 

So thanks to the bright starts from both countries, it has set the table for a grand finale. As the two teams that are yet to play each other in Group B, they’re now getting set to play in Chicago on Tuesday in that pivotal group decider. 

With each team currently both sitting at 9 points, whoever wins that game will then move onto that 2nd round, where they’ll take on the Group E winners in a two-legged series for a spot in the final round of World Cup qualifiers, the ‘Octoganal’, the final frontier of qualifiers in the region. 

As Canada looks to get to that stage for the first time since the 1990s, and Suriname for the first time in their history, it makes this game even bigger, as both teams believe that they’ve got the credentials to compete with the best that this region has to offer for a spot in the World Cup. 

Instead, they now get set to do battle with each other for a right to continue that quest, with the loser going home. Canada comes in with a slight advantage, because thanks to their superior goal differential, they can win the group with a draw, but they’re still wary that a loss will send them home packing, ending their journey to the 2022 World Cup much earlier than anticipated. 

Here’s our tactical preview for that game, as we break down some things to watch out for on both sides ahead of Tuesday. 

Suriname scouting report: 

And to start, it’s important to analyze what Suriname has been doing that has worked so well for them so far. 

Stylistically, it’s nothing groundbreaking, either, which is fascinating. Playing in a 4-3-3, this Suriname team has quickly proven to be quite frustrating to play against, sitting deep and sending numbers forward on the counter, relying on their experienced spine of players to snatch results. 

It might not be the most exciting formula, but it’s a very efficient one, and based on the squad that they’ve got at their disposal, it’s not the worst approach for them to try to have. 

Looking at their roster, their strongest positions are probably across the backline, and on the wings, so it makes a lot of sense for them to try and best capitalize on those areas of their roster as much as possible. 

Starting in goal, they’ve got Anderlecht’s Warner Hahn, who at 28, is in the prime of his career, and is the likely #1. Minutes might have been limited for him at Anderlecht so far this year, but he’s been solid for Suriname in his 3 appearances, so look for him to start again on Tuesday. 

At the back, Galatasasray’s Ryan Donk is the main man and captain, usually starting at the heart of the defence. Alongside him, Den Haag’s Shaquille Pinas and Slovan Bratislava’s Myenty Abena have rotated in at centre back, while at full back, AZ Alkmaar’s Ramon Leeuwin, Gronigen’s Damil Denkerlui and Feyenoord’s Ridgeciano Haps are the likely candidates to start. 

Further up the pitch, Inter Miami’s Kelvin Leerdam has played more of an industrial role, shifting from his usual full back spot into midfield, while Maccabi Haifa’s Tjaronn Chery and Apollon’s Diego Biseswar have been the regulars alongside him in that position. Almere City’s Ryan Kollwijk has also deputized in the middle, as has BB Erzumspor’s Mitchell Donald, so they also look like potential options for Suriname to lean on, as well. 

Up front, Union Berlin’s Sheraldo Becker is the star man, having scored 2 goals on his Suriname debut this past weekend against Bermuda, while Bnei Sakhnin’s Nigel Hasselbaink is also a danger man, having scored back-to-back hat tricks heading into this game. Elsewhere, Rotherham United’s Florian Josefzoon, Al-Fateh’s Mitchell te Vrede, Beitar Jerusalem’s Gleofilo Vlijter and Dugopolje’s Ivenzo Comvalius seem like the likeliest candidates to compete for spots alongside Becker and Hasselbaink. 

So all-in-all, it’s quite the team, as some of the team names mentioned may or may not have jumped out at the page for those a bit more familiar with the European scene. There’s a lot of solid clubs in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Israel, Turkey on their squad list, showing the sort of talent that they’ve got in this squad. 

“This is a good team,” Canadian head coach John Herdman said on Saturday. “We’re going to have to be at our A-game, and we’re going to have to use as many tricks as we can to make sure that our quality can really come out on the field.”

And what’s most impressive about this list of talent is how quickly they’ve come together here, as heading into this game, only 5 players on the squad have played more than 4 games for the country at the senior level, with most of their regulars being relatively untested together. 

Thanks to their nearly unprecedented recruitment drive, they’ve been able to assemble quite the team on short notice, quickly making them a formidable foe for a team like Canada. 

“Suriname are a completely different team now,” Herdman said back on May 29th. “They are a top 6/top 8 team in CONCACAF in terms of the quality of players, so I don’t think anyone predicted that in nine months after (the original World Cup qualifiers draw), they’d have 15 new players, all who have played at the highest levels of the Eredivisie.”

“I think with their team, it’s more about where they’re at right now than where they’ve been, because they’ve got experienced guys that have seen a lot in football, so that brings a new and exciting challenge.”

So with that in mind, here’s what to expect from them on Tuesday. 

Based on what we’ve seen from them in their first 3 games, this should be the group that’s expected to start against Canada, barring a few small changes here and there. 

Suriname did experiment with a 3-4-3 to start qualifiers, but have rocked with a 4-3-3 in back-to-back games, so that’s the formation to expect from them on Tuesday. 

Offensively, they’ll look to funnel the ball to Becker and whoever partners him on the wing as much as possible, allowing them to attack the channels whenever possible. The full backs will remain rather cautious, while the midfield will pick and choose moments to join the attack, putting a lot of the onus on the wingers to progress the ball. 

From there, the goal is to either isolate Becker or the other wingers with an opposing full back or a centre back, allowing them to create a chance, either for themselves or for Hasselbaink up front. If not, they’re quite proficient on corners and wide set pieces, which is also something to watch out for. 

That’s reflected in the stats, as Hasselbaink leads the team with 6 goals, followed by Becker and Pinas, with 2 each, while Donk, Alberg, Josefzoon and Vlijter all sit with 1 each. 

And you may wonder, how might they be able to attack so proficiently while sending such few bodies forward? 

That’s because defensively, Suriname does their hardest work, sitting deep in that 4-3-3, with the defensive and midfield lines doing what they can to keep bodies out of the middle. By doing that, they invite bodies forward, before sending their dangermen into transition, where they did the most damage. 

Even against the likes of Bermuda, Aruba and the Cayman Islands, where Suriname was the more talented team, they sat very deep without the ball, choosing to punish their opponents on the counter. 

For Canada, that’s not ideal, as that’s probably the venue via which they struggle the most defensively, but offensively, the fact that they’ll get to hold onto the ball might bode well for players such as Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David, Mark Anthony Kaye and Richie Laryea, in particular. 

So from Suriname’s perspective, their goal will be to limit space in central areas for Canadian attackers defensively, while trying to exploit any gaps opened up behind the Canadian full backs offensively. 

It’ll be interesting to see how that ends up working out, because as we’ve seen, Canada’s flexible 3-4-3 is set up to try and create the sort of overloads required to break down those low blocks, but as a counterpoint, their defence does allow a lot of the kind of loose chances Suriname will look to pounce on. 

Canada’s head coach John Herdman looks on during their clash with Aruba (Canada Soccer/Douglas DeFelice)

Players and battles to watch: 

As a result of all of that, a few battles and players will reign key in the tactical battle between these two sides. 

Here’s what to keep an eye out for. 

3 players to watch tactically:             

Suriname:

Ryan Donk:

First, it’s important to highlight the role of Suriname’s de-facto leader and captain, the 35-year-old Donk, who will be expected to play a big role in this game. 

Deployed as a centre back in 2 out of 3 Suriname’s games, he’ll likely occupy a similar role on Tuesday, helping organize his backline. 

Fresh off of a season where he played 32 games in Galatasaray’s SuperLig push, one they only lost to Besiktas on goal difference, he’s an experienced defender, one who knows how to defend space. 

Having spent time as a defensive midfielder, as well, he is also comfortable on the ball, but with how Suriname build-up play, and Canada’s aggressive press, don’t expect to see too much of him on the ball in this game 

That doesn’t mean that Canada should lay off him, either, as he did have 4 assists this year for Galatasaray, showing his offensive proficiency. 

Along with his threat off of set pieces, he’ll also look to impose himself offensively when he can for Suriname, but make no mistake, his job is to organize and shepherd a defence that hasn’t played that many minutes together as a group. 

Ridgeciano Haps:

Elsewhere, Haps will play a big role in adding stability to this backline, while also adding a bit more punch further up the field. 

Having played 21 games for Feyenoord this year, helping them finish 5th in the Eredivisie, the 27-year-old Haps comes into this camp in good form, having scored 3 goals and chipped in 3 assists, while also playing a role in his team conceding 3rd-fewest goals in the league. 

He only made his debut for Suriname a few days ago against Bermuda, so he’s one of the newest of the new recruits, but he should add a lot to this Suriname team. 

Offensively, if he can combine with Becker up that left side, Suriname could get even more dangerous in transition, which is an interesting thought considering how conservatively they look to play defensively.

Obviously, his main role will be to help hold the fort at the back, especially considering his team’s MO, but his ability to get forward does pose an interesting threat for Canada to keep an eye on if he does start to do it more often.

Sheraldo Becker:

Lastly, Becker is the big name to keep an eye on for Suriname, as the Union Berlin winger quickly announced himself to his new national team on his debut against Bermuda, scoring a brace in a 6-0 win. 

Fresh off of a season where he helped Berlin to a massive 7th placed finish, scoring 3 goals and chipping in 3 assists in 18 games, he’ll be expected to do a lot of the dirty work offensively for Suriname. 

That was evident against Bermuda, as most of their best chances began with Becker running at a defender from wide areas, before cutting inside and trying to shoot or set up a teammate. 

When given space, he knows how to attack channels, forcing defenders to commit to him, manipulating the areas they’d leave open when trying to close him down. 

Because of that, Suriname will look to play through him as much as possible, using him as a safety valve, especially with how deep he sits. 

So if he is allowed to get the ball in good areas and run at guys, watch out, as he’ll be a handful for the Canadian defenders to deal with if that were to happen. 

Canada:

Alphonso Davies: 

But over on Canada, they’ve got someone who’s seen a bit of Becker at the club level, and that’s Davies, the World XI calibre full back, who’s duelled Becker’s Berlin over in Germany with his Bayern Munich. 

For Canada, though, he’ll be expected to continue playing in more of a free role in that 3-4-3/3-5-2 that they play in attack, giving him the freedom to run at guys down the left side. 

Either by overlapping or underlapping, Davies is comfortable attacking whatever channel is presented to him, as his combination of speed and footwork makes him both a threat in central and wide areas. 

Against a Suriname defence that will sit deep, it’ll mostly be from wide areas on Tuesday, but that isn’t the worst thing in the world, especially if he can create enough space to deliver in the low crosses that he’s gotten so good at. 

Without a doubt, he’s Canada’s best and most important player right now, and maximizing him tactically will give his team an edge in a game like this, and Herdman has recognized that, letting him run free in the last few games. 

And while his biggest impact might come offensively, keep an eye out for him defensively, as his speed may prove to be key to shutting down Suriname’s push to try and go down the wings on more than a few occasions. 

Mark Anthony Kaye:

Elsewhere, Kaye is a name to watch in midfield, as Canada will look to him to help them control the one area of the pitch where they appear to have a pretty big advantage. 

In a similar vein, Stephen Eustaquio will be a name to keep an eye on, but Kaye’s offensive skills make him the player to watch, as his ability to play line-breaking passes will be key in breaking down Suriname’s rigid defensive set-up. 

We saw a glimpse of that against Aruba, where Kaye put up a man-of-the-match performance by providing 2 assists and countless vital progressive passes, and he’ll need to do the same against Suriname. 

With the likes of Eustaquio and Samuel Piette likely to be tasked with holding down the fort defensively, that’ll allow Kaye to push forward and do what he does best, and that’s passing the ball into forward areas. 

If Canada is to break down this Suriname team, Kaye is going to have to do a lot of that on Tuesday, which is why we’ve highlighted him as a key player here. 

Richie Laryea: 

Lastly, Laryea rounds off the Canadian players to watch, as the Toronto FC right back will have quite the task on his hands against this Suriname team. 

Defensively, he’ll have to keep a close eye on the dangerous Becker, but offensively he also plays a big role in helping Canada attack, giving them the width needed to avoid being too left-side heavy. 

Considering that he’ll also be tasked with Becker, you do have to wonder if he’ll get some cover in front of him, in the form of, say, a Tajon Buchanan, for example, but if not, he’ll have a lot of work to do running up and down the pitch on his own. 

And to be fair to him, it’s a role that he can do, but that’s not to say that it’ll be an easy one. 

If he’s able to do it, though, it’ll put his team in a good position, one that helps them win, highlighting his importance to this team. 

Key tactical battles:

Canada celebrates after scoring versus Aruba (Canada Soccer/Twitter)

So with all of that in mind, here are a few positional battles to keep an eye out for in this game. If any team is able to win 2 or more of these battles, they should put themselves in a pretty good position to win the game, making it interesting to see how both team’s coaches will elect to approach these duels on Tuesday. 

Canada’s midfield attack vs Suriname’s midfield defence:

First, there’s this key midfield battle, which should decide how this game goes territorially. 

On paper, Canada’s got the more well-rounded group here, so they have the overall advantage, but Suriname’s proficiency at sitting deep and throwing bodies into the middle of the park gives them the punch required to potentially hold Canada at bay. 

On the flipside, Canada’s also got the defensive chops from the likes of Kaye, Eustaquio and Piette, whereas Suriname’s attacking impetus has been limited at best in midfield, meaning that this battle will likely be decided by how well Canada is able to play through that Suriname midfield wall offensively. 

A big part of Suriname’s game is keeping opponents out of these central areas, while a big part of Canada’s game is generating attacks through those central areas, making it fascinating to see how this battle plays out on Tuesday. 

Becker vs Laryea:

Next, there’s possibly what might be the biggest individual battle, and that’s Becker vs Laryea, which is expected to be one heck of a duel down that Suriname left side. 

With Becker’s desire to isolate full backs in transition, he’s going to have his hands full with Laryea, who has the speed to handle attackers like Becker. 

But with Laryea’s importance to the Canadian attack, that adds complexity to that assignment, as he’ll have to balance knowing when to get forward with staying back and not allowing too much space for Becker. 

And with how deep Suriname sits, that leaves Becker to stay up the pitch, which could force Laryea to drop a little deeper than he’d probably like. Theoretically, he could also leave the assignment to the right centre back when Canada shifts into a back 3, but with the limited speed on Canada’s back line, doing that comes with risk. 

A solution might be for Canada’s centre backs to play more of a lower block, while leaving a midfielder such as Eustaquio or Kaye to operate as a bit of a shield, giving them a bit of Becker insurance, but they’ll have to weigh the potential offensive limitations a move like that might have. 

Either way, the fate of this battle appears to lie between Canada’s hands, and how they handle it will determine if they’re able to win it. No matter what, expect Becker to want to make things happen down the flanks, but Canada will have to find a way to limit that, while not sacrificing much offensively, which is where Laryea will be relied upon to step up. 

Davies vs Suriname’s right back:

Lastly, on the other side of the pitch, we’ve got another important battle down the flanks, and that’s between Davies and whoever Suriname chooses to defend him at right back. 

Either way, Davies will have the advantage here, but Suriname does have a few tricks up their sleeve to employ, with their clogging up of midfield areas and the potential for a Davies double-team sitting as the two obvious options. 

They’ll have to be careful, though, as Davies has seemed comfortable in double-teams in the past, and the more bodies you put on Davies, the more space that someone like a Kaye, a Laryea or a David gets elsewhere on the pitch. 

So much as the Laryea vs Becker battle will likely be determined by Canada, this battle lies in Suriname’s hands, as their strategy to stop Davies will likely have ramifications somewhere else on the pitch. 

They could choose to fully nullify this battle, but that could open up Canada to win the midfield and Laryea vs Becker battles, for example, giving them more of an overall edge. 

Considering all of that, the best approach for Suriname is probably to just force him into wide areas as much as possible, while for Canada it will be to get Davies to either cut into the inside channels, or forcing double and triple teams that opens up space for his teammates in the middle. 

Looking Forward:

So all-in-all, there’s a lot to look forward to tactically in this game. 

As seen here, there are a lot of talented individuals on both sides, so the key for both managers will be to get the most out of their players while also limiting their opponents, putting a lot of emphasis on the tactics that either manager elects to run with.

With that in mind, it’ll be interesting to now see what direction both managers choose to take, especially having seen what they have of their opponents through the first 3 games of this group. 

For Suriname, they probably won’t (and shouldn’t) change too much from their approach, as it has worked well so far, and offers their best shot at success against Canada, but for Canada, they’ve got a lot more to consider. 

Plus, as the favourites, eyes will be on them, making this a big chance for them to prove what they can do in these sorts of big games going forward, because if they win this one, a lot more will be on the way. 

Having done the work required to get up to this point, the heavy-lifting starts now, and the tactics will play a big role in that, starting on Tuesday with this game. 

Up Next: Canada vs Suriname, Tuesday, June 8th, 2021, 18:00 PDT, 21:00 EDT (Soldier Field, Chicago)   

Cover photo via: Canada Soccer/Douglas DeFelice

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