Canada Soccer’s Men’s National Team took on Suriname in a crucial CONCACAF World Cup qualifier on Tuesday. Here’s what stood out from that game, one in which they cruised to a 4-0 win, booking a spot in the next round of qualifying in the process.
When it mattered most, they found a way to rise to the occasion.
Having cruised through their first 3 games of the 1st round of CONCACAF’s World Cup qualifiers, winning by a combined score of 23-1 in the process, Canada Soccer’s Men’s National Team knew that all of that would be forgotten if they lost on Tuesday, when they took on Suriname in a pivotal Group B decider.
With a win, they had the chance to punch their ticket to the 2nd round of World Cup qualifiers, but if they lost, they would’ve headed home there and then, ending their road to the 2022 World Cup much earlier than they would’ve ever anticipated.
But thanks to a big 4-0 victory over Suriname, they live to fight another week now, as they progressed to the 2nd round of qualifiers, where they’ll take on Haiti in a two-legged series starting this weekend. With a spot in CONCACAF’s final round of World Cup qualifiers, the Octo, on the line for the winner of that series, even bigger games loom now, but had they lost against Suriname, they could’ve written those matches off completely.
As they look to return to the final round for the first time since the 1990s, they knew what they had to do in order to get the job done versus Suriname on Tuesday, allowing them to continue their journey towards the World Cup.
“We knew coming into this game, we knew our situation, we had to win this game,” Canada’s Alphonso Davies said after the game.
They might not have played their best game against Suriname on Tuesday, but they did what they had to do in order to get a comfortable result, showing the sort of resolve many aren’t used to seeing from them.
For a Canadian program that has consistently found a way to fall just short in the big moments, they managed to put their past behind them in this game, allowing them to carve out a famous memory.
“It was lovely,” Canadian head coach, John Herdman, said post-match. “Just proud of the players, we knew it was going to be a tough test, they were riding a bit of a high coming out of their last game.”
Now, as mentioned earlier, stiffer tests await them, starting this weekend, where Canada will take on their bogey team, Haiti, but until then, they’ll look to ride the positive storm that this sort of victory can bring.
So heading into that Haiti game, here are some things that stood out from this 4-0 win over Suriname on Tuesday, one where Canada truly started to flex their muscles as a potential giant of CONCACAF in their victory.
A slow start nearly proves costly:
And to start, it’s worth noting how close Suriname came to spoiling the party, as Canada came out of the gates quite slowly.
With both teams seeming well aware of what was at stake in this game, the first few minutes were quite cagey, leaving for some close calls at either end.
One such chance was a Sheraldo Becker strike inside 20 minutes that struck the underside of the crossbar, which was an opportunity that he probably should’ve buried, leaving Canada off the hook for their slow start.
Along with a few other close calls in the Canadian box, as Suriname desperately chased the opening goal that they needed in order to progress, Canada came close to wobbling,but they didn’t break, allowing them to remain in the game.
After that early storm, Canada eventually recovered, finding their legs towards the end of the first half, but before then, there were some shaky moments, leaving fans on edge as the minutes ticked on.
“We knew the first 15 minutes were a cup final for both teams, and they were going to bring the intensity,” Herdman said. “I’m proud of the guys because I said it at half time, those 8 minutes, where they were getting set-piece after set-piece, we were wobbling, but the guys stayed in the fight, and we needed that.”
The Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David show:
And from there, with Canada up on the ropes, in came the Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David show.
As Canada’s two best players, you only could wonder if they’d make a prominent appearance in this game, and thankfully, they didn’t disappoint in that regard.
To start, act 1 came all the way in the 37th minute.
Having found a bit of space inside the Suriname final third, David played a speculative through ball into space.
It seemed like an overly ambitious through ball, but alas, he knew that Davies had already turned on the jets, allowing him to meet the pass in full flight, bursting through the Suriname defence and slotting home all in one motion to give Canada the lead.
That was just the beginning.
In the second half, Davies turned provider for acts 2 and 3, repaying David for the earlier assist. First, in the 59th minute, he cut inside and played the sort of through ball that one would expect from a #10, not a left back, allowing David to take on Suriname’s Warner Hahn 1v1 in goal, where David did what anyone who’s ever seen him play knew that he was going to do – slot the ball home confidently.
Then, in the 72nd minute, Davies went on more of a Davies-esque run, slaloming through a couple of Suriname defenders before playing a cutback for David to finish, giving the marksman his brace.
Along with a penalty that David later converted to complete his hat trick, it was a complete performance from the two Canadian starboys, who stepped up at the perfect time to take over a game that was starting to look like it might slip away from them.
For Herdman, having them step up when they did was everything that you could dream about as a coach, as he continues to marvel over having the ability to be able to coach these two special players on a daily basis.
“I thought David scoring the hat trick was terrific,” Herdman said. “He got a few good chances in the first half, and as a coach you’re always wondering, is it going to be his night? But he’s been through some real big moments now in his career where he can make it his night regardless of how it starts.”
“And then Davies, what can you say, he’s just top class, I mean there’s just another level there.”
And speaking of Davies, it’s worth noting that this was just a continuation of a tactical process that has seen Herdman begin to deploy the Bayern Munich man as more of a wingback for Canada, allowing him to best harness his talents.
Thanks to that, he’s now scored 4 goals and added 5 assists through 4 games of World Cup qualifiers, playing a big role in Canada’s qualification through to the next round.
For Herdman, it’s only added to his desire to want to keep him at the position, especially seeing what he can bring to the team there, not only offensively, but also defensively.
“I like Davies as a wing back,” Herdman said. “I think it’s a really good balanced position, therefore he’s able to contribute in the attack and on the defence, and as you can see get closer to the box, but recover when needed.”
Going forward, as long as it means getting the most out of Davies, and in turn, also getting the most of David, it only makes sense to continue that further down that road.
When they’re on their game, Davies and David can take over a fixture, and they proved that again on Tuesday, showing why they’re not only Canada’s dynamic duo of the future, but also of the present.
“Over the years, Jonathan and I, we’ve found that bond,” Davies said. “We found that connection, and that’s what we try to show every time that we play.”
Alistair Johnston and Scott Kennedy step up at the back:
But while David and Davies stole the show offensively, it’s important to highlight how vital Scott Kennedy and Alistair Johnston were to the cause defensively, allowing the two starboys to do what they did at the other end of the pitch.
Playing in their first and third competitive matches for Canada, respectively, Kennedy and Johnston put up big shifts at centre back, allowing their team to keep a huge clean sheet.
First, there was Kennedy, who was making his Canadian debut at all levels against Suriname, and he didn’t look out of place whatsoever while doing so.
Sharing the field with players who are either playing or have played at some massive leagues in Europe, the defender currently plying his trade in the 2.Bundesliga did not skip a beat on Tuesday, putting together a tidy performance.
From his sturdy work on the defensive side of things, where he provided good cover for Alphonso Davies as the left centre back in a 3-5-2, to the offensive side of his game, where he played some good balls forward to help get Canada’s attack rolling, Kennedy was a two-way force in this one.
And that’s exciting. For someone who’s still only 24, he’s still not done growing as a player, making him a potential player to watch for the National Team going forward.
Then, there was Johnston.
In just his third cap for Canada, Johnston had to play a bit of a new role, sitting as the right centre back in that back 3, but to the surprise of many, he looked fantastic in that role, looking like he’s played there for years.
Acting as cover for the attacking Richie Laryea at right wing back, he rarely set a foot wrong all night defensively, keeping Suriname’s attackers out of space down that side, showing the sort of defensive chops that we’ve become used to seeing from him with Nashville in MLS.
But offensively is where he surprised Canadians. Acting as a sort of ball-playing centre back, he played some sublime passes, including one to Jonathan David that nearly gave Canada their opening goal.
For a Canadian team that’s looking to augment their centre back pool, Johnston has now opened up a lot of questions, as he looks like someone who could make a lot of noise in a back 3 going forward, giving them more options at a position where there aren’t many.
Playing Kennedy and Johnston in a set-up like this could’ve easily backfired for Herdman, but instead, they both stepped up the occasion in a big way, playing a quiet role in this Canadian victory.
“I want to shout out the performances of Scott Kennedy and Alistair Johnston,” Herdman said. “Kennedy stepped up for the first time in his professional career, playing against some experienced pros. These guys are good players, they’re wiley professionals, so I thought Johnston and Kennedy for me had a top-level performance tonight.”
“And then on top of what they did to keep the clean sheets, there were some of the passes from Johnston to find David in the first half, and Kennedy to find Davies, so I thought there was just some real good chemistry there.”
Shifting gears for a second, however, it’s worth talking a bit more about that 3-5-2 and how it worked so well for Canada in this game.
Against a Suriname side that had done most of its damage down the flanks through their first 3 games of World Cup qualifiers, it allowed Canada to limit space in those areas, making it hard for their opponents to get behind them in transition.
Thanks to the mobility of Johnston and Kennedy, along with the leadership of Doneil Henry in the middle, it allowed Canada to mop up most of Suriname’s best opportunities before they became anything, especially in the 2nd half.
There were a few hairy moments early in the game, especially off of set pieces, which are Suriname’s bread and butter, but for the most part, Canada’s back 3 did what they needed to do defensively, which is something that doesn’t always happen in that kind of formation.
“We just made sure to have that positional superiority,” Herdman said. “And (cover) the width of the goal with the 3 centre backs, and we had the channels managed, we’ve seen a lot work from them in terms of trying to isolate Becker 1 on 1.”
But while Canada’s defence mostly did what they needed to do in this game, a 3-5-2 was always designed with offence in mind, and that was reflected as the game went on.
With Alphonso Davies and Richie Laryea deployed as wing backs, Canada tried to get them running from deep whenever possible, causing headaches for the Suriname full backs on a few occasions.
Along with Cyle Larin and Jonathan David acting as outlets up top, it gave Canada plenty of options offensively when they did get into the final third, especially as Suriname’s players started to wear down.
That doesn’t mean that there weren’t a few holes in the tactical schema, however.
The most important of those? The midfield.
Unfortunately for Canada, they didn’t get the sort of dominance that we’re used to seeing from them in that area of the pitch, and that was most obvious in the first half, especially defensively.
With Stephen Eustaquio, Samuel Piette and Jonathan Osorio deployed in a 3-man midfield, it was quite surprising to see, as the three are all players with plenty of quality, but for whatever reason, it just wasn’t their night together on Tuesday.
Osorio, in particular, was showing the effects of some of the rust that can accumulate with all of the injuries that he’s had this year, struggling to make the sort of passes that we’re all too used to seeing from him.
Along with a quiet night from Piette, who wasn’t as assured in his forward passing as he could’ve been, it made it hard for Canada to play through the midfield, which is supposed to be something that they’re well known for.
The good news is that those 3 players all have that sort of ability in their locker, with this being more of an off night than a true indication of their abilities, so this shouldn’t be much of a long-term worry for Canada.
Considering that their best two-way midfielder, Mark Anthony Kaye, started the game on the bench, and made a big impact in the 25 minutes that he got on the field, there is a lot more to come from them in that area of their game.
So overall, it was a solid tactical performance from Canada, who mostly nullified Suriname, and had a few moments of brilliance offensively.
Seeing that their struggles mostly came down to individual performances, instead of tactics, that should fix itself in time for the Haiti game, in which this 3-5-2 system could be certainly worth continuing.
For a Canadian team that has long been without an identity, it appears this formation appears to be one that allows some of their best players to get into a position to express themselves, which is why Canada has every reason to want to use it more often going forward.
In the Mixer:
Elsewhere, here are some other bits and bobs that stood out from the game.
-Shout out to Canada for keeping their 3rd consecutive clean sheet in this game. They probably should’ve conceded a goal at some point in this game, but for a team that has struggled defensively these past few years, it must feel nice to pick up a few shutouts in some big games, giving confidence to their defenders.
-Now, Canada looks set to travel to Haiti, where they’d play on Saturday in the first game of their two-legged series. Having been eliminated by Haiti in the 2019 Gold Cup, this is a good chance for Canada to avenge itself from that, so you’d have to imagine that they’ll be up for this one.
-Then, it looks like Canada will host the second leg in Chicago, as Herdman confirmed that his team will continue to use the city as their base of operations for the next week as they manage this two-legged series.
-With his hat trick, Jonathan David has now scored 2 hat tricks and has 15 goals in 14 games for Canada. Don’t look now, but he’s already 1 goal off of breaking into the top 5 of all-time Canadian Men’s National Team goalscorers. You can only imagine he does that sooner rather than later here.
-Elsewhere, Alphonso Davies is 1 assist from surpassing Dwayne De Rosario for the most assists in Canadian Men’s National Team History. He’s only 20 years old. Canada’s got a gem on their hands.
So now, Canada must immediately turn their focus to Saturday, where an away clash against a tough Haitian side now awaits them.
With it looking likely that Canada will have to travel to Haiti for that game, it’ll be interesting to see how Canada copes with having to make that trek, which is unfortunately one of the more dangerous treks in the region at the moment from both a health and political standpoint.
For Canada, they won’t care, as they’ll head there with one thing on their mind, and that’s winning, but at the same time, you can only hope that everything goes well while they’re down there.
But as they continued their long and winding journey towards the 2022 World Cup, these are the sorts of journeys that they expected to have to make, so they’ll look to make the most of this opportunity.
As the road to 2022 continues, they know what’s at stake, and they’ll look to take care of business in this next round, especially considering what might lie ahead of them if they do win.
Up Next: Canada vs Haiti, Saturday, June 12th, 14:00 PDT, 17:00 EDT (Stade Sylvio Cator, Port-Au-Prince)
Cover Photo via: Canada Soccer/Douglas DeFelice