Suriname Switch-up: Breaking down the tactics that shaped the CanMNT’s 4-0 win over Suriname

Canada Soccer’s Men’s National Team picked up a massive win on Tuesday, as they beat Suriname 4-0, booking their ticket to the next round of CONCACAF’s World Cup qualifiers in the process. Here’s our tactical breakdown of the game, as Canada used a few slight adjustments to pave a path towards victory. 

It might not have been a massive change, but it certainly had an impact. 

Wary of the firepower that Suriname had at their disposal, Canada Soccer’s Men’s National Team decided to try something new ahead of their pivotal CONCACAF World Cup qualifier on Tuesday, and it paid off big time, allowing them to pick up a commanding 4-0 victory over a team that many felt could give Canada a stiff test. 

“It was lovely,” Canadian head coach, John Herdman, said post-match of the win. “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.”

And what’s most fascinating about the result is those changes that Canada made in order to make it happen, as they elected to try out a new system, and it worked to surprisingly good results. 

By shifting to a true 3-5-2, one that operated as a 3 at the back in possession, and a 5 at the back defensively, Canada was able to control the match against Suriname, allowing them to cruise to the win. 

Having mostly stuck with a rigid 4-4-2 defensively, with more of a 3-4-3- when in possession, it was surprising to see them shift away from that, but as we’ll see, it paid off big time for them. 

Now, thanks to that, they get set to play Haiti this weekend in a two-legged home-and-away series, one that will allow them to progress to the final round of CONCACAF’s World Cup qualifiers, the ‘Octoganal’, with a win. 

But until then, there’s a lot of Canada to analyze from this game leading into that next match, so without any further ado, here’s a look at how this Canada vs Suriname game went from a tactical standpoint. 

Canada’s tactical gamble pays off:

And to start, it’s important to mention how much of a gamble switching to the 3-5-2 was. 

You just knew that a switch to an aggressive formation like that would pay off offensively, as it eventually did, but you just never knew how it was going to look defensively, which was a big worry against a team like Suriname, who has some offensive firepower in their lineup. 

By playing 2 inexperienced centre backs in Scott Kennedy and Alistair Johnston, the former of which was making his national team debut, you could only wonder if this sort of aggressive tactic could even pay off, but much to the surprise of many, it worked wonders for Canada. 

Thanks to the mobility of Johnston and Kennedy, along with the marshalling of Doneil Henry in the middle, plus some excellent back pressure from the midfield trio of Jonathan Osorio, Samuel Piette and Stephen Eustaquio, Canada gave Suriname next to nothing offensively on Tuesday. 

Whenever they could, they put bodies behind the ball, much like in the image below, making it hard to break through their defensive wall. 

That was reflected statistically, as Suriname only mustered 7 shots, with only 1 of those actually hitting the target, showing how much they struggled to play through this sturdy Canadian 11. 

“We just made sure to have that positional superiority,” Herdman said of the 3 at the back. “And (cover) the width of the goal with the 3 centre backs, and we had the channels managed, we’ve seen a lot of work from them in terms of trying to isolate (Sheraldo) Becker 1 on 1.”

But while a lot of the focus was on the Canadian defence, and rightfully so, it was nice to see that the whole Canadian team was committed to the defensive cause on Tuesday, as that was where they really shined. 

As seen by the screenshot below, whenever Suriname got the ball, they faced a swarm of red shirts whenever they were on the ball, with Canada making sure to apply pressure as high up the pitch as possible. 

From there, they often forced Suriname into making a poor decision, one that allowed them to win the ball back before even having to retreat into their defensive shape, helping them control the game. 

Just take this clip, as an example, one of many where Canada gave Suriname little time to breathe in possession, forcing them to give up possession before even making it into their half.

Thanks to that sort of consistent aggressive pressure, which was maintained for well over 80 minutes, it made it nearly impossible for Suriname to put together extended periods of possession, making it hard for them to find any sort of offensive rhythm. 

And if they did make it through that first wave of pressure, Kennedy, Henry and Johnston barely set a foot wrong, either, only adding to Suriname’s offensive frustration. 

If there was one complaint about Canada, it would be their set-piece defending, as they gave up their biggest chance of the night via that avenue. 

Even more dangerous was the fact that this chance came when the game was still 0-0, which could’ve been a game-changer, but they survived it, while showing that if there is one area of their defensive game that still needs close attention, it’s how they defend these sort of set plays. 

But while Canada’s defence was mostly exemplary from front to back, what was most interesting about this system switch was how it impacted their offence, as a few of their players seemed unlocked by the change. 

The two obvious beneficiaries were wing backs, Richie Laryea and Alphonso Davies, who had full license to run forward at every opportunity, giving Canada the numbers that they needed in attack. 

First, they’d start from deeper positions, dropping into Canada’s half in possession, as you can sort of see below. 

Then, when Canada pushed up the field, they looked to get as deep into the opponent’s half as possible. 

From there, they’d take a free role in their team’s offence, floating in and out of space freely, combining nicely with their 3 midfielders, as well as their 2 forwards, Jonathan David and Cyle Larin, which we see examples of in the next 2 clips. 

Thanks to that, it allowed Canada to be very fluid in attack, making it hard for the Suriname defenders to read their attacking sequences. 

In a 3-5-2 that allowed for the front 7 to move freely in attack, there were several instances where Canada put together extended bits of possession before making a penetrating pass into the corresponding space opened up by such play. 

That allowed them to quietly dominate a game in which many expected them to face stiff opposition defensively, and based on what we saw, that appeared to come down to what they were able to do thanks to that 3-5-2. 

“The system we played was good for our wing backs,” Davies said of the 3-5-2. “For us to get forward, to attack, and that’s what we did. I’m happy to get a goal and (some) assists. I mean we haven’t played the back 5, it’s a new system to us, but we’re all professional footballers and we figured it out pretty quickly.”

Moving forward, it all of a sudden makes the formation one worth considering using more, as it was surprising to see how comfortable Canada looked in it. 

It might not have been apparent on the first watch, but when rewatching the match, it was clear to see that Canada quietly but thoroughly dominated this game, and that was thanks to the 3-5-2. 

Canada’s head coach, John Herdman, looks on during action on Tuesday (Canada Soccer/Abel Arciniega)

Reviewing the key players and battles:

Elsewhere, here are some key players and battles that we highlighted ahead of the game in our tactical preview, as we’ll take a quick look at how they fared on Tuesday.  

Players to watch:

First, we got our players to watch, 3 coming from each team, seeing how they actually performed versus what we expected from them coming into this game. 


Ryan Donk:

And to start, we’ve got Suriname’s rock at the back, Donk, who had a mixed bag performance for his team at the back. 

He wasn’t necessarily bad, but he certainly wasn’t playing at the level that he can play at, and that was reflected in the scoreline. 

That was also shown in the statistics, as he did well to win 4 out of 6 of his aerial duels, as well as 2 out of 3 of his ground duels, but there were a few instances where he got beat in behind with speed, as he struggled to hold his defensive line together on a few through balls.

Plus, in possession, he really struggled, only completing 33 out of 43 (77%) of his passes, which is far below what you’d expect from a player of his quality. 

So considering all of that, credit to Canada for honing in on him with their tactics. He’s always been more of an aerial threat, both offensively and defensively, so Canada made sure to keep the ball on the floor as much as possible, forcing him to defend that way. 

Along with the pressure that they applied on him in possession, it overall made for an uncomfortable night for the Suriname centre back, who probably would want to take this game back if he could. 

Sheraldo Becker:

Next, there was Suriname’s offensive dangerman, Sheraldo Becker, who also had a pretty anonymous night in the Suriname attack. 

That wasn’t his fault, though, as he was just starved of service, only making 23 touches, which didn’t allow him to do all that much. 

If anything, he made the most of the touches that he had, hitting the crossbar with one of his shots, while also setting up this fantastic chance out of nothing that probably should’ve been buried home by his teammate. 

So here, much as with Donk, credit to Canada for nullifying Becker, not allowing him to do what he does best, which is to attack space with the ball at his feet. 

Ridgeciano Haps:

Lastly, there was Haps, who had a solid but unspectacular performance at left back for Suriname. 

That’s reflected in the numbers, as he overall had a mixed night on both sides of the ball for his country.

Offensively, he did have a solid 65 touches, making 30 out of 38 passes (78%) and completing his only dribble, which for a full back, isn’t the worst output in the world. 

Where he struggled was defensively, as he only won 5 out of 10 of his duels, showing that when he did get stuck in, it wasn’t often that successfully. He did have 2 tackles and 4 interceptions, and none of Canada’s goals came down his side, but Suriname needed him to be great in this game, and he was just average. 

Again, much like with his teammates, that is as much on how Canada’s system limited the strengths of this Suriname team as it is on his performance, but at the same time, it was still surprising to see how quiet he was on Tuesday. 


Alphonso Davies:

On the other side of the table, however, you’ve first got Davies, who certainly lived up to his designation of being a player to watch. 

With 1 goal (which held up as the game-winner), along with 2 assists, Davies made his mark on this game, offensively, showing why he’s in the discussion of being one of the best players in CONCACAF. 

Deployed in that wing back role, he had full freedom to both attack and defend, and boy did he ever do both of those things in this game. 

Offensively, there was the goal and the 2 assists, but he also completed 36 out of 43 of his passes (84%), had 2 shots on target, put up 4 key passes and completed an absurd 9 out of his 13 dribbles, showing the sort of impact that he can have on a game. 

But defensively, he was no slouch, either, making a vital clearance, adding an interception, while also winning 11 out of his 23 duels. As seen with that stat, he got stuck in at every opportunity, and even if he didn’t get the ball, he often forced his opponent right into another red shirt, allowing his team to win back the ball. 

So all-in-all, it was another dominant performance for Davies in this one, as he continues to play a big role in Canada’s push to make the World Cup. 

Richie Laryea:

Next, we had Richie Laryea, who also played at wing back, and much like Davies, he lived up to his billing of being a player to watch, even if he did so a bit quieter than his teammate did. 

Offensively, he had 1 shot and 1 key pass, as it was a bit more of a quiet night for him there, but defensively he was a force, making 2 interceptions, adding a tackle and winning 8 out of his 9 duels. 

Overall, it was the sort of consistent performance that Laryea can provide, showing why he’s become a favourite of Herdman’s over the past 2 years.

And even more importantly for Canada, he can still bring a lot more to the table, which is a scary thought for opponents who might have seen his performance on Tuesday.

Mark Anthony Kaye:

Lastly on the Canadian side, we had Kaye, who unfortunately didn’t start, but still made an impact off of the bench for his team. 

He might have only played 20 or so minutes, but he still had a key pass, created a big chance and made several progressive passes, including this one that led to Lucas Cavallini winning a penalty for Canada’s 4th goal. 

Having been rested after playing against Aruba, it was a surprise not to see him in the starting XI, and as he showed in his short time on the field, it’s hard to imagine him not starting more going forward, especially in their next two games against Haiti this week. 

There are not many players on this Canadian team that can do what he can do with the ball, so you’d expect him to see the field for significant minutes in both of those games, and he showed why on Tuesday. 

Battles to watch: 

To finish off, we’ve got the 3 battles that we highlighted in our preview. As we said then, whoever found a way to win at least 2 of those 3 battles would likely win the game, so let’s see how true that proved to be in this game. 

Canada’s offensive midfield vs Suriname’s defensive midfield:

First, there was the battle between Canada’s midfield in possession against Suriname’s defensive midfield set-up. 

This one’s interesting, especially considering that Suriname tried to play 4 natural central midfielders to nullify the threat, but despite that, Canada was able to play through the middle on several occasions. 

At the same time, Canada was far from their best from an attacking standpoint in midfield, with their nominal attacking midfielder, Jonathan Osorio, having a tough night in that area, in particular.

But considering Suriname’s struggles to defend even the minimized midfield threat that Canada offered, we’ll give Canada the slight edge here. 

Winner: Canada (slightly)

Richie Laryea vs Sheraldo Becker:

Then, things get interesting, as our next battle was between Laryea and Becker, two of our players to watch. 

But seeing that Becker ended up being mostly deployed as a right winger, and had limited service anyways, it’s hard to say that Laryea particularly dominated this battle, as it’s hard to win a battle that you didn’t even fight. 

So this one is an easy win for Canada, without a doubt, but we’ll claw up the victory on account of Canada’s press, who was probably most responsible for keeping Suriname’s dangerman quiet. 

Winner: Canada’s press

Alphonso Davies vs Suriname’s RB (Kelvin Leerdam)

Last, but certainly not least, there was the battle between Davies and whoever Suriname chose to play at right back, which ended up being Inter Miami’s Kelvin Leerdam.

And seeing how Davies performed, it unfortunately just wasn’t Leerdam’s night, who had to deal with the sight of watching a World XI player run at him all night, which went pretty much as expected. 

That’s not a slight on Leerdam, who can be a good player on his day, but he got tasked with the nearly impossible job of trying to stop a player that can be so hard to keep quiet, and he was unfortunately able to fulfill his tough job description, giving Canada a clean sweep in this section. 

Winner: Canada

Looking Forward: 

So ultimately, it was a pretty good night for Canada on the tactical front, and that was reflected here, as both their 3-5-2 and the players within it stole the show in this tactical review. 

But now, the question remains – can they do the same now in their upcoming games, a home-and-away clash with Haiti? 

Considering that a spot in CONCACAF’s final round of World Cup qualifiers, the Octo, looms, Canada will need to find a way to replicate this sort of success two more times again this week, as they look to return to that final round for the first time since the 90s. 

Seeing that Haiti is seen as a bit of a bogey team for Canada in light of what happened at the 2019 Gold Cup, this is an excellent opportunity for them to truly prove their credentials as a top team in CONCACAF, something which they showed flashes of being in this game. 

Until then, however, stay tuned for our tactical preview of that game, where much as we did before this game, we’ll see how Canada might match up against this Haitian team before they take the field and take on the many quests that they’re currently looking to conquer in this region. 

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/Abel Arciniega

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