Canada Soccer’s Men’s National Team picked up a huge 1-0 win over Haiti in the 1st leg of the 2nd round of CONCACAF’s World Cup qualifiers on Saturday. In this, we look at some of what stood out from that game.
As far as wins go, it wasn’t the prettiest, but it more than got the job done.
On paper, you’d look at Canada Soccer’s Men’s National Team’s 1-0 win over Haiti on Saturday and wonder: ‘What’s the big deal? Canada scored early, had the better chances and limited their opponents to nearly nothing, they won comfortably, right?’
Despite all of that, this win is made even bigger for Canada due to the fact that it came away in Haiti, where they had to deal with 30+ degree Celsius weather and a rough-looking turf, the sort of conditions that can be so tough to play in for any team, no matter how talented you are.
In CONCACAF, it’s par for the course on most away trips, but that still doesn’t make it any easier to play through for teams, and Canada saw that in this game, one in which they slogged through a tough 90 minutes of play.
Thanks to a key Cyle Larin goal, however, they escaped that slog with something that most teams rarely find away from home in this region – a victory, giving them a huge boost heading into the 2nd leg of this 2nd round of CONCACAF’s World Cup qualifiers.
“We knew that if we could score early and score first, we could take control,” Canada’s head coach, John Herdman, told reporters after the game. “The conditions were tough, just going to the stadium and seeing the quality of the field, the turf pitch, it wasn’t an easy field to play on, it was a bit sticky, and then the heat was pretty intense, but we knew (the importance) of the early goal.”
All of a sudden, they’ve got all of the momentum heading into that 2nd leg, where they’ll be the designated ‘home’ team (despite playing in Chicago), knowing that they’ve got an away goal in their pocket and they’ll be playing in better conditions, giving them what they need in order to wrap up this series.
They do that on Tuesday, and they’ll return to the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, now known as the ‘Octagonal’, for the first time in 24 years.
Before looking that far ahead, though, it’s important that Canada does indeed finish off Haiti in this 2nd leg, and to do that, they’ll have to look at what worked and didn’t work for them in this 1st leg.
So here’s some of what stood out in this game, one in which Canada showed a sort of professionalism that we’re not all that used to seeing from them, allowing them to grab such a big result.
Cyle Larin’s redemption:
And to start, it’s important to highlight Larin’s goal, as his 15th-minute strike proved to be the difference for Canada in this game.
Having quietly put together a strong performance last game out for Canada against Suriname, one where he did a lot of the dirty work in terms of holding up the ball and making unselfish runs, it was good to see him rewarded for his efforts early on in this one.
Making what has quickly become known as a ‘Cyle Larin’ run at the back post, Larin did well to escape the crowded Haitian box once Mark Anthony Kaye played a nice ball into Jonathan Osorio, pouncing first on the low cross to slide home the goal.
In the process, he may have scored one of the most important Canadian men’s soccer goals in a while, which for a player who has been such a lightning rod for criticism on the national team, has to feel good.
“It gave us confidence, allowing us to manage (the game) from there,” midfielder Stephen Eustaquio said of Larin’s goal to canadasoccer.com
Having had a breakthrough season this year for Besiktas, one where he helped them to their first league title in 4 years, finishing as the 2nd-leading goalscorer in the Turkish league, he’s quickly matured into a crucial player for Canada in 2021, and this is just another example of that.
With this goal, he’s now scored in 4 of the 5 games that he’s played for Canada this year, scoring 6 goals total, which now has him tied for 2nd in the region so far in World Cup qualifiers.
All of a sudden, he’s now quietly crept into the top 10 on the all-time Canadian goalscorers with 14 goals, which for a player who’s still only 26, is no small feat, especially on a team with so much firepower.
So credit to Larin, who has done well to fight through the early criticism that he received in his early national team days to become a vital piece of this Canadian squad, allowing him to make the difference for them in this big game.
Seeing that this could be just the start of big games that this Canadian team will play in, knowing that Larin thrives in these kinds of games is huge, as this could be the first of many clutch goals that he’ll look to score for this team this year and beyond.
Stephen Eustaquio continues to quietly shine:
But while Larin deserves full credit for the goal, as well as some of the other work he did on and off the ball against Haiti, it’s important to highlight how vital someone like Stephen Eustaquio was to Canada’s cause in this game.
Playing in only his 5th game for this Canadian side, the 24-year-old midfielder put up his best performance in a Canadian shirt to date, controlling both sides of the midfield against Haiti.
In a game where they were expected to have an advantage in that area of the park, Eustaquio made sure of that with his play, showing what he can do from defensive midfield.
Deployed as the lone holding midfielder in a 3-man unit, with the more aggressive Mark Anthony Kaye and Jonathan Osorio alongside him, Eustaquio was a two-way force in this game, making a big impact on both sides of the ball.
Offensively, he helped set the tone for Canada, as he made an impressive 63 out of 70 passes (90% completion rate) on 89 touches, even adding a key pass and 1 big chance created, helping Canada keep a good offensive rhythm throughout the game.
Then defensively, he did what he does best, and that’s to control the middle of the park, winning 6 out of 13 of his ground duels, making an interception and adding 5 tackles, including one in the last 10 minutes of the game that nullified a dangerous Haitian attack and put Canada on the counter.
After a strong performance on Tuesday against Suriname, he found a way to find another level for Canada in this game, playing a big part in this victory.
It’s no coincidence that of the 4 games that Eustaquio has played in so far in 2021, Canada has only allowed 1 goal, because when he’s on the park, he tends to help his team control the game.
And what’s most exciting about Eustaquio?
The best is still yet to come from him. At only 24 years of age, it’s easy to forget that he was robbed of a year of his career back in 2019 after a major knee surgery, only returning to club action at the beginning of 2020.
Since then, all he’s done is get better with seemingly every passing game, both for country and club, with Pacos de Ferreira, helping them go from a team that was nearly relegated at the end of the 2019-2020 season to one that finished 5th and qualified for the UEFA Conference League in 2020-2021.
Because of that, it looks like a move to a big European team is now on the cards for him, with the likes of Porto and Napoli so far being cited as his main suitors this offseason.
Which for Canada, is tantalizing to imagine, because based on what they’ve seen from him so far, there’s a lot to like about his play in a red shirt.
With a pairing of him and Kaye potentially leading the way, this Canadian team will be able to be quite flexible tactically, making the possibility of the two playing together more often quite the mouth-watering one going forward.
“They controlled the area of the pitch that they needed to control,” Herdman said of his two midfielders.
He added: “I think Stephen and Mark did a terrific job of doing that today.”
Depth does the job for Canada:
But while Larin and Eustaquio may have been the two main catalysts of this victory, it’s important to highlight how Canada’s growing depth was in this result.
Of the starting 11 that Canada trotted out, everyone played a role in helping their team win, be it from the likes of the stars such as Jonathan David and Alphonso Davies to newer faces such as Alistair Johnston and Scott Kennedy, making for a good team performance.
That continued onto the subs, as guys such as Doneil Henry, Tajon Buchanan, Samuel Piette, Lucas Cavallini and Sam Adekugbe wasted no time getting involved into this game off the bench, either, helping Canada close out the game.
And considering that list of names excludes the likes of Junior Hoilett, Theo Corbeanu, David Wotherspoon and Zachary Brault-Guillard, who remained as unused substitutes Saturday, it really gives an idea of how deep this Canadian team has quietly become.
Long gone are the days where players from ‘Unattached FC’ would walk right into the Canadian starting XI for big games. Instead, Herdman is able to turn to regular contributors that might have starred on past editions to use as super subs, giving him the tools to close out a game such as this one.
With it being as hard as it is to win away in CONCACAF, just having that sort of depth can go a long way for a team such as Canada, and that manifested itself on Saturday.
But even though depth and team spirit both played a big role in this Canadian victory, it’s important to highlight the tactical set-up that they used in order to mostly nullify Haiti, as they once again decided to go with the 3-5-2 that they used against Suriname.
They didn’t run it back completely, making 2 changes, but otherwise, it was quite a similar set-up to what they used on Tuesday.
And much as they did against Suriname, it allowed them to really control play, especially in the first half, which allowed them to grab that crucial opening goal, along with a few other chances that could’ve easily swayed the game.
Offensively, the 3-5-2 continues to be good for Canada, as expected, but the big surprise is how good Canada has looked defensively in it, doing well to limit space for teams to run into.
Playing against a Haiti side that likes to run wide and then get the ball into the box, they weren’t able to do much of that against Canada on Saturday, making it a pretty frustrating afternoon for Haiti’s wide players.
Thanks to the width provided by the centre backs, along with the control that they have in midfield, it’s just made it so tough for opponents to play through this Canadian team, especially for a Haiti team that lacks a true midfield general.
Now, heading into a second leg where Haiti needs at least a goal to make this tie interesting, it’ll be intriguing to see what sort of adjustments to the 3-5-2 Herdman makes now, as aside from a few tweaks, there appears to be no good reason to want to switch from it at the moment.
For a team that has struggled defensively for much of Herdman’s tenure, to play two of their toughest games in recent memory and to escape with a clean sheet in both of them is huge, so look for Canada to stick with a similar set-up on Tuesday.
In the mixer:
Lastly, here are a few bits and bobs that stood out from the match.
-Shout out to Jonathan Osorio, who turned 29 on Saturday, and marked the occasion by picking up the match-winning assist. Exactly a week after Junior Hoilett scored a key goal in Canada’s win over Aruba on his birthday, it continues to be a good run for Canadian players and birthdays in this camp, which is quite interesting to see.
-And because you asked, the next Canadian birthday on this team is Alistair Johnston’s on August 8th, so don’t expect that boost to happen again anytime soon.
-But if for whatever reason Canada does want to make that birthday boost happen, Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty does turn 17 on Tuesday, and he did train with Canada in the taxi squad last week, so maybe they might want to consider giving him a call…
-On a more serious note, however, shout out to Milan Borjan for back-to-back clean sheets these past 2 games, as he’s redeemed himself nicely after a tough start to World Cup qualifiers, when he gave away a free goal to Bermuda. Since then, he’s been money for Canada, making some huge stops, and that was the case once again in this game.
-Otherwise, hopefully someone tells the Haitian groundkeeper to take a shovel and get rid of some of the rubber on the turf. Unfortunately, every player who played this game is going to have rubber all over their hotel room for the next few days, so maybe it might be in their best interest to get rid of some of that rubber ahead of whenever their next home game might be.
-Lastly, credit to Alphonso Davies for battling through a tough game, as he was on the end of some tough tackles throughout this game, including a few that probably should’ve merited more punishment than what they eventually got. That’s the CONCACAF away experience, though, and Davies got to experience it first-hand, doing well to fight through and make some key defensive and offensive actions despite that.
So now, Canada will return ‘home’ to Chicago, where they’ll prepare for the 2nd leg of this series on Tuesday evening.
Having done well to pick up a big result in this game, Canada will feel confident heading into that game, but they’ll know that they’ll have to bring their A-game on Tuesday, as Haiti still remains very much in this series.
“We just wanted to get out of today with the win,” Herdman said. “Going into our venue with a goal is crucial. That was always the goal today, to have one foot in the Octagon and to be in control.”
But despite that, seeing what Canada was able to pull off on Saturday, it’s hard not to feel confident of their chances of taking care of business in the return leg, allowing them to make the Octo.
It’ll take another big effort to do so, however, so hopefully they’ll be able to channel what they found in this game, and bring it again in a few days time.
As they showed in this game, they have it in them to close out this series on Tuesday, erasing all of the demons that Haiti has provided for them in the past.
They took the first step towards doing that on Saturday, and now have a chance to fully get rid of them in a few days time, as a big year for this Canadian Men’s National team continues.
“We just need another clean sheet and we’re in,” Eustaquio said of Tuesday. “That’s huge.”
Up Next: Canada vs Haiti, Tuesday, June 15th, 2021, 18:00 PDT, 21:00 EDT (SeatGeek Stadium, Bridgeview)
Cover Photo via: Canada Soccer