Canada Soccer’s Men’s National Team kicked off their 2021 Gold Cup campaign with a 4-1 win over Martinique on Sunday. Here is what stood out from that game, one in which Canada survived an early scare before getting back into the game, cruising to their eventual result.
After an early scare, they did what they needed to do to avoid an upset.
It might not have been the start to the tournament that Canada Soccer’s Men’s National Team might have drawn up, but despite that, they ended up with the result that they were chasing on Sunday, grabbing a win.
Having gone down 1-0 early in the game, Canada found themselves in a position they haven’t found themselves in all too often recently, trailing in a game, which was cause for early alarm bells as they kicked off their 2021 Gold Cup campaign.
But then, they showed the sort of spirit that many aren’t probably used to seeing from them, as they grew back into the game quite quickly, overcoming that early deficit before cruising to an eventual 4-1 win.
So for head coach John Herdman, although it wasn’t the way that he would’ve drawn up his side winning, he’s happy with the overall outcome, as he knows that this is the sort of test this Canadian team needs right now.
“Yeah, I actually didn’t mind that start,” Herdman said after the game. “I thought it was a good start from Canada, and they scored on an error from us, and as I’d said in the team meeting before, look, we’ve been cruising through games, we could concede in the first 15 minutes, they’ve got quality.”
But other than starting the tournament with the win, it’s important to note how important those 3 points are in the grand scheme of things for Canada, as they’re just at the start of their Gold Cup journey, with their next game being a clash against Haiti this coming Thursday.
They win there, and then Canada will be in the driving seat heading into their last game of the group stage against the US, all but guaranteeing them qualification to the knockout stages, other results depending.
For a Canadian team that has consistently found a way to make life tough for themselves at past iterations of this tournament, it was positive to see them take care of business the way that they did on Sunday, setting the table for what they hope is just the start of a memorable Gold Cup.
Returning to the Martinique game, though, Canada did show plenty of positive flashes on Sunday, showing their continued growth as a team.
With that in mind, here is some of what stood out among those moments, all part of what ended up being a pretty good game for Canada, all things considered.
A nightmare start:
But to start, Canada came out of the grates in nearly the worst way imaginable, as they gave up a goal in just the 10th minute.
Coming into this game as the favourite to win, it was always going to be a surprise to see Canada give up that early goal, but it was even more surprising to see the manner in which they conceded that goal.
After a rare giveaway from the usually efficient Mark Anthony Kaye in the middle of the park, Martinique’s Emmanuel Riviere pounced on the loose ball, much to the worry of the out-of-position Canadian defenders. If there is one player on Martinique that you don’t want to give the ball up to, it’s Riviere, who plays in Italy’s Serie A for Crotone, and he quickly showed why.
He didn’t end up getting his best shot ever off, but he was smart enough to just poke it towards the bottom-left corner, slipping it past an onrushing Maxime Crepeau in the Canadian goal. From there, the ball just rolled into the net, bouncing off of the post and a sliding Kaye into the net, giving Martinique a surprise lead.
And to give credit to Martinique, it was a pretty deserved nod, as the game was relatively even up to that point, so they did well to find a way to break it open the way that they did.
But for Canada, it was a big shock, as it was their first goal conceded in over 5 games, dating back to March, showing that they’re not as invincible defensively as they have looked as of late.
Heading into the stiffer tests that await them, it was a much-needed wake-up call, one that Herdman hopes should put them in a good headspace for the rest of the tournament.
“Look, I think the goal was needed,” Herdman said. “We could have went another two games with clean sheets, and then you come up against a team like the US, that have a higher threat level, and (others) deeper in the tournament, you’re going to have moments where we have to come behind, and I’m really pleased that we got that test.”
A quick recovery:
But when you get an early lead, there’s always the danger that it might cause something to click in the opponent’s head, jolting them into a quick response.
And unfortunately for Martinique, their goal did just that for their opponents, as Canada ramped up their game another notch, helping them quickly recover from the early blow.
In just a 10-minute period between the 16th and 26th minute, Canada managed to pick up 3 goals, quickly switching the complexion of the game around.
To start, the opening breakthrough came off a corner, as Junior Hoilett delivered a beautiful ball into the back post, where he found an unmarked Cyle Larin.
From there, Larin made no mistake with his header, keeping up his great 2021 form, scoring his 8th goal in 7 games, showing why he’s been one of Canada’s best players so far this calendar year.
Then, Tajon Buchanan showed up to the party, blowing the game right open.
First, he burst down the left wing side with some great acceleration, getting into the box before cutting the ball back to Jonathan Osorio, who slid home the ball to give Canada the lead.
Then, Buchanan continued to cause problems down that left-side, as he once again found space in the box, setting up Junior Hoilett, who then slid the ball to Stephen Eustaquio, who slotted the ball into the bottom corner to further pad Canada’s lead.
Using skills that Canadian fans have started to associate with World XI full back, Alphonso Davies, Buchanan managed to help drag Canada back into the game, showing the sort of quality that they have in their squad even with no Davies or Jonathan David, among others.
“He was enjoying himself, for sure,” Herdman said of Buchanan. “In training, you can imagine the Tajon and Phonzie (Alphonso Davies), the combination we’ve seen the first two days of training (before Davies left camp with an injury). That was wonderful to watch.”
Overall, it was a clinical and deadly span of 10 minutes from Canada, sparked by Buchanan, but also supported by the likes of Hoilett, Larin, and Osorio, who were everywhere offensively after Martinique’s goal.
Thanks to that, it put Canada into a great position heading into the second stanza, giving them a good chance to do what most expected them to do coming into this game, which is win comfortably.
“We needed this sort of test,” Herdman said. “We congratulated them in the dressing room at halftime, and said it was a wonderful response to that moment, in order to come in 3-1 at halftime against a good Martinique side.”
A slow march to the finish:
And thanks to that furious 10-minute flurry, Canada did just that the rest of the way, cruising to a win quite comfortably.
If anything, they got a bit too comfortable, as the game really died down the rest of the way, with both teams seeming quite content with the 3-1 scoreline.
On one end, Canada just didn’t find a way to create any cutting edge chances, while Martinique just didn’t find a way to threaten Canada on the counter, leaving both sides to cruise to a quite comfortable result.
Overall, that isn’t a bad thing for Canada, as 3 points are 3 points, but at the same time, it’s worth noting that the main tiebreaker at the Gold Cup is goal difference, not head-to-head, so it would’ve been nice to see them pick up another goal or two earlier in the second half, knowing that it could’ve helped them down the road.
That wasn’t for a lack of trying, as Canada certainly had the intent to push for that goal, with the coaches being quite vocal about that from the sidelines, but ultimately, it just didn’t seem to be there.
So almost thankfully for Canada, an 89th-minute Theo Corbeanu goal seemed to elicit quite the sigh of relief, as they immediately realized the value that it might bring them in the long run at this tournament, should they find themselves in a tiebreak situation.
But to step back for a second, while Canada probably should’ve found a way to keep their foot on the gas pedal between the Eustaquio goal and Corbeanu tally, that shouldn’t discount how important this performance is for Canada.
Too often in the past, they’d find a way to make a mess of games where the result seemed all but assured, so it was nice to see them take care of business once they went up by 2 goals in a game.
It might not have been the prettiest result when considering the context of the game, but in the grand scheme of things, it could be a big one, so all-in-all, even though the slow second half was frustrating, it wasn’t the end of the world for Canada, especially with Corbeanu’s tally.
The yellow card fest:
Otherwise, it was worth noting that for all the positives that Canada can take away from their comeback, as well as their strong finish, it wasn’t all sunshine and roses for them on Sunday, as they found themselves in a bit of discipline trouble by the end of the game.
By picking up 6 yellow cards, that now puts 6 key players on eggshells for the next few games, as another yellow card will see those players suspended for a game, which would be a pretty tough way to potentially lose a player for a big game.
While some of the yellow cards were pretty soft, there were a few that Canada’s players should’ve known might put them in trouble based on how the referee was handling the game, as he was quite clear with what he thought was and wasn’t a card in his eyes.
So now, that leaves Stephen Eustaquio, Mark Anthony Kaye, Alistair Johnston, Liam Fraser, Steven Vitoria and Lucas Cavallini to have to tread carefully for the rest of the group stages, as their yellow card counter won’t be reset until after the quarter-finals, leaving them to potentially have to toe the disciplinary tightrope for the next 3 games, assuming they make it out of the group.
For a Canada team that likes to press high up the field and engage in duels, that’s not ideal, as the last thing they need right now is to lose a player via a suspension, especially considering that their squad is already a bit thin due to injuries and other absences.
But returning to the game itself, speaking of the yellow card festival, Herdman did admit that although it was frustrating to see referee Ivan Barton turn to his pocket so often, his players needed to find a way to adapt to his standard, and will need to do so with all the referees going forward.
“It’s not what you want the first game in the tournament,” Herdman said. “You’d want to hope that there will be a bit more leniency, given that it’s a tournament environment, but the referee is protecting the players, and the referee set the tone very early, he let the players know how he was going to ref the game, and we’ve just got to be smart and more disciplined.”
Elsewhere, it’s just important to quickly point out that Canada stuck with the 3-5-2 they started employing during their June camp, just making a few tweaks to the formation.
Offensively, a lot of Canada’s offence ran through Tajon Buchanan and Richie Laryea as wing backs, as Canada did what they could to unlock their pair of speedy wide players whenever possible, before cutting the ball back to the likes of Osorio, Larin and Hoilett.
Defensively, they tried to slow down Martinique in transition moments whenever possible, pressing high up the field at every opportunity, giving time for their back 3 to set itself.
Because of that, their back 3 wasn’t put under too much pressure all night, as Martinique was forced to play on the outside, with their goal only coming off of an egregious turnover from Canada. Other than that, though, it was a frustrating night for Martinqiue’s attackers, as Canada continued to show the sort of defensive growth that they started to show in June.
As we saw before the tournament, Canada has every reason to want to continue using the 3-5-2, and what they showed on Sunday is just another example of that.
In the Mixer:
Lastly, here are some bits and bobs that stood out from Sunday’s game:
- Shout out to Junior Hoilett for his 2 assists, which put him atop the Canadian Men’s National Team all-time assist chart. Having committed to Canada quite late on in his career, his dedication to the team has been exemplary ever since, so it was good to see him pick up the honour.
- Otherwise, shout out to Cyle Larin, who so far through 7 games in 2021, has already matched his goal output from the 31 prior games that he played before this year, showing how good he’s been for Canada as of late.
- Don’t think Tajon Buchanan will be staying in MLS much longer with performances like that, which is good news for Canada.
- Lastly, that’s pretty unlucky for Maxime Crepeau to give up a goal the way that he did, snapping Canada’s clean sheet streak that spanned 5 games, dating back to March of this year. The goal was not his fault, but as has been the case with his club, the Vancouver Whitecaps, luck hasn’t always been on his side when it comes to these sorts of chances as of late.
So now, Canada will get a few days off before returning to action on Thursday, when they’ll take on Haiti in their 2nd game of the tournament.
Based on Haiti’s current predicament, as they continue to deal with a COVID outbreak that has seen them temporarily lose 5 players from an already stretched squad, Canada should win that game quite comfortably, but as we know in CONCACAF, nothing is ever sure in this region, so they’ll have to bring their A-game.
But having found a way to take care of business in this game, they’ll have the belief that they have what it takes to now make it 6/6, putting them in a good position heading into the last game.
“Yeah, it’s always important to get a win in the first game of the tournament,” Kaye said after the game. “Sets the tone going into the second game, so I’m glad we got the result, and the three points.”
Until Thursday, though, they’ll have plenty of time to ponder what they learned from this Martinique game, allowing them to refind a similar killer instinct to the one that they showed from the 16th minute onwards on Sunday.
“Yeah, we started slow, conceded the early goal, but we turned it around quickly,” Hoilett said. “Great reaction from the players in this group, we turned it around quickly and controlled the game, so it’s something we can work on going into the next game – to start off stronger, but the way we finished was excellent.”
Up Next: Canada vs Haiti, Thursday, July 15th, 2021, 16:30 PDT, 19:30 EDT (Children’s Mercy Park, Kansas)
Cover Photo via: Canada Soccer