Canada Soccer’s Men’s National Team finished the group stage of the 2021 Gold Cup with a 1-0 loss to the United States on Sunday, pushing them down to 2nd in Group B ahead of the quarter-finals. Here is what stood out from that game.
They had nothing to lose, yet so much to gain.
For Canada Soccer’s Men’s National Team, those were the exact circumstances that they faced on Sunday, as they took on the United States in the last game of Group B action at the 2021 Gold Cup.
With both teams already qualified to the knockout stages, having each picked up 6 points from their first 2 games, Canada had nothing to lose in a clash between old rivals, but had all to gain, as a win for them would’ve seen them finish atop their group, theoretically giving them a better route to the final.
Because of that, it made an early 1st-minute US goal all the more painful for Canada, as although it didn’t hurt their chances at winning, it left them to chase a result the rest of the game.
Having done all of the hard work in the previous two games to give them an advantage in this match, winning against Martinique and Haiti by combined 4-1 scorelines, Canada only needed to pick up a draw on Sunday in order to win the group, as they had the tiebreaker over the US, so to see the US score early had to hurt.
But from there, they still had 89 minutes to chase a goal, and chase they did, but having gotten their early tally, the US sat back deep, doing well to hold onto their lead right to the final whistle.
As a result, Canada found themselves shut out in a game for just the 2nd time in 25 games under head coach John Herdman, and for the first time in a competitive setting, as the US did what they needed to do in order to grab the 1-0 win.
“We’ve got to win those games,” Herdman said after the game. “I think it was a good learning opportunity for us.”
Despite that, though, it wasn’t a bad performance from Canada – far from it, actually, as they were actually the better side for most of the game, but they just couldn’t find that breakthrough that they so badly desired.
So although this moral victory will mean nothing for Canada, as this loss will now theoretically give them a harder quarter-final matchup, while also likely pitting them against tournament favourites Mexico in the semi-final, should they get that far, Herdman and his team have a lot of positives to extract heading into that.
“Now, we’ve got to regroup,” goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau said after the game. “Do our homework, analyze what we’ve done good, what we need to do better, and then be ready for the quarter-finals.”
With all of that in mind, however, here is some of what stood out from this game for Canada, one that certainly might haunt them for the next few days.
A nightmare start:
Heading into this game, a lot has been made of Canada’s slow starts in games at this Gold Cup, as their tendency to start games slow nearly cost them big against Martinique and Haiti.
So heading into this clash against the US, one had to wonder how Canada would come out, especially considering that this game was played in front of a sold-out Children’s Mercy Stadium in Kansas, giving the US a distinct home-field advantage.
Because of that, it’d be a nightmare beginning of the game for Canada, who’d go down by 1 goal less than a minute after the match kicked off.
Before Canada managed to even really grab control of the ball, the US managed to carve through their defence, getting into the box, carving out enough space for Sebastian Lletget to find Shaq Moore at the back post to open the scoring.
It was the worst-case scenario for Canada, as it got the sold-out pro-US crowd right into the game, giving something for them to cheer about right from the beginning.
The most frustrating part of all that for Canada?
The breakdowns that led to the goal, as it was really just a combination of some bad timing and poor decisions at the wrong time, giving the US a perfect storm to capitalize on.
One lost 50-50 in midfield, one instance of right wing back Richie Laryea getting stuck too narrow, and then an instance of the other wing back, Tajon Buchanan, losing his marker at the back post, and then it was 1-0.
Because of all that, it left Canada, who just needed a draw to top the group, to climb a mountain that they definitely wanted to avoid getting on before the game kicked off.
It was certainly not an insurmountable mountain, far from it, but it was one they haven’t managed to climb very often in recent years, making it a big task for them to try and attack for the rest of the game.
“I thought the first minute of the game, we were sleeping,” midfielder Liam Fraser said after the game. “That’s just something that we collectively all have to do (better), it’s something we can improve on.”
A good response:
But to give credit to Canada, they did just that after the early goal, improve, as they really started to grow into the game.
Right from a pair of penalty shouts right a few minutes after the goal, to some nice bits of combinations throughout the rest of the first half and into the second, Canada looked like they had what it took in order to snatch a result.
They needed a bit more penetration into the final third, as they were often too static with the ball in offensive areas, but that they managed to hold onto the ball despite the hostile environment was a positive sign.
For a Canadian team missing several key players on Sunday, such as their best player from the first two games, Stephen Eustaqio, who was suspended, it was nice to see the response nonetheless.
At the same time though, it was tough to see the minutes tick by for Canada without them scoring, as they continued to knock on the door.
From a couple of second-half crosses that just grazed over the heads of Canadian attackers, to a 77th minute Tajon Buchanan shot that was sent just wide from inside the box, Canada certainly had a chance to make a game out of this, but they just needed to find that breakthrough.
After huffing and puffing, it never came, though, as the US managed to hang onto their lead, giving them all 3 points.
But for Canada, that doesn’t take away from how good their performance was in the last 60 minutes of the game, so even if they didn’t get the win, they have a lot to be proud of there.
“While I’m pissed about the result, we can be happy with some elements of that performance,” Herdman said. “We set ourselves up for the quarterfinals.”
But while Canada will be able to extract some positives from their overall play, the result wasn’t the only negative for them on Sunday, as had a couple of injury woes against the US.
Losing Ayo Akinola early on was the first blow, as he had to exit the game just 22 minutes into what was his first start in a Canadian shirt, fittingly coming against a US team that he represented over 50 times at the youth level.
Then, to lose their leading scorer in this tournament, Cyle Larin, to a leg injury in the second half was an even bigger worry, as it took away an important attacker on a team already short of some of their best players offensively.
The good news is that after the game, Herdman provided a positive update on Larin, sharing that his injury was more of a dead leg, but they’re awaiting more news on Akinola, as he appeared to feel something in his knee when he went down.
For a Canadian team that has already seen their roster get stretched this summer, suffering a few injuries before this tournament even kicked off, they’ll need any good news that they can take right now, so they’ll have their fingers crossed.
“Cyle was more of a dead leg, he took a knee to the muscle,” Herdman said of Larin’s status.
He later added: “Ayo’s might be more problematic, he just felt a little twist in his knee as the player came across him.”
Otherwise, it was quite an interesting night for Canada tactically, as they chose to stick with the back 3, but made a few tweaks, making it more of a 3-4-3 to start the game.
That plan would quickly blow out the window, though, as a combination of the goal they conceded and Akinola picking up an injury forced Canada to switch what first looked like their usual 3-5-2, before it morphed into more of a traditional 4-4-2 after the hydration break.
“We adapted at the water break,” Herdman said of the adjustments. “We were able to shift into a 4-4-2 with a 3-box attack, and started to take control of the game more.”
Looking a bit lost in midfield in that 3-4-3, the change was made to give Canada a bit more legs offensively through the middle, as one of those wide players was midfielder Jonathan Osorio, who tucked in to offer support on the ball, shifting the 4-4-2 into more of a 4-3-3 at times.
At the same time, it allowed them to maintain their defensive shape, which was far from the issue other than the goal, and that was reflected statistically, as Canada only held the US to 6 shots, just 1 of them being on target (that being the goal, of course).
And while Canada didn’t find that breakthrough goal they so desperately craved, those changes did help Canada look a lot better as the game progressed, improving the quality of their chances.
They still lacked that pivotal breakthrough moment, as Canada just appeared to lack the difference-maker needed to make that happen, but it wasn’t certainly from a lack of trying.
That is hardly a new problem for Canada, as despite their usual offensive proficiency, their best avenue for scoring goals remains via transition moments, which the US tried their best to limit by sitting deep.
So overall, once again the problem for Canada didn’t really stem from their tactics, but more came down to them starting slow, while also just not finding a breakthrough in the face of a resilient US defensive line.
That leaves them with plenty of lessons learned to carry over into the quarter-finals, where a stiff test in either Costa Rica or Jamaica awaits them, knowing that they’ll have to solve both of those problems in order to get to the semi-finals.
“I think the lessons are there,” Herdman said. “We have to go through these experiences together.”
In the Mixer:
Lastly, here are some other bits and bobs that stood out from this game:
- Credit to Kamal Miller for a big game. After a quiet first few games, he announced himself to the world, and then some, putting the in-form Daryl Dike in his pocket for most of the night, showing what he’s capable of. For a Canadian team always looking for centre backs, he’s quietly emerged as a good one, so they’ll be hoping that is just the start of what’s to come from him in a Canadian shirt.
- Shout out to Akinola for belting out the Canadian anthem. Felt fitting considering the circumstances.
- Also, a big game once again from Tajon Buchanan, as he continues his breakout party for Canada. Can’t imagine him staying in MLS much longer if he keeps playing like this.
Now, Canada gets a week off before taking on either Jamaica or Costa Rica next Sunday in Dallas in the quarter-finals, as they’ll look to return to the semi-finals for the first time since 2007.
For a team that got beaten up plenty over the course of 90 minutes on Sunday, as well as the 2 games they played in the week before, it’ll be a much-needed break, one that they’ll use to hit the refresh button after this loss.
Make no mistake, though, despite this loss, things are not all bad for Canada at the moment. They’ll be expected to compete in the quarter-final, and have every chance of believing that they can beat either Jamaica or Costa Rica, allowing them to bust their semi-final slump.
Of course, they thought that when they played Haiti last tournament, a matchup where they were heavily favoured before dropping a 3-2 result despite being up 2-0, but this Canadian team has a different mindset now.
So what better way to prove that now than a big win against one of CONCACAF’s powers, two that Canada will have to compete with anyways in the Octagonal, the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers in the fall?
They get a chance to do that next Sunday, in front of the bright lights of AT&T Stadium in Dallas, giving them a platform worthy of that potential accomplishment, giving them a good task to focus on ahead of what awaits them in the fall.
“We’re not really thinking about qualifying now,” Fraser made sure to caution, though. “We’re more thinking about the tournament, and winning this tournament.”
Up Next: Canada vs TBD, Sunday, July 25th, 2021, 16:00 PDT, 19:00 EDT (AT&T Stadium, Dallas)
Cover Photo via: Canada Soccer