Canada Soccer’s Men’s National Team picked up a massive 3-0 win over El Salvador in the 3rd matchday of the Octagonal, the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, at BMO Field in Toronto on Wednesday. Here’s what stood out to us from that one.
It was a perfect end to a solid window.
Having gotten off to a decent start to the Octagonal, the final round of World Cup qualifiers, Canada Soccer’s Men’s National Team was looking to end this first round of Octo games on a high note Wednesday, as they took on a plucky El Salvador side at BMO Field.
And in front of the bright lights of the Toronto lakefront stadium, they’d go on and do just that, scoring early and often en route to a big 3-0 victory, one that ensured that they’d finish the first round of Octo games in 2nd place with 5 points, sitting just behind Mexico as of writing.
“We knew we had to hit this team hard, and hit them early,” Canadian head coach, John Herdman, said after the game. “And we did that tonight.”
After some mixed performances in their first 2 games of this window, where they first dropped points at home to Honduras in a 1-1 draw before doing well to claw out a solid point in another 1-1 draw away to the US, Canada needed a win in this game, ensuring that they’d finish this round on a high note.
And by doing that, they’ve given themselves a massive boost heading into the next round of games, which come in October, where some even tougher matches remain.
So although they didn’t get the 7-9 points that they were hoping to get out of an available 9 from their 3 games this window, they came out pretty well for themselves with 5, especially considering that a lot of their rivals in the Octo dropped some key points along the way.
In an Octo stage where the key to qualifying is to win your home games and pick up points where you can on the road, they’ve mostly succeeded in that task so far, Honduras aside, putting themselves in a good position in the Octo table.
“I think this win puts us in a good position,” Canadian forward, Jonathan David, said after the game. “It gets our confidence up. We would’ve liked more points, but we’ll have to take the confidence from his game into the next window”
Obviously, with 11 games still left in the Octo, much can change between now and March of next year, when this qualifying stage will end, but teams that get ahead in these sorts of groups tend to stay ahead, and that Canada is ahead of the pack at the end of this window is massive.
But before looking too far ahead, it’s worth looking back at this performance for Canada, because heading into the next window, this might be the game that they’ll want to look back on and study the hardest, as they arguably played their most complete game of the year en route to this 3-0 victory.
So with that in mind, here’s some of what stood out to us in this one for Canada, as they put together an important statement win at BMO on Wednesday.
Canada gets off to fast start:
And to start, Canada got things rolling thanks to a fantastic start, one that quickly got them going on the right foot.
After giving up the first goal in the first 2 games of this September window, they made sure that wouldn’t happen for a 3rd time on Wednesday, as they came flying out of the gates, making life hard for their visitors.
From quick and incisive passing, to some relentless pressing, Canada came out like a flying red wave, playing as if they had something to prove.
That’d pay off early, as they then managed to open the scoring right in the 6th minute.
Starting with a bit of Jonathan Osorio pressure in midfield, Canada would manage to win the ball high up the pitch, allowing them to launch into a dangerous counterattack. From there, the ball would get to Richie Laryea out wide, and he’d exchange with Osorio again, before slipping in behind the El Salvador defence.
Then, he calmly lifted his head, spotted Atiba Hutchinson making a nice late run at the near post, and he found him with a low cut back, one that Canada’s 38-year-old captain slotted home for his 8th goal in a Canadian shirt.
“I just read it, and made sure I was in the right position,” Hutchinson said of his goal.
It was a dream start for Canada, who got the crowd right into it with the goal, allowing them to put some positive momentum behind them right from the get-go.
And thanks to that, they’d then pick up a second goal right in the 10th minute. After a wide free-kick was cleared out by the El Salvador defence, the ball fell right to Canada’s Tajon Buchanan just inside the box, and he was in all sorts of space.
Sensing that, he took an extra half-second before sliding in a calculated ball, one that’d find Jonathan David’s head, hit with just enough power for David to glance the ball towards the back post, where it’d loop past Mario Gonzales in goal and in, doubling Canada’s lead.
“The one thing with this kid – there’s no ego with him,” Herdman said of David after the game. “He’s hunted, he’s worked hard, and it was there for him tonight”
With that, Canada were in a state of euphoria, as they had a 2 goal buffer to work with for the next 80 minutes, giving them the belief that they could grab their first win of this Octo campaign.
After having to play the role of comeback hero in their last 2 games, it was a nice change to see them play from the front for a change in this one, and it’d end up making a big difference for them in the rest of the game.
The duelling fan support:
But although this ended up being a home game for Canada, it didn’t always feel that way in this game, because the El Salvador fans came out in big numbers for this one, making their presence felt in BMO Field on Wednesday.
Despite the game kicking off at 19:30 local time, and the gates opening an hour before then, the El Salvador fans were standing outside of the stadium at 14:00, even though they wouldn’t be allowed in for another 4 and a half hours.
Because of that, it felt like this wouldn’t be a typical home game for Canada, and that’d only be confirmed when the national anthems played, as El Salvador’s anthem rang through Toronto’s BMO Field as loud as Canada’s did, which isn’t something you see every day.
As a result, it made Canada’s fast start all the more important, as it managed to get the away crowd right out of it, allowing the home supporters to take over again.
Had they conceded first, they would’ve been left to try and silence the away fans, which is never what you want to have to do as the home team, so while it’s always important for a team to score the first goal, it felt especially so in this game, and that duelling support was why.
“It kind of felt like an away game,” Osorio admitted after the game. “So it was crucial to get that goal in the beginning, and to take those fans, those who came for them, out of the game early.”
But at the same time, it must be said – credit to El Salvador for bringing that sort of away support. Obviously, there’s a strong El Salvador community in Toronto, and they showed up in a big way for their team, and that’s always nice to see.
Obviously, it’d have been nice to see Canada with a bigger smattering of support for their fans, but those who were in attendance were also quite loud, as well, overall making for a good night of support, no matter what side you were on heading into it.
Tajon Buchanan’s Canada coming-out party:
But then, despite being down 2-0, El Salvador kept on fighting, and that woke up their fans again, as they desperately looked to get back into the game.
They’d come close, as from the 30th minute to the 45th minute, they were the better team, but luckily for Canada, El Salvador didn’t manage to turn any of their pressure into a goal.
Heading into the 2nd half, though, Canada had to be well aware of the threat that their opponents offered, as a goal would’ve cut their lead to 2-1, and with El Salvador’s strong away support, they would’ve made life tough for the Canadians had that happened.
Sensing that, then up stepped Tajon Buchanan.
Having been arguably one of the top performers of the game in that first half, not only with his assist, but the overall threat that he was consistently providing every time he’d get the ball, it only felt like a matter of time until he’d get a goal.
And that’d come right when Canada desperately needed him to step up, right in the 60th minute, giving Canada their 3rd goal, which allowed them to build a mountain that’d seem impossible for El Salvador to climb.
Off of a nice bit of pressure up the field, David first won the ball back, creating a 2 on 1 with Buchanan, and Buchanan did well to slide away from the El Salvador defender and force him to pick a player, and the defender chose to stick with David.
That’d prove to be a mistake, as David, who’s an underrated passer, slid the ball nicely over to Buchanan, who was through on goal, and he’d have no problems from there on in, sliding the ball through Gonzales’s legs in goa to add Canada’s 3rd.
With that, it’d put the cherry on top of a lovely performance from Buchanan, who reminded the rest of CONCACAF that although this Canadian team is loaded with plenty of offensive threats, that he certainly has the talent to be considered among them.
On a night where his team needed him to be the main offensive threat, especially with Davies out injured, he relished the challenge, overcoming a lot of kicking, fouling and hard tackling from the El Salvador defence to take control of the game as he did.
It’s one thing for a player to play well, but it’s a whole other to do so while being isolated as a player to contain by the opposition, yet still find a way through, but that was what Buchanan did on Wednesday.
As a result, he ended up playing his best game in a Canadian shirt, arguably having his coming-out party for his country, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for them, as it allowed them to pick up a massive win.
A complete performance from Canada:
Elsewhere, it’s important to point out that this might’ve been Canada’s most complete game that they’ve played as a team this year, with the only other match that could really even be in the discussion for that distinction being their 2-0 win over Costa Rica at the Gold Cup.
But unlike that Costa Rica game, where they were just so ruthless in how they capitalized on errors from their opponents, Canada just really took it to El Salvador in this one, and it allowed them to pick up a dominant victory, as they were the better team in most aspects of the game on Wednesday.
From their commitment to defending as a team, to their play on the ball, along with their efficiency in the final third, they took the game to El Salvador for all but that small patch of play in that first half, allowing them to cruise to a commanding victory.
After some haphazard performances in their first 2 games of this window, where they had good flashes of play, but just didn’t do enough over 90 minutes to claw out the win, they made sure to put this game to bed right from the first whistle, marking a memorable performance for this team.
And playing a big role in that complete performance? A good strategic plan, as it was a very good night tactically for Canada in this one, as they were spot-on with their gameplan on Wednesday.
Offensively, they decided to go with a 3-5-2, and that’d allow them to control much of the game, as they won the midfield battle thanks to their 3-man unit in the centre of the park, but at the same time, they had a good wide threat via the wing backs.
After using a hybrid of a 3-4-3 and a 4-4-2 in the last 2 games, it was a nice change, as they returned to the formation that they used to great success earlier in the year, and it can only make one wonder – why didn’t they just stick with this shape from the start of this window?
It’s a question to be pondered, for sure, but either way, it’s good that Canada returned to it eventually, as it allowed them to find some new life offensively right when they needed it most.
But while it was nice to see the offence step up big, the more impressive Canadian performance actually came on the defensive side of things, as Canada was fantastic defensively.
Shifting between a 3-5-2 and a 4-4-2 depending on where they found themselves on the field, they swarmed their opponents at every opportunity, and it made it hard for El Salvador to establish a foothold in this game as a result.
Because of that, it was a tough night overall for El Salvador, because other than that little patch of play to end the first half, they were left wanting in their play on the ball, and a lot of credit for that has to go to Canada’s relentless pressure.
“As you saw, the pressing got us 2 goals,” Osorio said. “It’s a big part of our game, and obviously we want to be a team that plays and dominates games, but we also want to be a good pressing team.”
And what’s so impressive about Canada’s pressure is that it isn’t just limited to being high up the field, either. No matter if they’re all the way in their opponent’s box, or on the edge of their own, they try to close down the space for their opponent’s before it even comes about, making it hard for them to breathe, let alone make passes and other key decisions.
From there, that forces teams into mistakes, and Canada can then get themselves going on offence, as they can win the ball back so efficiently all over the field.
So overall, it was a good game tactically for Canada, their best of this window, making one wonder if this 3-5-2/4-4-2 hybrid might be the way to go for this team long-term.
In The Mixer:
Lastly, here are some bits and bobs that stood out from this one.
-You just figured that Jonathan David was due a big night this window, so it was nice to see him score and pick up the assist today. On his longest dry run as a Canadian player, having gone 4 games without a goal, he made sure to come through at the right time for Canada, putting up a great performance when his team needed him. With no Davies, the pressure was on David tonight, and he responded as only he could, putting together a cool, calm and collected performance.
-With their win tonight, Canada remains undefeated when Atiba Hutchinson scores a goal (5 wins and 3 draws), which is quite an interesting stat. Hutchinson doesn’t score often, but when he does, it’s usually a big one, so it certainly felt positive to see him open the scoring so early in this one.
-Otherwise, with the win tonight, Herdman also became the winningest Canadian Men’s National Team coach of all-time with 22 wins. For someone who has only been on the job since the start of 2018, that’s not bad at all from Herdman.
-Moving on, credit to Canada for picking up their 7th clean sheet in 14 games in 2021. They’ve also conceded just 8 goals over that time span, as well. With each passing game, they continue to show that they’re a good defensive team, and that teams are going to have to earn their goals whenever they play Canada.
-Lastly, it was nice to see Canada find some goals again in this game, as for the first time in 5 games, they scored more than 2 goals in a match. Was nice to see them give the fans a good game to close out the window on a high note.
Now, Canada’s players will have a few weeks to head back to their clubs before they’ll reconvene again in a month’s time, where they’ll continue the Octo with another triple matchday in October.
And for a Canadian team that seemed to find their stride as the games rolled along, that’s exciting, as it won’t be long before they’re back together again, allowing them to continue what they started this window.
It might not have started out the way they would’ve liked, as they got a nice taste of CONCACAF right on day one, but they managed to recover quite nicely in the end, and thanks to some favourable results elsewhere, that puts them in a good position heading into that next window.
So although things will only get harder from this point on in, especially as teams get up to full speed, Canada showed that when they’re on their game, they’re a team to mess with, and that was on full display on Wednesdsay.
Some tougher games and opponents await now, ones where we’ll truly get an idea of how good this Canadian team is at amongst the CONCACAF hierarchy, but if they keep playing like this, you’d certainly fancy their chances.
“All in all, we’re happy with where we’re at,” Hutchinson said after the match. “We’re in a good place, but it’s still early on, we want to continue like this”
Up Next: Canada vs Mexico, Thursday, October 7th, 2021, 18:40 PDT, 21:40 EDT (Estadio Azteca, Mexico City)