Canada Soccer’s Men’s National Team took on Mexico in the ‘Octagonal’, the final round of World Cup qualifiers, on Thursday. Here’s what stood out from that match, a game in which the teams were forced to share the spoils in a 1-1 draw, which is a massive result for Canada as they continue their push towards the 2022 World Cup.
Heading into this game, it felt like an impossible task awaited them.
For Canada Soccer’s Men’s National Team, it felt like everything was going to be against them as they headed into a clash against Mexico at the famed Estadio Azteca, which would be the home of a crucial CONCACAF final round World Cup qualifier for Les Rouges on Thursday night.
Missing several key players, heading down to face a Mexican team that they’d never beaten in Mexico, and hadn’t even gotten a competitive point off of since 1981, the odds certainly weren’t in their favour as they prepared for this one.
Despite that, they maintained a strong level of belief heading into this game, though, as they felt like they had what it’d take to at least grab a point, if not all 3, out of the famed Azteca.
After a strong performance against Mexico in the Gold Cup, where they went toe-to-toe with the CONCACAF giants before falling to a last-minute goal, they’d shown that they could compete with this Mexican team, and looked to do so again in this game.
And to give them credit, they then went out and did just that on Thursday, picking up a key point in a 1-1 draw against Mexico, in a game that they soon won’t forget.
In a game where they went down early to Mexico, they did well to battle back and etch out a key point, one that could prove to be huge in the long term as they continue to battle to reach the 2022 World Cup via these crucial ‘Octagonal’ games.
Plus, not only did they do well to come from behind in a stadium that isn’t friendly to visiting teams, they did so while arguably playing the much better soccer on the night, too, which is almost unheard of for visiting teams.
“I said (before this) that we had to be brave,” Canadian head coach, John Herdman, said after this one. “I thought it was encouraging what our players showed. It’s easy to come here and to park the bus, but we wanted to show that we’re about stepping forward, we wanted to show that there’s more to come, so we’re happy with the performance, and content with the point.”
But that’s this new Canadian side for you. Once a team that would never get anything out of road games, they’re now heading into games against the US and Mexico away from home and picking up points out of those games, and aren’t doing so by parking the bus.
Plus, almost strangely, they have the feeling that they could’ve done much better than this, as well, showing that this truly is a new Canadian team, one that the rest of CONCACAF needs to pay attention to.
“I love that we’re even asking that question,” Herdman said when asked if he thought his team could’ve gotten more out of this game. “That’s where we want to be, we want the 3 points”
But now, thanks to that point, they’ve put themselves in a good position through the first 4 games of the Octo, as they now sit 3rd out of 8 teams with 6 points, putting them in one of the vaunted spots that would send them straight to the World Cup, should they stay there by the end of this round.
They’ve still got 10 long games ahead of them to maintain that spot, but there’s no doubt that this has been a good start to the Octo from Canada, and this Mexico game was a prime example of that.
So with all of that in mind, here’s some of what stood out to us from this game, one that could prove to be key to Canada in the long run, as they look to continue their quest towards Qatar.
A strong start stopped by early goal:
To start the game, though, Canada would go on and do something that not many expected them to do in this game – come out and try to play soccer.
Faced off against the giants of CONCACAF, in their fortress, Canada had every reason to want to feel like an inferior side, especially considering their history against this Mexican side.
Considering their poor history of results in Mexico, everyone expected them to sit back and try to soak up pressure, but instead, they come out with a vengeance.
Bucking conventional wisdom, Canada threw numbers forward to start the game, and actually tried to hold the ball in their opponent’s half, playing the ball around with speed.
That’d nearly pay off for them early, too. Thanks to a lovely burst forward from Richie Laryea in the 15th minute, who then played a 1-2 with Alphonso Davies, he got into a good spot for a shot, but he sent his shot too close to Mexico’s Guillermo Ochoa in goal, and Tajon Buchanan sent the subsequent rebound over the bar.
Because of that, it felt like they could very well make something out of this game, a game that many said was impossible for them to do so in, as they seemed to swell in belief as the half went on.
So naturally, Mexico then went and scored in the 21st minute, dashing those dreams.
Off of one Canadian mistake in the Mexican half, El Tri sent forward numbers in a hurry, and they’d manage to punish the Canadian for their carelessness, as the dangerous Hirving Lozano found a bit of space at the edge of the Canadian box.
From there, he did well to cut in, lift his head, and find a streaking Jorge Sanchez in the box, and the Mexican full back managed to bring the ball down and finish the chance through Maxime Crepeau’s legs in the Canadian goal, giving the hosts a lead.
With that, the fans came to life, and Mexico seemed to have wings again, which was a big blow for Canada, who then found themselves in an impossible situation heading into the last 70 minutes of the game, down 1-0 and with the momentum against them.
A bit of Osorio magic makes things interesting:
But despite that, to the surprise of everyone, much like they did at the start of the game, Canada just kept on playing their game, continuing to make things happen.
Even though they were trailing, they continued to plug along as if they weren’t, just doing their best to chase an unlikely equalizer.
And to give them credit, they’d actually come close to doing so.
First, in the 30th minute, Buchanan would turn on the afterburners and get into a good position behind Mexico’s left back, Jesus Gallardo, allowing him to whip a dangerous ball into the back post, where he’d find an unmarked Davies, but Davies narrowly sent his shot wide.
A few minutes later, in the 39th, Canada then came close again, as Stephen Eustaquio did well to whip in a dangerous ball off of a wide set-piece, finding a wide-open Steven Vitoria at the back post, and the Canadian centre back would do well to get his head on the cross, but Ochoa stood strong to his effort.
But unfortunately, as the minutes ticked down towards half time, it felt like chances would be all that Canada would have to offer, but that the breakthrough would prove to be elusive, as had been the case so many more times before then.
Then, Jonathan Osorio arrived onto the scene in the 43rd minute.
It might not have been the most intricate bit of possession that Canada had in the first half, but it might have been the most important one, as it all started with Davies drifting into a pocket in the middle.
From there, he received the ball at his feet, looked up, and then spotted a streaking Osorio, who was hugging the shoulder of the last defender, ready to receive the ball. Davies dutifully obliged in that request, playing a nice slip pass, one that Osorio received in stride, getting behind the Mexican defence with one touch, before slotting the ball home on his left foot.
With that, Canada had done the unthinkable, tying things up at the Azteca, plus, more importantly, they’d done so before halftime, as well, putting them in a great position as they headed into the second half.
After many suggested that it’d be impossible for them to go and try and go toe-to-toe against Mexico at the Azteca, they’d shown that it was indeed possible, and it seemed to put winds into their sails as they get set to take on the last 45 minutes of this contest.
“With our resilience, we started to take more risks,” Herdman explained. “You’ll see more open games, we know that we can play against anyone, and they know that they can come back against anyone.”
Canada overcomes Mexican wave in the second half:
But then, the altitude started to kick in for Canada, who then lost some of that wind, as the momentum started to shift in Mexico’s favour to start the second half.
Because of that, the game started to go away from them a bit as the half rolled on. They remained very much in the game, and sat where they wanted to be, with the game tied, but things started to tilt ever so slightly in Mexico’s favour, which was dangerous as they continued to grow back into the match.
Then, an unfortunate event happened for Canada in the 59th minute. After some homophobic chants from the Mexican crowd, the game was paused for a few minutes to warn the Mexican fans who were at fault, giving a break for the players.
While the whole scenario is tough for Canada in the first place, as this game was supposed to be played in front of no fans, due to the use of homophobic chants by Mexican fans in their meeting with Canada at the Gold Cup, it soon got worse for them after the break.
Thanks to the rest that the break provided, Mexico started to really take over the game, as they looked for a winner.
First, Mexico hit the crossbar in the 63rd minute, as a dangerous ball in from Hector Herrera bounced off of Canada’s Alistair Johnston and onto the frame of goal, before clearing out.
Then, Mexico actually scored, as Raul Jimenez put the ball in the net after a nice low cross from out wide, but it was determined that he’d fouled Canada’s Steven Vitoria before doing so, forcing the ref to call off the attempt.
But somehow, against the odds, Canada made it through that period of play unscathed, surviving every one of Mexico’s attempts.
They even then had a few chances of their own, as Liam Fraser forced a nice save out of Ochoa off of a corner in the 77th minute, before Jonathan David came close in the 80th minute, only finding himself let down by his first touch on a promising break.
Despite the push, it allowed them to dream of being able to pick up the result right to the end of the game, giving them a chance to achieve what many thought to be impossible, and to grab any sort of points out of the Azteca.
It took a resilient defensive push to do so, along with a moment of offensive brilliance, but they did what they needed to do, making this a key result.
“We said, ‘Look, if we’re going to go out there and win, expect this game to be open’,” Herdman said. “I told (Maxime) Crepeau, ‘Look, I’m not putting pressure on you to keep a clean sheet tonight, just have a good game, because you’re going to be busy’. We were coming into play, coming to be on our front foot, we knew the pitch would be open, and I thought we defended well.”
Laryea continues to set the tone:
Otherwise, though, it’s important to shout out one of the standout performers on the night for Canada, and there might have been none better than Laryea’s, who came up huge for his team when they needed him.
After a strong performance during the September window for his team, one where he was one of just 3 players who played all 270 minutes for Canada, he continued that into this game, going the full 90 once again.
Despite being in an environment that can be notoriously difficult for players, due to the altitude, heat and travel, he looked no worse for wear, as the conditions just didn’t seem to bog him down.
From his play offensively, such as the first half burst that nearly led to an opening goal, to his defensive efforts, which included several key tackles, duels, interceptions and clearances, along with some feisty moments, he came up big for Canada in this game, and the result reflected that.
As one of the emotional leaders on this team, he tends to set the tone for Canada in these games, and that was no exception against Mexico, as he managed to fire up his teammates at some key moments.
So even though he might not wear an armband on the team, or gets talked about as much as some of his teammates, he continues to be a key leader for Canada both emotionally and in how they played, highlighting his importance to the team.
There’s a reason why he continues to play big minutes for this Canadian side, all without rest, and he proved that in this game.
Unfortunately for Canada, he’s now due for a mandatory rest, as he’s suspended for their next game against Jamaica due to yellow card accumulation, but you know that when he’s back, he’ll find a way to pick up where he left off in this game.
Elsewhere, it was very interesting to see Canada’s tactical approach to this game, because as mentioned earlier, they went for it in this game, and their lineup indicated that they’d do so right from when it was released.
As usual, Herdman elected to go for quite the flexible tactical set-up, electing to play in a very fluid 3-5-2that also operated as a 4-4-2 of sorts.
Offensively, they played more in the 3-5-2, allowing them to attack Mexico down the flanks and in the middle, as they looked to try and play the ball down the flanks right away, before shifting to play around in the middle if nothing else opened up.
Because of that, it was no surprise to see their best chances of the game, including the goal, came from that approach, as they really found some nice pockets of space in the Mexican half.
From Buchanan’s bursting runs down the flanks that nearly led to goals, to Laryea’s early chance and Osorio’s goal that resulted from some nice interplay in the middle, Canada managed to really hold their own offensively, which was nice to see.
Defensively, they then shifted into more of a 4-4-2, which saw them sit a little deeper than we’re used to seeing from them, as they tried to get bodies behind the ball whenever they lost it. They didn’t always succeed in that, as Mexico did a lot more damage on the counter than they would’ve maybe liked, but on the flip side, they didn’t give up much when they managed to get those numbers behind the ball.
By doing that, they’d be able to both shut down the middle, while also making things tight to play with down the flanks, making it hard for Mexico to carve through them. It didn’t stop Mexico from creating some decent half-chances from those areas, but it stopped them from creating the sort of chances that they love to feast on.
So overall, Canada were able to do the job that they needed to in this one.
Yes, it was closer than they would’ve liked at times, especially with the crossbar and the disallowed goal, but considering that Canada easily could’ve had a second goal at the other end, too, they did what they needed to at both ends of the pitch, and it allowed them to pick up the point.
After a mixed bag tactically in the first set of games, they took the lessons that they needed to take out of that window into this game, and hopefully they continue to do that through the rest of this window.
In the Mixer:
Lastly, here’s a look at some other bits and bobs that stood out to us from this one:
- John Herdman said after the game that this was the best game he’d seen out of Jonathan Osorio in a Canadian shirt. Hard to disagree with him on that one.
- Shout out to Max Crepeau. Thrust into action in the Azteca, he did what he needed to do, helping his team at a few key moments. It might not have been his best game, but he did what he needed to do to help his team win, putting up a gritty performance.
- FIFA and CONCACAF need to do something about the homophobic chants. If it takes docking points from Mexico, or making them play in front of empty stadiums or neutral venues, make it happen. There’s no need for that sort of stuff in the game, and it’s just unfortunate that it’s persisting despite many warnings, as the message should’ve been sent a long time ago.
- On a more positive note, Canada became the first team to take points off of Mexico and the US in an away game in a World Cup qualifying cycle, ever, as per this stat off of Paul Carr on Twitter. Not bad at all…
- (The stat in question: https://twitter.com/PaulCarr/status/1446317153771212800?s=20)
- No idea how Canada is going to manage for this Jamaica game, as they currently only have 21 players available for that one due to injuries and suspensions, assuming nothing changes concerning the statuses of Lucas Cavallini, Cyle Larin and Atiba Hutchinson ahead of then. Thankfully, they’ll welcome the return of Junior Hoilett and David Wotherspoon before the game, who missed this game due to COVID regulations in the UK, but thanks to this game, Canada will now be missing Laryea, Buchanan and Steven Vitoria in that Jamaica game due to yellow card accumulation, which isn’t ideal.
But despite that, Canada will head into that Jamaica game with the full belief that they can take the points that they need off of a struggling Jamaican side, who sit last in the Octo with 1 point through 4 games.
It won’t be easy to play away in Jamaica for Canada, especially with their absences, but considering that Jamaica is going to be missing several key players of their own, and won’t be playing in front of fans, that’s going to give Canada a big boost ahead of that one.
After a result like this, Canada will also be buzzing, too, which will make them feel that they’ve got what it takes to grab what would be a huge 3 points in their quest to get to the World Cup, which will only fuel them ahead of that one.
In this game, they showed that they can compete with anyone in CONCACAF, so no better way to prove that than to go to Jamaica and get the win, putting them in the driver’s seat as they head into the last game of this window.
So because of that, it’s important that they take the momentum from this game and carry it over into that one, because if they do, you’d fancy their chances of their winning, helping them continue their quest to return to the World Cup for the first time since 1986.
“We’re here to entertain,” Herdman said jokingly after the game. “In all seriousness, we looked at our pregame strategy, and we said that tonight we’d push hard, because this is a group of guys that who don’t want to rest over the next period of time.”
“I’ve got a group of warriors,” he added. “I know that coming into this next game, I’ve got some guys that are fresh and ready for Jamaica, and that’s what I’ve talked about, with this group, I can rely on guys (to be ready) to come in.”
Up Next: Canada vs Jamaica, Sunday October 10th, 2021, 15:00 PDT, 18:00 EDT (National Stadium Independence Park, Kingstontown)
Cover Photo via: Canada Soccer/MexSport