Canada Soccer’s Men’s National Team took on Panama in a must-win game at BMO Field on Wednesday night. Here’s what stood out from that one, a huge 4-1 victory for the hosts, as Canada continued their quest through the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers in emphatic fashion on Wednesday.
Needing a win, you just wondered if they’d find a way to come up big with their backs firmly situated against the wall.
As they took on Panama in a must-win match in front of a near-sold-out BMO Field in Toronto on Wednesday, one could only wonder if Canada Soccer’s Men’s National Team would be able to handle the pressure of winning, as they looked to pick up what would a massive win for their World Cup hopes.
Continuing their journey through the ‘Octagonal’, the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers, they knew that this Panama game would be massive for them, as they headed into this game sitting just a point behind their Central American foes, making this a must-win for both sides.
With a win, Canada could leapfrog back into a top 3 spots in the Octo, which for those unfamiliar with the system, will be one of CONCACAF’s 3 entrants into the 2022 World Cup, making it imperative that you finish among those spots at the end of this 14-game journey.
So that Canada then went out and made sure to put themselves in one of those spots with a massive 4-1 win over Panama is huge, as that can allow them to dream with 6 games out of 14 of this Octo now played, putting them in pretty good position heading towards the midway point of this stage.
The work is far from over for Canada, no doubt, but this is the sort of momentum-boosting win that they needed after 2 tough draws to open up this October camp, as they made sure to finish this triple-match window on a high note with an emphatic win.
In front of over 26 000 loud and raucous fans at BMO Field, they gave them a show to remember, as they managed to overcome going down 1-0 within the first 5 minutes to rack up 4 unanswered goals, including a 3-goal burst in a 12 minutes period in the second half that really sealed the result.
It might not have been Canada’s best victory, but it was a gritty one, which for them, came at the perfect time, as they headed into this game quite shorthanded, missing several key players, making some wonder if they had what it took to beat a plucky Panama side that had already shocked several top teams in the Octo.
“I thought they started with a real intensity,” Canada’s head coach, John Herdman, said after the game. “We got hit with the sucker punch, but I think we gave the fans what they came to see.”
Having now taken care of business in that game, though, they can now head into the next window with a bit of confidence, as they get set to take on Costa Rica and Mexico in two massive home games in Edmonton, knowing that they can truly cement their status as a top 3 team heading into their last 6 games if they do well in those 2 games next month.
But they can only dream of doing that thanks to a massive game against Panama, and that shouldn’t be forgotten.
So seeing all of that, here’s what stood out from this Panama game, a game that proved to be memorable for so many reasons, as Canada took a big step in their journey towards the 2022 World Cup with a key victory.
Slow start a cause for concern:
But while it ended on a high note for Canada, it’s important to note that it didn’t start as well as they would’ve liked it to.
Heading into this one, Canada was supposed to come out to a dream start, yet, they got caught in a nightmare much earlier than they could’ve ever anticipated.
Having sold upwards of 25 000 tickets for this game at BMO Field, Canada was expecting a big home-field advantage for this one, as they looked to avoid a repeat of their last game at BMO, which came against El Salvador, where it felt like 50% of the 15 000 allowed into the stadium for that one were cheering for the road team.
That changed for this game, though, as Canadian fans came out in droves, some as early as 4 hours before the game, welcoming both teams to the stadium before heading in to take their seats.
“We want to thank all of those that came out,” Herdman said. “We felt that atmosphere.”
Thanks to that, it made a noticeable difference in terms of the noise level in BMO, which was good news for Canada, who knew that this was a big game heading into this, and got to play in front of an atmosphere that reflected that.
But the bad news with that, however? Due to some issues with entering the stadium, not all of those 25 000 plus fans would be able to make it into the stadium on time, as thousands of people got left stranded in the parking lot as the game kicked off.
Sensing an opportunity to pounce, Panama would quickly try to silence the crowd that was in the stadium before it got too full, and it worked, as they absorbed a bit of pressure before hitting Canada on the counter-attack in the 5th minute, where they’d be able to find the opening goal.
After Michael Murillo did well to find some space down the right-hand side, he hit his teammate, Rolando Blackburn, with a lovely low cutback, one that his teammate would be able to tap into an empty net with ease, leaving the Canadian faithful to look on in shock.
It wasn’t all that surprising to see that sort of bright start from Panama, as there was a reason why they came into this game in the top 3 in the Octo, but to see them pounce so quickly against Canada on Canada’s home field was still a big shock, as it left the hosts to fight an uphill battle for the rest of the game.
The good news for Canada, though? Despite the early goal, they’d had the better of the chances up to that point, and certainly looked like they had a goal in them, but they just needed to find a way to get it out of their system, allowing the home crowd to get back into the game as planned.
But despite that, you never want to play from down a goal in CONCACAF, as there’s a reason why teams that score first tend to do better in games in this region, so for Canada, they knew what lied ahead of them as they chased that equalizing goal.
A great bounceback:
And to give them credit, despite going down by a goal, Canada managed to ramp up the pressure all that bit more, as they looked to prove that Panama’s early goal wasn’t indicative of the overall balance of the game.
To do that, they continued to fashion chance-after-chance, as they just tried to will the ball into the back of the net.
They came close on a few occasions, as Jonathan David got robbed in the box by Luis Mejia not long after the goal, and Steven Vitoria had a good look at goal that he probably wanted back, but they just needed that one tally to get them over the line, as Panama held strong.
So when they finally hit paydirt in the 28th minute, it felt all the sweeter for the home team, who had to really work for their opener.
On a sequence that saw them win back-to-back-to-back corners, all on the right side, Alphonso Davies managed to whip in a more dangerous ball each time, before finally putting in a ball that Panama could do nothing about, as it’d bounce off of their own man, Michael Murillo, and into the back of the net for an own goal.
It might not have been the prettiest goal that Canada would ever score, but it was a massive one, as they desperately needed any sort of offence, so that it came by the own goal didn’t matter to them.
After missing several golden opportunities against Mexico in the first game of this window, and getting shut out against Jamaica in the second game, they needed to find goals early in this third clash, so they were more than happy to get on the board when they did, allowing them to hit the reset button on this match.
Davies comes up big when his country needs him most:
So having done so well to get back into the game, you just had a feeling that they were a dam about to burst, but the only question would be when would they do so, as they seemed to find a second wind after that goal.
So then, it almost felt inevitable to see that breakthrough come in the second half. After a quiet start to that stanza, Canada continued to take control of the game, making one wonder when that burst of goals would come.
And then, Alphonso Davies struck in the 66th minute.
On what seemed like a pass gone wrong from Jonathan David, he made a long run just to get to keep the ball from trickling out, before bursting forward and taking the chance himself as he ran in on a 2 on 1.
Despite having support to his left, he elected just to truck through and unleash a shot, and it’d fool Panama’s Luis Mejia in goal, trickling in to give Canada the lead, while sending BMO Field into ecstasy.
It was a spectacular goal, the sort of goal that only a special player could score, yet Davies found a way to do it at such a big moment, and do so while seeming not to hit 2nd gear, just showing why he’s rated as one of the best young up-and-coming players in world soccer right now.
In the midst of a week that has seen him play 2 full 90-minute games for Canada over the last 7 days, Davies found a way to step up and carry his side when they needed him most, knowing that they were shorthanded and in desperate need of a victory, with that goal being the best example of that.
There’s a reason why he’s the best player in CONCACAF right now, and it’s in moments like that where you can truly realize it, as he just knows how to put this team on his back when they need him to, and there might not have been a better time for him to do that than when he did.
And that was just the start of the fun for Canada.
A few minutes later, in the 71st minute, Richie Laryea set up Tajon Buchanan for a nice header to make it 3-1, before Davies then crossed a ball in for Jonathan David to calmly tuck home in the 78th minute to make it 4-1, all but wrapping up the game for the hosts.
From there, they managed to cruise to victory, doing well to hold on all the way to the final whistle, allowing them to grab a memorable result.
But, while it was a fun end to the game for Canada, it might have never happened if Davies didn’t come up big in the 66th minute, as he provided the moment that his side needed to make the magic happen.
All camp, it felt like they were a goal away from an explosion, yet they just couldn’t find that tally, but then up stepped Davies, and he made sure this window would end on a high note, leaving the BMO faithful with something memorable to cheer about.
“He’s dreaming of taking this team to a World Cup,” Herdman said. “We’ve got something special in Alphonso, we know that, and I think every team knows that now”
Otherwise, it was quite interesting to see how Canada would come out tactically in this game, as they looked to offer up a set-up that could nullify the Panamian threat.
As expected, they came out in a sort of a 3-5-2 that sometimes became a 4-4-2, but defensively, they chose to stick in that 4-4-2, instead of a back 5, as they really tried to take away the wide areas from Panama, who tend to find a lot of joy in those spaces.
And to be fair to Canada, that approach worked. Other than the early goal, Panama didn’t get as much time out wide as they would’ve liked, and that made it hard for them to fashion up many high-quality chances after going up 1-0.
Not exactly a team that is blessed with creative midfield options, Canada knew that they could afford to allow them a little more space in the middle, allowing them to keep 2 compact lines of 8 behind the ball, along with the 2 outlets in transition.
In the attack, though, their set-up was a tad more complex, as they looked to then push bodies back into the middle when they did have the ball, almost opposite to their defensive approach.
It made sense, as Canada had a lot of attacking punch in midfield, especially considering that they were running with two more attacking #8s in Jonathan Osorio and David Wotherspoon, but it left Osorio and Wotherspoon to cover a lot of ground.
Because of that, it left them quite isolated at times, as they sometimes got caught in pockets between the wide areas, where they filled in without the ball, and in the middle, where they tried to flood when they got it back, but when they did get the ball they had some moments.
Otherwise, the big wrinkle was the deployment of Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David as the two strikers, which was something that we haven’t seen out of Canada since October of 2019, when they employed that tactic to great success in a 2-0 win over the US.
It had its benefits, as it allowed David to be much more involved, and it allowed Davies to roam free, but that also came at a cost, as they tried to force the ball through Davies too much at times, making their attack too predictable.
Because of that, it kept their wing backs, Richie Laryea and Tajon Buchanan, much less involved than you probably would’ve liked, as Canada was almost too direct at times.
That approach did pay off at times, as there were moments when Canada would have something click in their brain, and the midfield, wing backs and forwards would come together for an electric attacking move, but it would be much too sporadic, making it hard for Canada to craft chances on a consistent basis.
So overall, it was a pretty good set-up defensively, but you could tell that the offence needed a bit more time together, and considering that they started to figure things out as the game went along, that showed why, but luckily for Canada, they put the puzzle together at the perfect moment to help their side grab a win.
In the Mixer:
Lastly, here are some other bits and bobs that stood out to us from this one:
- Pretty cool to note that this was the highest-ever attended game at BMO Field for a CanMNT game, and was the biggest crowd that Canada played in front of since 2016. So to say this was a game that was a long time coming would be an understatement.
- With that win, Canada now has the joint-top home record this Octo, with 7 points, tied with Mexico and the US. Seeing that the formula for making it to the World Cup through the Octo is by winning your home games and picking up as many points as possible on the road, considering that they’ve got 7 out of 9 points at home, and 3 out of 9 on the road, Canada is on track to do that at the moment.
- Interesting to note that with Alphonso Davies’s goal, his 5th in World Cup qualifiers, Canada became the 1st team in the whole world to have 4 different players with 5 or more goals this 2022 World Cup qualifying cycle. Just let that sink in…
- Otherwise, nice to see Jonathan David bust a 2-game mini-slump, adding a goal and an assist, as he found a way to come up with a lively performance up front when his team needed one from him, doing well to bounce back after 2 quiet games to start this window.
- Lastly, make sure you don’t miss the return leg between these teams. This game was very feisty, and the return leg will be each team’s last one of the Octo, in Panama, which could mean that World Cup implications might be on the line for that one. Seeing how intense this game was, that’s a very intriguing possibility to imagine.
So now, Canada’s players will return to their clubs and get back to normal activities, before they reconvene in just under a month from now in Edmonton for their November camp.
Seeing that camp will just have a double match window, instead of the triple game windows that we’ve slowly become accustomed to, it’ll be a nice change for the players, who will have less turnaround to deal with.
Plus, with both games at home, they won’t have to deal with the sort of travel that they’ve had to deal with so far, giving them a bit of a boost heading into those matches.
Even though they won’t be easy games, as Costa Rica is one of the pluckier sides in this region for a reason, and Mexico is, well, Mexico, seeing how Canada have played so far, undefeated through 6 games, they’ll have every reason to believe that they have what it takes to get 6 points out of that window.
Off of the back of this performance, they’re a team that feels that they’re on a path of destiny, heading right towards a World Cup, and while the work is far from over in terms of them actually making that happen, they’re tracking well at the moment.
So while it’s disappointing to see that momentum temporarily halted as the players return to their clubs, it’s going to be nice to see this team reconvene again next month, as they continue their quest to change history.
“We just knew we had to win our games at home,” Herdman said.
“What you’ve seen tonight is Canada stepped forward, we’ve put ourselves again back in the top 3.”
Up Next: Canada vs Costa Rica, Friday, November 12th, 2021, 18:05 PDT, 21:05 EDT (Commonwealth Stadium, Edmonton)