VANCOUVER, BC – Amid a tumultuous time in Canadian soccer, there was finally a match, as Alphonso Davies scored a brace as the Canadian Men’s National Team defeated Curacao 4-0 at BC Place in Vancouver.
While the crowd was a far cry from what could have been, over 17,000 turned up to see Davies’ return as the CanMNT took the next step in their World Cup preparation, kicking off their Concacaf Nations League campaign.
Although the result is a benefit for Canada moving on in the Nations League group stages, the game provided head coach John Herdman with the opportunity to iron out his lineup ahead of Canada’s first World Cup in 36 years.
Alphonso Davies returned to the CanMNT and scored twice as Canada dominated Curacao en route to a 4-0 victory on Thursday night. Steven Vitoria and Lucas Cavallini added the other two goals. While protesters tying themselves to goalposts forced a brief distribution in the second half, the 38th-ranked Canadians proved too much for their Caribbean foes, as Canada moved to 1-0-0 in Concacaf Nations League play.
Zoning in on a true best eleven
With roughly 13 available training sessions and at most four preparation matches until the World Cup, Herdman rolled out a first-choice starting lineup for a lesser opponent. With preparation in mind, Canada turned to a 4-4-2, one that could very well be on the field come November.
While structured as a 4-4-2, it was a very fluid formation, with the fullbacks and wingers swapping, leaving Curacao perplexed with their runs.
Within the first few minutes, Adekugbe and Buchanan had already swapped spots, as the former sent an early cross in that Canada failed to convert. Yet, the ability to attack down the flanks and exploit wide areas was critical to Canada’s success in the first half.
“We started well tonight, and I thought we were relentless,” Herdman told the media. “With the pace, we’re encouraging them to get the ball outside; there’s a bit more intricacy around how you do that to create that space for people like Davies and Buchanan; it allows them to draw defenders.”
Additionally, Stephen Eustquio and Atiba Hutchinson added a calming presence to midfield, allowing Canada to hold the ball up, and distribute to their attackers, whether on the wing with the fluid fullbacks or straight up the attackers.
Aside from the first-choice starting lineup, Canada showed that again, they don’t just rely on Davies, even as he returned. Cavallini, who has played brilliantly as of late for Vacnvouer, made an impact, scoring a goal as a substitute, while centre-back Steven Vitoria also found his way onto the scoresheet.
While Herdman switched up the lineup in the second half,e eventually shifting Davies to a striker role with no outright forwards in the lineup, the first half showed that Canada has a good sense of their identity heading into Qatar.
Let Alphonso cook
If there were doubts that Alphonso Davies wouldn’t fit back into the Canadian team, those are now silenced. From kickoff, the former Vancouver Whitecap, now Bayern Munich star, made his presence known to the Curacao defenders, going 1-on-1, often beating his man down the left-wing.
Davies led the way on Thursday night with the opening goal in the 27th minute before adding a second in the 78th. His first goal, taken from the spot, resulted from the 21-year-old bursting into the penalty area with speed and drawing a foul in the box.
As he did as a teenager with the Whitecaps, Davies took on defenders quickly, bringing the fans to their feet whenever he touched the ball. However, his ability to work in tandem with left-back Alistair Johnston stood out.
“Sometimes what they’re doing off the ball is more important than what they’re doing on,” Herdman said on Buchanan and Davies.
As mentioned above, Canada’s wide players worked together on the wings, and Davies often overlapped with Johnston. However, with his attacking abilities, the youngster roamed into the middle, beating several players on blistering runs throughout the night.
In the second half, Herdman pushed Davies up as a striker and is confident he could play at the highest level.
“It felt good to come back to the stadium where I played from 15-17,” Davies said. “All of the memories came back to me… scoring; it brought back all my memories from my last game with the Whitecaps.”
After missing the final two World Cup qualifying windows, it took a few moments for Davies to re-integrate himself into the Canadian lineup. Still, he is undoubtedly raring a ready-to-go for the next match against Honduras and the upcoming World Cup.
Focus on the soccer
With the emotional week that transpired for Canadian soccer, mich of the lustre had rusted from the idea of playing Curacao. However, as the players warmed up and the match began, the focus turned back to soccer and preparing for the World Cup.
“We were back to business, training, playing and back to what we like to do and we are good at,” Samuel Piette said post-match. “I think we did well tonight, and it was unfortunate not to have the Panama game.”
It’s an essential factor for Canada to have the focus back on the field, and more importantly, the labour issues, now in the hands of legal representation, something that every player was very adamant about.
In the bigger picture, everyone wants to see Canada succeed at the World Cup. Although Lucas Cavallini says “the boys are always ready” regarding Qatar 2022, there is still a long way to go before kickoff against Belgium.
Canada dominated on Thursday; they tested some fresh tactics but, most importantly, turned their attention to the footballing task at hand as they look to take the next step in Canada’s World Cup campaign.
“We know it’s been a difficult week, but we were prepared, and we were ready,” Alistair Johnston said. “We wanted to make a statement.”
It may have been three months since Canada last played, but they won’t have to wait as long for their next chance. The squad travels down to Honduras for their second match of the international window. They look to improve to 2-0-0 in Nations League play on June 13 before disbanding until September’s international window.