The Canadian men’s national team flies into the Gold Cup quarter-finals. But first, they’ll face a major test against the United States on Sunday in Kansas City.
After securing a spot in the Octagonal Round, the 2021 Gold Cup presents an opportunity for Canada to continue their growth path and can be a proving ground for newer members of the men’s national team. So far, so good – from both perspectives. After two matches, both won with the same scoreline, Canada sits atop Group B thanks to a +6 goal differential, achieving qualification to the Gold Cup quarter-finals for the 7th time irrespective of the result of the final group match.
Canada’s Gold Cup had started last Sunday with a 4-1 win over Martinique with goals by Kyle Larin, Jonathan Osorio, Stephen Eustaquio, and Theo Corbeanu. The match (and therefore the tournament) didn’t get off to an idyllic start with a defensive blunder leading to a goal by Martinique’s Emmanuel Riviere. The star of the match was Tajon Buchanan, however, who proved to be a thorn in the opposition’s side with blistering runs and dribbling past opposing defenders on the left side, revealing that Canada has options on left wing despite Alphonso Davies’ absence.
Yesterday’s match against 86th-ranked Haiti was the third in a little over a month – the last one was played on June 16, 2021 with a decisive 3-0 win that sent the Canadians to the Octagonal Round for CONCACAF World Cup qualifying for Qatar 2022. In the previous match the Haitians were edged only 1-0 by the United States, so winning this match was key to Canada’s Gold Cup pursuit.
Canada proved to have become a bit of a bête noire to Haiti, inflicting the Caribbean island nation a heavy 4-1 defeat with goals by Stephen Eustaquio (who scored on direct free kick) in the first half, followed by a brace by Kyle Larin (the second through a penalty kick awarded after a tackle on Richie Laryea was reviewed by VAR) and the final goal by Junior Hoilett (who came on for Lucas Cavallini late in the second) following a trip on debuting Ayo Akinola. Second win for Canada in as many games, both with the same final scoreline: 4-1.
As mentioned above, John Herdman and his staff are taking the Gold Cup as an opportunity for Canada to showcase some of the younger players and put some key minutes in their legs at the international level. Most notably, Toronto FC forward Ayo Akinola made his debut for Canada (after declaring for the red and white, turning down his native United States) as did Houston Dynamo forward Tyler Pasher.
Another player to keep one’s eye on is Wolverhampton Wonderers forward Theo Corbeanu, who got on the scoresheet late in the opener against Martinique. Twenty-three year old Harry Paton got his first ever call up, with Canadian scouts impressed with what they saw from him in Scottish Premiership side Ross County FC. He’s yet to make his debut with the men’s senior team.
Making space for these newer additions, superstars Alphonso Davies (a late-breaking left ankle injury right before start of the Gold Cup) and Jonathan David (technical decision) were left home. They will likely return in the fall when Canada will enter the Octagonal Round, and are expected to be joined by veterans Atiba Hutchinson and Scott Arfield.
With his two goals yesterday, Besiktas forward Cyle Larin set a record by scoring in four straight games. In addition, he scored his 10th goal in a calendar year, breaking the tie that locked him Jonathan David and Lucas Cavallini (each scoring 8 in 2019).
Finally, Herdman earned a 20th victory as the men’s national team head coach, drawing him level with Stephen Hart in career victories and one behind leader Bob Lenarduzzi. On Sunday the Canucks will need to at least draw the match against the United States to finish atop Group B.
By: Rocco Fasano / @CatenaccioNA
Featured Image: Juan Castro / Jonathan Daniel – Getty Images / Icon Sportswire