Gold Cup: Canada have plenty to play for in group stage

TAMPA, Fla. — Despite the disappointment over Canada’s 2-0 loss to the USA on Tuesday, all is not lost for Stephen Hart’s side.

In fact, there is still a heck of a lot to play for.

The Canadians and their supporters were disheartened at losing to their rivals, but the Americans were always going to be favored. Now, the focus for Canada must shift to grabbing as many points as possible from the final two matches of the group stage.

“The United States game is one of three, and it’s important to get out of the group stage and get into the knockout stage,” Hart said prior to the loss. “If we want to play at the highest level consistently, we have to learn to manage every game that we play. That’s [the coaching staff’s] task, but it’s also the player’s task.”

With the top two teams from each group plus the two best third-place finishers advancing to the knockout stage, Canada’s next couple of matches are crucial to determining the rest of their tournament.

The Canadians sit at the bottom of Group C after the loss to the USA, and are looking up at third-placed Guadeloupe due to goal differential. A win over the Gwada Boys at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday night (6 pm ET, Galavisión, Rogers Sportsnet) puts Canada right back in the thick of things, especially if the Americans do the expected and defeat Panama in the main event of the doubleheader here.

A second-place finish in Group C would mean a date with one of Jamaica, Guatemala or Honduras in the quarterfinals, all teams against whom Canada have had recent success. If the Canucks finish third, they’ll almost assuredly meet the Mexicans in the next round, a daunting task that, while better than not advancing at all, is probably not at the top of Hart’s wish list.

So what should Canadian fans wish for from the rest of the group stage?

Well, since the United States are the clear favorites to top the group, Canada supporters should hope that the Americans stay true to form and run the rest of the table, keeping Panama within striking distance for a potentially huge showdown next week in Kansas City (assuming, of course, that the Canucks bounce back and prevail over Guadeloupe). Fans should also hope that Canada's offense can get going, as a few goals could be the difference between moving on in the competition or going home early.

Most of all, Canadian supporters should hope to see more of the Canada team from the second half of the loss to the Americans, a team that had the USA on their heels for large stretches. If that Canadian team shows up consistently, good things could be in store.