Adekugbe makes surprise start as Canada grab key result vs. Costa Rica

Gold cup overlay - Sam Adekugbe

HOUSTON -- Vancouver Whitecaps FC defender Sam Adekugbe has yet to see the field for his club this season after returning from a loan at England’s Brighton and Hove Albion to recover from injury in May.

So there were a few raised eyebrows when Adekugbe’s named turned up in Canada’s starting lineup against Costa Rica, arguably the strongest team in the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup's Group A on Tuesday night.

Apart from the breakdown that allowed Costa Rica to tie the game in what ended up a 1-1 draw, Adekugbe and his fellow defenders put in a good shift in largely shutting down their favored rivals. For his part, a 90-minute performance after largely being kept to the fringes is something to build upon.

“I think the legs are fine. I’ve been working hard behind closed doors and it’s a credit to the medical staff I’ve been working with in Vancouver as well as back in Brighton so I’m happy to get back into the game. I’m happy to get 90 minutes and show that I can get back into it again,” Adekugbe said. “This boosts my confidence knowing I can play 90 minutes against one of the most difficult teams I’ve played against in my career—a top national team side.”

Adekugbe wasn’t the only interesting change to the lineup, as head coach Octavio Zambrano tinkered with his lineup that beat French Guiana 4-2 at Red Bull Arena in the opening group stage game.

Former Toronto FC academy player Mark-Anthony Kaye slotted into what was Patrice Bernier’s spot in midfield and Montreal Impact forward Anthony Jackson-Hamel came in for Lucas Cavallini.

For a team perpetually lamenting a lack of depth, having a handful of new players come in and still get a result against a top side is encouraging to see.

“This is what Canada should be. This is what I want all of our players to showcase,” said Zambrano. “I think Kaye played a good game. Sammy made a good shift, Jackson-Hamel was a good shift. Everybody played a good shift.”

The next question facing Canada is whether fellow Whitecaps defender Marcel de Jong steps back in for Friday’s crucial tilt against Honduras (10 pm ET | TSN2 in Canada, FS1, UniMás, UDN) or if Adekugbe keeps his place.

Regardless of his own personal aspirations, the Calgary native is taking a team-first mentality that he hopes will continue to help Canada to some badly needed results.

“We’re a 23-man squad and at times, some players are going to be on the pitch and some aren’t but I think the collective identity in this team is forever increasing,” said Adekugbe. “You saw it tonight with the boys on the bench with everyone getting involved and pushing each other on.”