Amid Houston’s sweltering heat, the Canadian men’s national team avoided disaster in their final Concacaf Gold Cup Group D match, defeating Cuba 4-2 Tuesday evening at Shell Energy Stadium to punch their ticket to the knockout stages.
Toronto FC’s Jonathan Osorio added to the lead in the 26th minute, as Liam Fraser won a tackle in midfield and hit a through ball to Liam Millar, allowing former Whitecaps forward Lucas Cavallini to link up with Osorio, who finished on his first touch for the 2-0 lead.
After an astute opening 40 minutes, Canada struggled through first-half stoppage time. An Osorio slip led to Minnesota United goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair pulling down a Cuba attacker, and Luis Paradela slotted home the ensuing penalty kick.
Canada re-established their two-goal lead early in the second half, as former Toronto FC forward Jayden Nelson scored his second CanMNT goal, finishing a dropped ball from Sandy Sánchez.
Cuban head coach Pablo Elier Sánchez swapped goalkeepers in the 61st minute, taking out Sánchez for Nelson Johnston, who conceded to Millar for the FC Basel winger's first Canada goal, a headed corner to take the 4-1 lead. Maykel Reyes then scored Cuba’s second penalty kick goal in the 89th minute to make it 4-2.
- THE BIG PICTURE: Canada had a mission and they got it done. While the No. 166-ranked team is far from a testing opponent, Canada did not take the match lightly and showed their emerging qualities as an unfamiliar group. Head coach John Herdman also switched to a 4-4-2 formation from their usual 3-5-2, proving a valuable shift for Les Rouges, who played on the same page and with more fluidity than they had through the previous Gold Cup draws vs. Guatemala and Guadeloupe.
- MOMENT OF THE MATCH: Canada’s second goal provided something seldom seen in their Gold Cup group-stage performances. After miscommunication errors plagued their first two matches, Liam Fraser hit a ball to Millar, the furthest man forward, allowing Canada’s other attacking options to catch up and complete the slick attacking play.
- MAN OF THE MATCH: With a goal, a crossbar hit and an offside goal, Jonathan Osorio was all over the pitch in the victory and put in a stellar performance to outweigh his slip-up in the first half. He routinely dropped into midfield pockets in Canada’s improved build-up, completing 52 of 58 passes while completing three tackles.
- CAN: Sunday, July 9 vs. USA (7:30 pm ET) | Gold Cup quarterfinals
- CUB: Eliminated