Canada on precipice of history in Concacaf Nations League


Canada have reached their first final in 23 years after beating Panama, 2-0, Thursday evening in the Concacaf Nations League semifinals at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.

A goal from Jonathan David, his 25th in a Canadian shirt, opened the scoring before Alphonso Davies doubled the lead in the second half. Now, the attention shifts to Sunday’s final against the United States.

Here are three things we learned.

Canada’s Ice Man strikes again

One of the major takeaways from Canada’s 2022 World Cup trip was their lack of effectiveness in the opposition box. The March window showed major improvements in that regard, but Thursday’s win was a perfect case of composure reigning supreme.

Canada produced just one shot in the first half to Panama’s four. That lone attempt just so happened to be the winning goal from David.

In the 1-0 loss to Belgium at the World Cup, David outshot the entire Belgian squad on the night but still came up empty-handed. Fast forward six months, and the Lille forward provided the ice-cold finish that lived up to his “Ice Man” nickname.

Alphonso Davies put the game out of reach with a 69th-minute strike – Canada’s third and final shot on target – to further underline that killer instinct narrative.

“They’re bloody good players,” said Canada coach John Herdman postgame. “We’ve got big-moment players and when we asked them for when those moments came, they need to step up.”

Did they ever, and it bodes well for Sunday’s final.

“Our performance there was about resilience and it was about just shaking off some rust and getting this team back together,” said Herdman. “But it was also about showing our quality.”

MLS representation shines

Kamal Miller started his first match for Canada since the World Cup after missing out on the March window due to injury. Not only was Miller shutting down Panama’s attack on the left side, but he provided the assist for David’s winner.

On top of the assist, Miller completed 40 of his 50 passes, logged three interceptions, one tackle and one clearance in a strong all-around display.

It couldn’t have come at a better time, either. Derek Cornelius started both matches at left center back in March and impressed in Miller’s absence. The fact the Inter Miami CF defender stood out in a marquee match highlights the depth on that side of the pitch for Canada’s backline.

A special hat tip should go out to Panama’s Adalberto Carrasquilla as well. The Houston Dynamo FC midfielder was dominant. Carrasquilla only completed 21 of his 32 passes, but many of them broke Canada’s lines and wreaked havoc. He also won eight of his 10 defensive duels to relieve the pressure off the Panamanian central channels with his diligent defensive work.

Rotation plan?

Some eyebrows were raised when Davies wasn’t named in the starting lineup. Then again, it’s been nearly two months since Davies last played a competitive match (hamstring injury) and Herdman did allude to rotation playing a role during the Nations League Finals.

“Squad rotation is critical,” said Herdman before the game. “With the tight turnaround with only two days in between, there are some players that can’t go back-to-back. That’s a reality, so we’ll manage that. I’ll trust the rotation plan we have in place, but typically that goes out the window after the first 90 minutes.”

Eventually, Davies entered in the 62nd minute and converted the second goal. Alistair Johnston – who recently returned from an ankle injury in late May – was withdrawn for Scott Kennedy after 69 minutes while Tajon Buchanan, another player who suffered a knock in the spring, exited in the 62nd.

After a long, grueling European season, Canada are proceeding with caution and that could serve them well in Sunday’s final.