KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Canada's Under-23 team proved they could take an early punch and not fold up. Finding their own offensive firepower remains a challenge, though.
They fell behind 1-0 in the opening minute, but then withstood a series of further attacks from the United States in the first 25 minutes of Thursday night's Olympic qualifying opener. Canada then settled into a tight defensive shape and were still within a goal 20 minutes from time.
They couldn't come up with one until after Jordan Morris' second goal put the U.S. up 2-0 in the 73rd, or find another late score before Luis Gil's insurance penalty in stoppage time sealed the Americans' win.
Consequently, they go into the second round of group play at the bottom of Group A after Panama – Saturday's opponent -- and Cuba drew 1-1 in Thursday's early match at Sporting Park.
“Our team played, in my opinion, a good team – a good game, controlling the game,” coach Benito Floro said in his postmatch news conference. “But if you don't score a goal, your play is not positive. But I considered it as having a good game.”
Morris' header just 34 seconds into the match put the Canadians back on their heels, midfielder and captain Samuel Piette told reporters, especially since their first touch of the night was 'keeper Maxime Crepeau digging the ball out of the back of the net.
“For sure, that's tough for us,” Piette said. “We were ready to have a good game, and I think we prepared well for the game. And a goal like that, without even touching the ball, it's tough for us. But I think we responded well to that goal, and we kept going forward.
“We started slow, but as the game moved forward, we played better. I'm really happy with all the guys here, and it's really important that everyone knows their job and keeps their heads up, because there are some more important games coming.”
Michael Petrasso's set-piece header in the 81st provided some offensive hope heading into the remainder of the group stage as well. That has been hard to come by at any level for Canada, whose senior side, – also coached by Floro – played solidly on defense but was eliminated from this summer's CONCACAF Gold Cup after going scoreless in three group matches.
“We attacked a fair amount tonight,” Floro said after Thursday's loss, switching to Spanish and speaking through a translator. “We just couldn't finish.”
Steve Brisendine covers soccer in Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.