Squizzato: Canada youth shows plenty of promise in Gold Cup opener

Michael Petrasso, Schaquille Dutard - Canada, French Guiana - race for the ball

It took six years of waiting, and ended up being far scarier than necessary, but Canada can finally celebrate another victory at the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

After going winless and goalless at both the 2013 and 2015 tournaments, Canada opened the 2017 edition of the continental championship by building a 3-0 lead against French Guiana—then nearly blew it, en route to an eventual 4-2 win

The result, in the team’s second game under new head coach Octavio Zambrano, is Canada’s first Gold Cup win since June 11, 2011, and has put Les Rouges in a decent position to reach the quarterfinals for the first time since 2009.

With goal difference as a potentially crucial tiebreaker, however, Canada’s second-half concessions against the French overseas territory could yet prove costly.

Changing of the guard

Zambrano talked the talk ahead of the tournament, proclaiming that he wanted to “see guys that are daring, aggressive, play with abandon and want to put their stamp on the tournament”. On Friday, players like Alphonso Davies, Scott Arfield, Lucas Cavallini and Anthony Jackson-Hamel walked the walk.

It’s a stark contrast to the last few years under Benito Floro, when the team employed a rigid defend-and-counterattack system with a single striker. Against Curacao in a friendly last month, Zambrano ran out a 4-3-3, and used a similar system on this occasion, with Davies and Junior Hoilett flanking Cavallini.

Of course, this was only Canada’s second game under the Ecuadorian. While wins against Curacao and French Guiana are well and good (beggars can’t be choosers, after all), it remains to be seen whether Les Rouges have the depth on both sides of the ball to be competitive with CONCACAF’s heavier hitters.

Happy days for Fonzie

It took Davies all of 15 seconds to burn an opposing defender in his first start for the senior national team. And by the time all was said and done, the Vancouver Whitecaps’ 16-year-old superstar-in-waiting had far exceeded even the most optimistic expectations, scoring two goals in his Gold Cup debut.

These were no tap-ins or flukes, either. Showing his speed and footwork for the full 90 minutes, Davies bested the opposing ’keeper in 1-on-1 situations to find the back of the net both times.

It’s still far too early to place the expectations of the nation on the shoulders of one teenager, of course. He’s got plenty left to prove. But the fact that his performance was complemented by those of his teammates—and that this all came without the presence of guys like Cyle Larin and Tesho Akindele—is a sign that perhaps Canada has finally turned a corner when it comes to finding consistent goal-scoring.

Good to goal?

Starting goalkeeper Milan Borjan was forced to leave with an apparent eye injury in the second half, after colliding with teammate Samuel Piette. The 29-year-old Borjan missed all of the 2015 Gold Cup, but veteran Kenny Stamatopoulos was available to comfortably handle the backstopping duties in that case.

This time out, his relief comes in the form of 23-year-old Maxime Crepeau, who quickly conceded twice after replacing Borjan on Friday, and 28-year-old Jayson Leutwiler, who has made just two previous appearances for Canada.

With relative inexperience along the back line (the game against French Guiana was Steven Vitoria’s fourth start for Canada, and Michael Petrasso’s first as a defender), missing the guidance of their top goalkeeper could deliver a hit to Canada’s hopes of advancement. All eyes will be on Borjan’s status going forward.