The Canadian men’s national team kicked off their September window with a comfortable 2-0 win over Qatar in Vienna, Austria on Friday.
Now a pivotal test versus Uruguay awaits the squad on Tuesday in Bratislava, Slovakia (12 pm ET | OneSoccer, FOX Deportes) – marking the second of three friendlies before the program’s World Cup return arrives, following a 36-year wait.
Here are three key takeaways from Friday’s match.
If someone would’ve predicted Friday’s lineup back in June, there wouldn’t have been many surprises.
But that’s the difference a few months can make. Suddenly, players who were shoe-ins are at risk of being dropped, even the national team’s all-time leading scorer in Cyle Larin due to a lack of minutes with Club Brugge, his new team in Belgium.
Instead, coach John Herdman stuck with his talisman to partner Jonathan David, with both strikers scoring in the victory inside 13 minutes.
Larin opened the scoring via a header on Sam Adekugbe’s cross, and even if the defending was questionable, that goal clearly invigorated the 27-year-old forward. A few minutes later, he latched onto a sublime through ball from Alistair Johnston in behind Qatar’s defense and forced a save out of goalkeeper Saad Al-Sheeb and was generally quite active in possession for Canada.
“It felt good to score,” Larin said after the game. “If I’m playing, I’ll score. I’m not playing that much at my club, but if I get the opportunity, I will take my chances.
“I think the guys went out there and did well. I liked the way we were playing with possession and intensity. We want to build on that and you could see tonight we did and we are finding ways to be better every day.”
That bodes well for Larin’s prospects of starting at the World Cup. It would be beneficial if he’s handed more minutes, of course, but as long as the former Orlando City SC standout keeps producing for Canada in every aspect, that’s predominantly what Herdman will care about.
Injuries to Beşiktaş veteran Atiba Hutchinson and Toronto FC stalwart Jonathan Osorio opened the door for Samuel Piette to capitalize on his form with CF Montréal and partner Porto’s Stephen Eustaquio in the midfield.
From the outset, both players looked like they’d played together dozens of times. The synergy between Eustaquio and Piette was palpable in how they covered for each other whenever they meandered forward, or shuttled across to the flank to form triangles in possession.
Their distribution was crisp and incisive, with Piette demonstrating his newfound confidence on the ball. They kept covering ground defensively to ensure there were no counter-attacking outlets for Qatar and generally ran the midfield while they were on the pitch together.
“We were able to break down their [defensive] block, which is a strong block, and we showed that quality,” said Herdman. “It looked like the boys were enjoying their football and that’s important to us.
“To come away from Concacaf … and play a team like Qatar, we know they’re prepared, they’re an organized team, I was happy with the performance.”
Altogether, it was a dominant performance. Whether they have the pace to keep up with Uruguay or Japan just before Group F play begins Nov. 23 against Belgium, is the lingering question.
“To be dominant like we were, especially in possession and to be able to win the ball back as soon as we lost it, I was super happy with that,” Piette said. “It was 2-0, and I wish we could have scored more goals, but we’ll take the win and move on.”
With Piette’s game ending at around the hour mark, his Montréal teammate – Ismaël Koné – replaced the Canadian veteran and made an immediate impact.
About two minutes after stepping onto the pitch, he hit a terrific through ball towards Ike Ugbo, which Sam Adekugbe corralled and led to two quality chances, neither of which were converted.
The 20-year-old was constantly shuttling up and down the pitch, distributing the ball with aplomb and adding an offensive injection in the central channels that was slightly lacking before his entrance.
Whether that’s enough to grab a starting spot against Uruguay remains to be seen, but his dynamism could be an effective weapon in a match of this magnitude. It’s easy to see why English Championship squads, namely Norwich City and Sheffield United, were circling for his services this summer.