Three Canada takeaways from Gold Cup defeat to USMNT

The Canadian men’s national team settled for second place in Group B at the Concacaf Gold Cup after a 1-0 loss to the United States in their group-stage finale at Children’s Mercy Park Sunday.

Here are three takeaways from Canada’s defeat.

Attack is finally extinguished

For the first time since the 2017 Concacaf Gold Cup, Canada failed to score in a competitive game. That ends a 21-game run with at least one goal, not counting friendlies. This also snapped a nearly two-year unbeaten run since, ironically, the 4-1 defeat to the US in Concacaf Nations League in November 2019.

It wasn’t for a lack of trying. After a disastrous start, conceding just 20 seconds into the match, Canada responded well following a tactical shift from a 3-4-3 to a 4-4-2 after a hydration break in the 30th minute. Prior to that, though, the USA were dictating the tempo and conceded very little to their opponents.

"I thought the US were able to cause that back five problems,” Canada coach John Herdman said in his post-match press conference. “Obviously Gregg [Berhalter] had put some work in to just put [Sebastian] Lletget in positions that were difficult for us.

“But I think we adapted at the water break and we were able to shift into a 4-4-2 in that three-box, three attacking and started to take control of the games."

Those tweaks enabled Tajon Buchanan to be deployed further forward and he caused a ruckus as a result. The New England Revolution attacker had three key passes and four shots, most of which were generated once he moved into an attacking role.

Most of Canada’s chances were generated down the flanks once the US sat off following Shaq Moore’s goal. They pressed and recovered possession well, but couldn’t produce any clear-cut chances once they progressed the ball into the box.

Herdman said there were discussions with the squad ahead of the game about sending in early crosses to get the ball in behind the American backline, but they were unable to do so.

“I think we had enough shots, we got into enough good areas,” Herdman said. “I don't think we were threatening enough when we got in and around that penalty area. There were moments we just had to serve the ball into the box. We've got real predators in there in [Cyle] Larin, [Lucas] Cavallini. We just wanted that extra pass to come back across and I just thought that was a big missed opportunity."

Piette the deputy

Losing Stephen Eustaquio to suspension was a bitter blow for Canada, but Samuel Piette was a valiant replacement on Sunday.

The CF Montréal midfielder was everywhere. He was breaking up play, transitioning the ball forward and he was even hitting line-breaking passes, which isn’t usually his forte. In total, Piette logged 65 touches, completed 48 of 53 passes and won five of his six duels in a complete performance.

In fact, if it wasn’t for Piette and midfield partner Liam Fraser, Canada might’ve struggled to play themselves back into the match for the final hour.

"It was the pitch control that Piette and Fraser were able to establish,” Herdman said when discussing the swing in momentum. “We shifted our defensive structure, but we were able to move into that three box, three [attacking], which is how we would attack.

“I just thought that those two guys were key to being able to establish the possession because we were able to win it back and we were most sound centrally and they were closer to our center backs on the regains so it just meant that we could move it into Tajon quicker."

Even without pure ball-progressing midfielders like Eustaquio and Mark-Anthony Kaye from the start of the game, this served as another reminder that Piette – and even Fraser – are still valued members of the national team.

Potentially costly injuries

In a match that was somewhat overshadowed by injuries for both teams, Canada might have some selection dilemmas for the quarterfinals.

Ayo Akinola was forced out after 20 minutes with a suspected knee injury, then Cyle Larin had to exit with a knock of his own in the second half. Akinola hasn’t been a reliable starter like Larin, which is why the latter is the biggest concern for Herdman.

However, those fears were alleviated after Herdman claimed Larin is likely dealing with “a dead leg." The 26-year-old has scored a national-team record 10 goals in a single calendar year, and it’s still July. Losing the Besiktas striker would’ve been disastrous given his form. 

Akinola’s status, on the other hand, is less certain.

“He just felt a little twist in the knee as the player came across him,” Herdman said. “Sometimes they'll look worse than they are, and he definitely had some mobility. It wasn't that he was getting stretchered or crutched out of here. I think it was maybe more precautionary from the medical team.”

It was an unfortunately early finish for Akinola, who faced the US for the first time since filing his one-time switch of nationality to represent Canada. He has logged 37 minutes for Les Rouges at the Gold Cup thus far.