On Saturday evening, Canada secured a 1-0 win over Haiti in Leg One of their Second Round matchup in Concacaf World Cup qualifying. The victory at Stade Sylvio Cator in Port-au-Prince moved Canada to within 90 minutes of reaching the final round of regional qualifiers for the first time since 1997.
Here are three takeaways now that this home-and-home series has reached the halfway point.
It wasn’t perfect, but it rarely is in Concacaf.
Despite taking the early lead through Cyle Larin on 14 minutes, Haiti came roaring back in the second half with some quick, direct counterattacks. Goalkeeper Milan Borjan pulled off several crucial saves, which helped Canada close out a massive road victory.
"We knew if we could score early and score first, then we could take control of the game,” said Canada coach John Herdman in his post-match press conference. “The conditions were tough. Getting to the stadium and just seeing the quality of that field, although it's a turf pitch, it wasn't an easy field to play on. It was a bit sticky for the guys, and then the heat was pretty intense.”
The 1-0 win secured a vital away goal and aggregate lead heading into Leg Two on Tuesday night (9 pm ET | Paramount +, OneSoccer) at SeatGeek Stadium, the former home of Chicago Fire FC. However, what was most impressive about the victory is how Canada didn’t buckle under pressure.
Given the various factors that influence Concacaf World Cup qualifying, possessing the mental strength to grind out away results is arguably the most significant quality a team can have.
“That was the exciting thing tonight, I think, from our guys,” Herdman acknowledged when asked about his team’s mental strength. “They showed that they could grind it out. We've been criticized in the past for not grinding out performances on the road and this is as tough a place as I've seen and been.
“Now we go back to Chicago with some control on our destiny."
They were the story of Canada’s 4-0 win over Suriname that saw Les Rouges top Group B in First Round qualifiers, but Jonathan David and Alphonso Davies were relative non-factors this go-around.
It wasn’t for a lack of trying, though. Davies attempted to unsettle Haiti’s backline with his pace and improvisation to no avail, even after switching to the right flank in the second half to evade a left-side overload from Haiti. The Vancouver Whitecaps FC product only attempted one pass into the box and didn’t log a single touch in the opposing penalty area.
David, meanwhile, looked to replicate his hat-trick performance against Suriname. He dropped deep to combine with Canada’s midfield, pulling one of Haiti’s center backs out of position before sprinting into the open space on countless occasions. The Lille striker even had a chance to double Canada’s lead in the 52nd minute, but got stopped in his tracks by Haiti goalkeeper Johny Placide.
Luckily for Canada, it didn’t negatively impact the outcome.
After shining in Canada’s 7-0 win over Aruba in the First Round of Concacaf World Cup qualifying on June 5, Mark-Anthony Kaye was dropped against Suriname.
That decision left the midfield slightly lightweight, only for LAFC’s tempo-setter to return and prove why he should be an indispensable part of Canada’s starting XI.
He registered a secondary assist on Cyle Larin’s opener, completed 41 of his 48 passing attempts and harried Haiti’s midfielders across the pitch to log eight recoveries.
Not to be overshadowed, Stephen Eustaquio helped orchestrate the match with Kaye in the first half. The Pacos de Ferreira stalwart connected an eye-popping 63-of-70 passes while evading pressure. He followed that up with a workman-like performance in the defensive third as Haiti pressed for an equalizer, finishing with five tackles and seven recoveries.
Jonathan Osorio was equally as involved in that area, covering for wingbacks Alphonso Davies and Richie Laryea whenever they marauded forward. The Toronto FC midfielder also assisted on Larin's goal, then switched to the left midway through the second half to great effect.
With the threat of Haiti’s counters on everyone's mind, having active midfielders off the ball is integral to negating those transitions. That should be a positive sign ahead of Leg Two in Chicago.