Three Things: Another new era for Canada, with reasons for optimism

Canadian national team - Anthony Jackson-Hamel - group celebration

Things are looking up for Canada under new head coach (insert name here), as promising young star (insert name here) might just help the team finally break its World Cup drought of (insert number here) years.

As we sit here in mid-2017, those blanks are filled, respectively, by Octavio Zambrano (whose first game as manager of Canada ended in a 2-1 friendly win over Curacao on Tuesday night), Alphonso Davies (who made his much-hyped senior-team debut) and, by the time Qatar 2022 rolls around, 36 years.

That’s a roundabout way of suggesting that while a new manager and new players are entitled to a honeymoon period, jumping to grandiose conclusions about Tuesday’s match at Stade Saputo would be historically foolhardy. All the same, here are three notable takeaways from the night.

First impressions

It’s expected Zambrano will take a much more attack-minded approach than predecessor Benito Floro, and the Curacao friendly was the first chance to see what he has in mind. Things looked good on paper, with Canada ostensibly lining up in a 4-3-3 featuring Junior Hoilett and debutante Raheem Edwards flanking Cyle Larin.

Early returns, however, weren’t ideal. The team generally seemed to lack urgency in its buildup play, though this may have been a byproduct of learning a new system. And despite the new formation, Larin once again—as has usually been the case in his national-team career—found himself an isolated recipient of hopeful long balls.

Things shifted after halftime, however, as Hoilett found a new energy and a wave of substitutes began hitting the field. Speaking of which…

Something new

All eyes were understandably on Davies, the young Vancouver Whitecaps FC attacker, when he entered shortly after the break. Having only become a Canadian citizen a week prior, the 16-year-old also became the youngest player to ever suit up for Canada’s senior team when he hit the field in the 53rd minute. 

If he was intimidated by the occasion, it didn’t show; he produced a few excellent scoring opportunities, and earned a late penalty for Canada with a characteristic bit of individual skill. But Zambrano, and Canadian fans generally, could be pleased to note that Davies wasn’t the only relative newcomer making a good impression.

Edwards, the Toronto FC rookie who’s featured in 12 of 15 league games so far this year, showed his aptitude on both sides of the ball in his first start for Canada’s senior side. And it was the Montreal Impact’s own Anthony Jackson-Hamel, in his fourth appearance for Canada, who sealed the win with a clever finish late in the game.

Making the most of their opportunities against Curacao (in the absence of experienced attackers like Scott Arfield, Tosaint Ricketts and Tesho Akindele), the trio all made strong cases for their inclusion on Zambrano’s final Gold Cup roster.

Au revoir?

The sentimental star of the evening in Montreal was another hometown boy, Patrice Bernier. He wore the captain’s armband in his first Canada start since November 2014, and fans could be forgiven for believing that this was simply a sendoff match for the 37-year-old, who’s announced this will be his last season as a professional.

But don’t tell that to Zambrano.

The manager highly rates the Montreal Impact midfielder, and given the absence of Atiba Hutchinson on Canada’s Gold Cup roster, there’s every chance Bernier could be the one looked to for veteran leadership at this summer’s CONCACAF showcase.

There was nothing in Tuesday night’s game to suggest Bernier wouldn’t be up to the task of helping Zambrano make his mark on the Canadian team at next month’s tournament. The question now is, can the two of them—along with the team’s young attack force—find a way to get Canada their first Gold Cup goal since 2011?