Canada came out with a bold game plan in the 2023 Concacaf Nations League final, one that showed the burgeoning regional power's confidence against the US men's national team: Mark the midfield tight, dominate possession and dare the Yanks to take advantage of the space in behind.
It didn't work. The US scored twice in the first half and mostly cruised from there to earn the 2-0 win and their second-straight Nations League trophy on Sunday at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.
Gio Reyna's quality led the way with two assists, while Chris Richards and Folarin Balogun each scored once to make the US the unquestioned top dogs in Concacaf.
It wasn't the busiest night for the Arsenal goalkeeper, with Canada only managing four shots on target, yet Turner came up big on two first-half saves when the final result was still anything but secure. It was the type of professional performance you expect from an unquestioned starter.
Normally one to fly up and down the flanks, Robinson stayed home for much of the match, and to great effect. He survived the first half admirably when Canada were overloading his side and also came up with huge interventions on the back post whenever the opposite side of the USMNT's backline broke down.
Richards put in an outstanding shift from wire-to-wire, scoring the match's opening goal with an impressive header off a corner kick and nearly grabbing a second with another powerful header in the latter 45. He also shut down Canada's lethal striking duo of Jonathan David and Cyle Larin, often stepping aggressively from the backline to break up the Reds' build-up play.
Zimmerman proved a steady leader once again on a USMNT backline that featured relatively fresh faces in Richards and Scally. The quickness of Canada's attackers caught the veteran flat-footed once or twice, but the Nashville SC center back also came up with some big interventions and started much of the team's buildout from the back.
Scally had a phenomenal first half, shutting down the left side of Canada's attack and popping up in good places in attack. A second-half switch from the Reds to move Alphonso Davies higher up the field caused the Borussia Mönchengladbach fullback more problems, but all-in-all, he still performed well against a world-class player.
Learning Musah can do the job as a lone defensive midfielder is a massive development for the USMNT, who struggled at the 2022 World Cup for lack of depth at the position. The only thing limiting the Valencia midfielder from a higher rating was Canada's aggressive pressing, which forced the US to bypass the midfield in buildout play for much of the match.
Canada's tight marking in the midfield didn't allow Aaronson to find much of the game in attack, but what he lacked going forward he made up for in work rate and grit, tirelessly pressing when out of possession and throwing his body around, often against bigger players, in 50-50 duels.
The only thing holding Reyna back from a higher score was the calf injury that caused him to be pulled at halftime. Other than that, it was pretty much a perfect match from the Borrusia Dortmund playmaker. The quality is always there, and showed through on his two assists, but arguably more inspiring was his defensive buy-in, starting the second goal sequence with a smart defensive header to break up Canada's build-up play.
Fair or not, Pulisic is dominant enough at the international level that his performances will ultimately be judged by end product, where he came up just short on Sunday. Still, his ability to act as an outlet in space was crucial for the team, and his leadership showed through in his tireless effort and willingness to scrap for his teammates.
Unlucky not to grab a brace, Balogun showed every bit of the quality USMNT fans have been salivating for since rumors of his switch from England to the USMNT first surfaced. Last year's fourth-leading scorer in France's Ligue 1 buried his clearest chance of the night with silky ease, but beyond that, his off-ball movement, quality touch and strength on the ball were a nightmare for Canada's defense.
Weah is class personified, and he showed that throughout the match as one of the team's most productive players in the final third, where his creative movement and combination play caused Canada fits and ultimately played a huge role in the US' second goal. His defensive effort in the second half to help slow down Davies was also phenomenal.
It's a perfect 2W-0L-0D record with a +5 goal differential and a regional trophy for the interim coach – all against the USMNT's top two regional rivals. Callaghan showed great trust in his team's fortitude by starting a skillful, attack-minded group against a physical Canada side, and the team rewarded him by showing up for every duel, ultimately allowing their advantage in quality to shine through.
His second-half substitutes, which included moving to a back five to end the match, all played out exactly as hoped.
De la Torre is growing into exactly the type of player USMNT need him to be – capable of starting, coming off the bench, adding quality going forward and toughness in defending. He regularly transitioned the team from back to front in the second half and nearly created a goal with a smart off-ball run that caught Canada's defense napping.
Another positive development in the USMNT's defensive midfield department, Cardoso came in and "did a job" in the second half, protecting the US' backline by any means necessary.
The US were pretty much in "see the game out" mode for the duration of Pepi's outing, but the young striker selflessly committed to the team effort with tireless backtracking when needed, even if he wasn't able to replicate a killer goal to see the game off like he did against Mexico.
Trusty was added as a third center back late in the match, effectively snuffing out any Canada hope of lumping balls into the box for a miracle comeback.