It wasn’t the start to the Gold Cup that Canada wanted or needed, but it will have to do.
Canadians—Cyle Larin foremost among them—will be shaking their heads and wondering about what might have been after Les Rouges had to settle for a 0-0 draw against El Salvador in their Gold Cup opener on Wednesday night. The result leaves all four teams in Group B level on points, though many despondent Canadian fans are already assuming the team’s tournament is over.
But while long-suffering Canadian fans come by such cynicism honestly, history has shown us that the Gold Cup is, without fail, the home to all manner of unpredictable weirdness. For instance, sometimes tiny “overseas departments” of France that aren’t even ranked by FIFA go up against a G7 country and shock them with a stoppage-time winner.
That was Canada against Martinique in the Gold Cup opener two years ago, by the way.
So hey, by that standard, this opener against El Salvador represents a tangible improvement! Sure, not in goals scored or goodwill gained, but in terms of points on the board. One point. In a short tournament, one point is always, always, always better than zero points. So there’s that.
The game also provided some provisional answers to the big questions that faced Canada coming into the tournament: how would they deal with the absences of Milan Borjan in goal and Atiba Hutchinson in the midfield?
In goal, Kenny Stamatopoulos acquitted himself well; despite a few nervy moments, the 35-year-old veteran made a couple of critical saves to preserve the result. As for the midfield… well, it was a bit of an adventure on Wednesday evening.
Head coach Benito Floro made a few curious decisions in this regard, choosing not to include long-serving leader Julian de Guzman in the starting lineup. Instead, 20-year-old Samuel Piette, 24-year-old Kyle Bekker and 24-year-old Adam Straith were patrolling the middle of the park, with hardly-overwhelming results.
Bekker, who has evolved into somewhat of a whipping boy for frustrated Canadian fans, hardly did himself any favours with his performance against El Salvador. The braying hordes on Twitter were practically salivating on their keyboards, demanding that either Jonathan Osorio or Russell Teibert enter the match in his place.
Both of those players did eventually see the field, though far too late to make a substantive difference. While the questions flew about why Osorio and Teibert, who’ve both looked good for Canada under Floro’s reign, didn’t start the match, the obvious answer was sitting right under everyone’s nose all along.
This is a very short and very intense tournament.
Canada has just two days off in which to travel from Carson, California to Houston, Texas and prepare for Saturday night’s tilt with Jamaica (6:30 pm ET, Sportsnet/Sportsnet World in Canada, FS2/UniMás/UDN in US). After that, it’s another two days off before making the long trip up to Toronto for the final group-stage match against Costa Rica.
It’s intense. And that intensity is probably why the Gold Cup has historically been so unpredictable (and, by extension, exciting to watch).
So it’s probably a reasonable bet that Osorio and/or Teibert will be out there to start against the Reggae Boyz. And it’s probably a reasonable bet that Larin got the early yank against El Salvador because, despite his devastating miss on Wednesday, he’ll be relied upon as the team’s main scoring threat for the remainder of the tournament.
The game against El Salvador wasn’t a must-win. The game against Jamaica isn’t a must-win. But if Canada wants to give itself a realistic shot at advancement in this Gold Cup, three points against the Reggae Boyz is probably required. Will it be easy? Absolutely not. Is it guaranteed? Absolutely not.
But that’s the Gold Cup for you—teams can shimmy from the precipice of oblivion to the cusp of greatness in the blink of an eye.
So for the time being, Canadians need to put all grandiose visions of the Copa America Centenario or the 2000 Gold Cup-winning squad out of their minds. For now, there is one goal and one goal only—get that win against Jamaica.
And if that seems unlikely after their performance against El Salvador, just remember where we are. This is the Gold Cup, where the unexpected is pretty much destined to happen. Let’s just hope Canada is on the positive end of such a surprise in 2015.
Kenny Stamatopoulos: 7/10 - Several big saves in the first half, but a curious punch almost led to an opposing goal.
Marcel de Jong: 6/10 - Got punished in the first half, but settled in and got forward more effectively in second.
Dejan Jakovic: 7/10 - Strong presence at the back for the majority of the match.
David Edgar: 6/10 - Perhaps pressure of captaincy got to him; didn’t look his usual solid self at times.
Nik Ledgerwood: 6/10 - A generally solid evening, which hasn’t always been the case in this position.
Adam Straith: 5/10 - Big shoes to fill with no de Guzman or Hutchinson; not a star but not a goat either.
Tosaint Ricketts: 6/10 - Brought his usual energy, but had numerous poor touches.
Samuel Piette: 5/10 - Did his best to adjust to playing outside of his customary holding midfield role.
Kyle Bekker: 4/10 - Not many expected him to start; even fewer will expect him to start the next game.
Tesho Akindele: 6/10 - Bit of a clunky start but gained strength as the game went on.
Cyle Larin: 4/10 - A striker’s job is to score; he missed as good a chance as a player’s ever likely to see.
Marcus Haber: 6/10 - Added aerial threat late in the game, but could have done better on several chances.
Russell Teibert: 7/10 - Good burst of energy off the bench, added a dangerous element going forward.
Jonathan Osorio: 5/10 - Came on as a very late sub, not enough time to make a significant positive or negative impact.