Fast kicking! Low scoring! And ties? You bet!
No one can be sure if Canadian head coach Benito Floro has ever seen the immortal episode of The Simpsons from which the above line is excerpted. But if he has, one would suspect he was nodding his head in approval.
Perhaps that’s unfair (indeed, Floro may enjoy slow kicking as well as fast kicking), but the numbers are clear — since the experienced Spaniard took over, nearly half of Canada’s games (11 of 24) have ended in 0-0 or 1-0 scorelines. That’s no accident.
Floro has been unambiguous in his assessment of the team and his preferred tactical approach; simply put, playing a tight, defensively-minded game is Canada’s best chance at success, in his eyes. To that end, Floro typically deploys a 4-1-4-1 formation, with an experienced midfielder (generally Julian de Guzman) protecting the back four, and a lone striker (generally Cyle Larin) hoping to nick something at the other end.
With both De Guzman and Larin on Canada’s roster for Friday’s friendly against the United States (10:15 pm ET, TSN in Canada, FS1/UniMás/UDN in US), fans of Les Rouges should be (and likely are) expecting more of the same. After all, this is Canada’s last chance to prepare for World Cup qualifiers against Mexico in March, in which every possible iota of structure and discipline will be needed if any points are to be accrued.
But with the friendly falling outside of the FIFA international window, some of Canada’s most important players—such as Atiba Hutchinson, Junior Hoilett, Milan Borjan and David Edgar — are unavailable. Even so, the squad does have a good amount of veteran presence, in the likes of Marcel de Jong, Nik Ledgerwood, Will Johnson and Issey Nakajima-Farran.
If past friendlies are any indication, Floro will look to stick with those who demonstrate during training camp that they’re ready and willing to buy into his preferred system. So don’t be surprised to see plenty of familiar faces in Canada’s starting XI on Friday.
But some positions will necessarily feature fresh blood. At goalkeeper, none of the three players at camp — Maxime Crépeau, Tyson Farago and Callum Irving — have played for the senior national team before. Crépeau, the 21-year-old Montreal Impact shot-stopper, is most likely to earn the start, based on his extensive experience with Canada’s youth teams.
The center of defense will also be an interesting equation. Adam Straith, who has excelled under Floro, is likely to hold down one of those spots, but the identity of his partner is anyone’s guess.
Doneil Henry is a long-term solution for the program, but is coming off an injury-plagued year and hasn’t been with Canada since 2014. Steven Vitoria is an interesting addition to the team, but his level of commitment remains unknown. Both Wandrille Lefèvre and Mallan Roberts made their national team debuts in 2015, while Karl Ouimette has been deployed as a fullback in recent games.
The midfield is packed with options, including the exciting young duo from the Vancouver Whitecaps, Marco Bustos and Kianz Froese (pictured). Their potential for the national team has been praised in all sorts of circles recently, up to and including Canadian Soccer Association president Victor Montagliani.
Elsewhere in the midfield, it’ll be strange to see a Canadian lineup without Tosaint Ricketts on the right wing. The fleet-footed and passionate Edmonton native has been an absolute lock in the lineup under Floro, despite some of the shortcomings in his game. In his absence, FC Dallas attacker Tesho Akindele would seem the likeliest option on the right side.
Up front, it’s all about 20-year-old Larin. The reigning MLS Rookie of the Year scored four goals in his first full year with the national team last year—a pace that, if maintained, would make him Canada’s all-time leading scorer by age 25. No pressure, kid.
Seriously, though, Larin’s size and ability to create goals from nothing fits right into the style Floro is utilizing, which is heavily dependent upon set pieces to provide offense (this, incidentally, is why Kyle Bekker continues getting called up).
The presence of well-traveled and much-loved striker Iain Hume on the roster is a cause for celebration among long-time Canadian fans, but it remains to be seen if his skill set fits into Floro’s system.
The last two meetings between Canada and the US ended 0-0. Canada’s last game ended 0-0. Canada’s game before that could have ended 0-0, if Larin’s butt hadn’t happened to be in the right place at the right time. Canada is missing some key attacking weapons and will be looking to, at all costs, avoid a demoralizing lopsided loss, so close to those crucial qualifying games next month.
So while some Canadian fans are yearning for the team to open up and “go for it”, all of the circumstances surrounding this game (including the historical asymmetry in the cross-border rivalry) would suggest that Floro shouldn’t be the only one pleased if Friday night ends with yet another low-scoring tie.