Benito Floro - USA vs. Canada - 2/5/2016
USA Today Sports

Fitness labeled top concern from US loss as Canada look toward important World Cup qualifiers

CARSON, Calif. – They were just minutes away from claiming a shutout on the road in their first match of the year, but the Canadian national team have set a benchmark for an important 2016 campaign.

Conceding an 89th-minute winner from Jozy Altidore handed Canada a 1-0 loss at StubHub Center in a friendly on Friday, a disappointing result in the border rivalry, to be sure, but a performance the visitors feel they can build upon.

“I thought there were some real positives, took some steps forward,” midfielder Will Johnson told MLSsoccer.com after the game. “This was our first game for everybody this year. We had 10, 11 days of training and the first couple days were rough, guys touching the ball for the first time this year. So to end up with the game tonight, I thought we made great strides over the course of the camp.”

The conclusion drawn by Canada head coach Benito Floro was that his side started the game well, but faded over the course of 90 minutes.

“We had better games before,” Floro told reporters via translator. “First half was a little tough, our rival played a very solid game.

“First half, we kept up with the balance. The USA had a very good balance as far as tactical movement; they moved the ball very well. Second half, the fitness level wasn’t there… and they had more opportunities for goal.”

Johnson agreed that the lack of match fitness ultimately held Canada back on the night.

“I just think when teams press us we have to be a little more composed, a little more willing to get the ball in tough spots and be able to keep it,” the new Toronto FC midfielder said. “I thought we did a poor job at times at that, but that’s to be expected with the first game of the year. So we’ll get fitter, we’ll get sharper and we’ll be OK.”

The next test for Les Rouges is massive – a pair of World Cup qualifiers against Mexico in March. While Floro refused to focus solely on the opponent, instead emphasizing the internal goal of improving the Canadian team, there’s no doubt the upcoming clash is something the team is thinking about.

Forward Cyle Larin noted when Canada lines up against El Tri, the key will be to “make sure we’re ready.”

And if things go well in March, a loss against the Americans won’t be a lasting memory.

“The result [against the US] is obviously not going to be good enough when we play in March, but now we’ve got time for everybody to go back to their clubs and take steps,” Johnson said. “Overall it’s a positive camp, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.”