Whenever Canada play, there’s always a “but.”
Canada rolled over an opponent 4-0 in the early rounds of World Cup qualifying rounds, but it’s only Dominica so it didn’t count.
Canada went out in the Gold Cup group stage without scoring a single goal, but they also only conceded one goal in three games, so it was progress.
Canada managed a 1-1 draw on the road in Belize, but hey, they advanced to the next round of qualifying so don’t think too hard about it.
And once again, on Friday night, there was a big ol’ but. Canada dropped a narrow 1-0 decision to their cross-border rival on a late Jozy Altidore goal, but the team was missing a bunch of regulars and the defensive shape looked OK and however much whining we may hear from south of the border, the US are actually a halfway decent team.
In the end, the focus is all on next month’s World Cup qualifiers against Mexico, and what lessons the team can take from this friendly. One thing’s for sure – buts won’t get Canada to Russia 2018… unless by “buts” you mean the French word for “goals,” in which case, yeah, a few of those might be useful.
Three things from Friday night:
The H’s have it
The absence of Atiba Hutchinson, Canada’s best player, is always going to leave a big hole in the Canadian lineup, but it’s alarming how reliant the team has already become on Junior Hoilett, who’s played a grand total of two games for the national team.
Neither midfielder was available for the US friendly, and without them, Canada had virtually no attack to speak of, often bypassing the midfield entirely when counterattack opportunities presented themselves. And however talented Cyle Larin may be, he can’t be expected to get through four or five defenders on his own.
If the Canadians are to have a prayer against Mexico next month, they’ll need these two back in the squad to, at the very least, relieve some of the pressure on the defensive end of things.
Tres bon, Maxime
A bright spot for Canada was the play of 21-year-old goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau, making his first appearance for the senior national team. While some jitters would have been understandable, he was cool and collected for the entirety of the evening, and could do nothing to stop Altidore’s late winner.
While one game does not a goalkeeping career make, his performance was an encouraging sign for a program that could see some uncertainty behind starter Milan Borjan in the years ahead. With Borjan’s backups reaching the tail ends of their careers, an opportunity could present itself for a youngster to stake a claim to a regular spot in the goalkeeping mix.
Behold, it is Floroball
As predicted right here at MLSsoccer.com prior to the game, head coach Benito Floro ran out a 4-1-4-1 formation that was focused on defense (what else is new?). With several starters missing and a central defensive pairing that came into the game with a total of one Canada cap between them, it wasn’t as steadfast as some may have hoped.
But no one should be surprised, by this point, that Floro believes this approach represents Canada’s best hope at advancing in World Cup qualifying. This game, in the grand scheme of things, was little more than one last chance to tinker and test before the big tests against Mexico. Whether Floro is ultimately hailed as a genius or a dud will depend entirely upon whether the team can reach the Hex for the first time since 1997.
The one key lesson from Friday night, however, is the same lesson Canada ostensibly learned against Jamaica at last summer’s Gold Cup – tight defensive structure only pays off if it holds firm until the final whistle blows.
Maxime Crepeau (7.5) - Looked confident and poised in his first appearance for the senior national team; made several crucial saves and was blameless on the US goal.
Marcel de Jong (6) - Did his regular duty on the left side, which included maintaining the team’s standard number of man-buns.
Wandrille Lefevre (5.5) - Looked out of sorts at times in his second start for Canada; subbed off at halftime.
Steven Vitoria (6.5) - Loathe as some Canadian diehards may be to admit it, had a solid 90 minutes in central defense in his Canada debut.
Nik Ledgerwood (6) - Relatively solid in his 45 minutes of play; allowed few dangerous attacks down his wing.
Adam Straith (5.5) - Did decently well shielding the back four, but wasn’t especially productive in sparking counterattacks.
Tesho Akindele (7) - Lively on both sides of the ball, provided much of what little attacking spark Canada had.
Will Johnson (6) - Brought the work rate that fans have become accustomed to at the club and national-team level.
Julian de Guzman (6.5) - Provided his usual steady, subtle veteran presence in the middle of the park.
Kianz Froese (6) - Youngster making his second start for Canada got involved on several early attacks, subbed off at halftime.
Cyle Larin (6) - Got involved when he could, but Canada’s defense-first, single-striker approach largely left him on an island.
Issey Nakajima-Farran (5.5) - Brought a bit of veteran wiliness to the fray in the second half.
Kyle Bekker (5) - He is what he is.
Doneil Henry (4.5) - Rough outing, in his first Canada game since 2014 and playing out of position at right; he got burned on the US goal.
Iain Hume (5) - A late replacement for Larin as the team’s lone striker, by which time the game was one-way traffic in the opposite direction.
Sam Adekugbe (5) - Got dusted by a US attacker moments after coming on as a late sub, but a brief and uneventful appearance otherwise.
Jamar Dixon (5) - Came on as a late sub, didn’t have sufficient time or opportunity to make an impact in his Canada debut