Sure, I might have proclaimed the Canada national team an “attacking team” a few days ago — but it’s still bizarre to see it actually play out in real life.
The Canadians’ 8-0 win over the US Virgin Islands on Sunday in a Concacaf Nations League qualifier was the team’s largest margin of victory in history, eclipsing a 7-0 win over Saint Lucia in 2011. The eight goals scored are more than Canada managed in all of 2013 and 2014 combined (a span of 18 matches).
Now, let’s all hold our horses. It’s a bit pointless to extrapolate much of anything from the lopsided decision, given that the opponent was ranked 199th in the world, hadn’t played in two years and didn’t even have a suitable venue in its own territory to host the game (which was played at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida).
In fact, it’d be downright dangerous and counterproductive to assume that a bunch of big wins in CNL qualifying – cathartic though they may be for fans, after years of stultifying defense-first play – are any bulletproof indication of what’s to come at next summer’s Gold Cup or in 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying.
But there are encouraging signs to be drawn from this camp, not the least of which is who showed up to a sparsely-attended runaround against literally one of the worst teams in the world.
Lucas Cavallini and Junior Hoilett, both absent from the Canadian team for much of this decade, showed up and scored. Scott Arfield, who was in the Premier League last season, showed up and worked hard.
Alphonso Davies, who’s on his way to Bayern Munich in a few months, showed up and played his part. Jonathan Osorio, who was basically banished from the national team under former manager Benito Floro, showed up with plenty of fire.
The fact that head coach John Herdman could assemble such a talented group for what everyone knew would basically be a walkover match speaks to a renewed sense of purpose as the program looks ahead to the next World Cup and, of course, the one in 2026 that will be co-hosted in Canada.
This game was merely a small building block on the long journey ahead. But as far as building blocks go, it certainly was a solid one. The next one comes up on Oct. 16 at Toronto’s BMO Field against Dominica.
Back Half Full?
SUNDAY! Canada kicks off Concacaf Nations League Qualifying campaign— Canada Soccer (@CanadaSoccerEN) September 9, 2018
📍: Bradenton 🇺🇸 USA
⏰: 16.00 local / 16.00 ET / 13.00 PT
🆚: US Virgin Islands
#️⃣: 🇨🇦🇻🇮 #CANMNT #CNL #TheDreamStartsNow pic.twitter.com/uC0E3rcC1o
The starting lineup for Canada raised some eyebrows, as only two natural defenders — Doneil Henry and Derek Cornelius — made the cut. Surely Herdman wouldn’t be lining up in some kind of 2-5-3 formation, would he?
It turns out that he would, with Alphonso Davies and Liam Millar serving as de facto wingers who helped out on the defensive side on the rare occasion that such service was required. While it might seem like a one-off, the approach actually fits with what we know of Herdman from his time managing Canada’s women’s team.
Herdman was (and clearly still is) a firm believer in the modern fullback, having converted numerous Canadian women from regular positions in the midfield or up front into outside defender, often with good success. And while the 2-5-3 formation surely isn’t here to stay, one wonders whether utilizing the likes of Davies and Millar as fullbacks is a portent of things to come.
Fit to be tied
One good thing about the Concacaf Nations League is that (we think) it provides new chances for players to be cap-tied. For a team like Canada, who has lost players with multiple eligibilities in the past, any opportunities to lock down promising youngsters will be welcomed.
On that front, the game against USVI has seemingly committed 18-year-old Millar, 20-year-old defender Cornelius, and 18-year-old striker Jonathan David (who scored a brace on his Canada debut). With two more CNL qualifiers against minnows coming up in the next two months, Herdman could look to do even more solidification of the team’s future, without sacrificing potential end results.
Yes, we’ve made clear that stringing together plenty of passes against a team like USVI isn’t exactly a high bar to clear. That being said, Sunday’s match did provide some in-game reps for burgeoning pairings on different areas of the field that could make an impact in the years ahead – Henry and Cornelius, Cavallini and David, Millar and Arfield, Davies and Junior Hoilett, and others.
Of course, Herdman is still in the process of identifying and refining his top lineup, so not all of these connections will pay off. But for a team like Canada, which has historically gone for long stretches without playing games of any consequences, the CNL will hopefully prove to be a productive way to help keep some key connections as sharp as possible.