For the second straight Concacaf Gold Cup, a Canadian teenager has burst onto the scene with a pair of goals in his country’s opening match.
In 2017, it was Alphonso Davies against French Guiana; on Saturday evening, it was 19-year-old Jonathan David coming up big in Canada’s 4-0 win over Martinique in Group A action. It was a second national-team brace for David, who’s now tallied a remarkable six goals in his first five games for Canada.
Junior Hoilett and captain Scott Arfield also found the back of the net for John Herdman’s side, who will gladly take the three points fully cognizant that the competition—Mexico on June 19, Cuba on June 23—will get stiffer from here on out.
Back to the future?
Canada’s defensive structure was one of the big questions heading into the tournament; on Saturday, Herdman provided some unexpected answers.
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The biggest eye-opener was 36-year-old Atiba Hutchinson, a seemingly eternal presence in the Canadian midfield, lining up in central defense alongside Derek Cornelius. To their left was Mark-Anthony Kaye, also more familiar to Canada fans in central midfield; to their right was Marcus Godinho, making just his second appearance for the senior national team.
The quartet’s lack of experience (with each other and/or their positions) was exploited at times in the first half, particularly by Martinique striker Kevin Parsemain. On the other hand, Hutchinson’s trademark coolness on the ball did boost Canada’s capacity to build the play out of the back.
In the end, the unorthodox grouping held firm against Martinique; but, with Mexico up next, Canada’s new defensive question is whether this was a one-off or the team’s default setting for the remainder of this Gold Cup.
Is J-Dave undeniable?
While the nickname “J-Dave” is very much deniable, David’s impact in his short time with the Canadian national team isn’t. A member of Belgian side Gent, David is scoring for Canada at an unprecedented clip. At this rate, he’ll celebrate his 24th birthday as the men’s national team’s all-time leading scorer.
That leaves Herdman with the conundrum of how to best utilize him in a short tournament, when fatigue and injuries can creep up quick. One might have suspected that up against Mexico, the Canada manager would be likelier to turn to a burly target man like Lucas Cavallini or Cyle Larin.
The latter has previously lined up for Canada against El Tri, while the former plays his club soccer for Puebla in Liga MX. But given his form, would it shock anyone to see J-Dave out there in the XI again in a few days’ time?
Wing and a prayer
Reading Junior Hoilett’s assigned position on the lineup card has always been an exercise in futility, as the 29-year-old has—under three different Canada managers to this point—always found a way to pop his head up all over the field. Though generally listed as a winger on one side of the field on any given night, you’re just as likely to see him whipping in a cross or going at defenders on the other side.
On Saturday, it was clearly rubbing off on Davies, whose role could be characterized in a similar fashion. But this is hardly a case of players going into business for themselves; rather, it seemed a concerted effort to play their talents off of one another—and to good effect. If Davies remains unshackled from the fullback spot he’s filled under Herdman thus far, we can likely expect to see even more of it in the future.
Milan Borjan: 6.5. Nearly burst a blood vessel yelling at teammates in the first half, required as he was to mop up their messes; had little to do in the second half aside from a great last-second save to preserve his clean sheet
Mark-Anthony Kaye: 6. Martinique nearly opened the scoring after Kaye was beaten on the wing early on, but from there, he added much to the dynamism of Canada’s attack along the left side
Derek Cornelius: 6. Held things together amidst strange conditions, and nearly notched his first national team goal off a corner kick in the first half
Atiba Hutchinson: 6. When you’ve been at your workplace for long enough, sometimes you can step into someone else’s job and get it done even if it’s not the same way they’d have done it… let’s leave it at that
Marcus Godinho: 6. Aside from a nearly disastrous early back pass to Borjan early on, never looked in over his head despite a lack of national team experience
Samuel Piette: 6.5. Got in some early disciplinary trouble with an unneeded reckless tackle, but redeemed himself with some good distribution throughout, including a terrific assist on David’s second goal
Scott Arfield: 7. The captain had some quality strikes of his own, and also served as the maestro of numerous intricate passing combinations, the likes of which we haven’t seen from a Canadian team since… well… ever
Jonathan Osorio: 6.5. If there’s a such thing as an “assistant maestro” (some quick online research suggests there isn’t), it was the Toronto FC man on this day; deprived of his own spot on the score sheet only by that pesky crossbar
Junior Hoilett: 6.5. Put in some inch-perfect set pieces and showed good concentration to put home his own rebound for a fifth national-team goal
Alphonso Davies: 6.5. Instilled terror in the Martinique defenders with his early runs (and drew a few hacks in the process), then provided a terrific assist on Hoilett’s goal before coming off in the 70th minute
Jonathan David: 7.5. Caused headaches for Martinique’s high defensive line throughout, and calmly finished the two one-on-one opportunities he had—one of his own making, and one as beneficiary of a great long ball
Lucas Cavallini: 5. A shark dropped into the tank after all the fish had already been chomped, the second-half sub did provide a teammate with some rest, so that’s nice
Liam Millar: 5.5. Coming on in the 70th minute, certainly seemed motivated to join in on the goal-scoring fun, but couldn’t quite find a breakthrough
Russell Teibert: 5. A vital bit of glue for the team who got a 15-minute run at the end of Saturday’s affair; not much to do in a game whose result had already been decided