PASADENA, Calif. – Canada impressively passed their first test at the Concacaf Gold Cup, but mighty Mexico are up next Wednesday night in Denver (10:30 pm ET | TSN 1/4/5 in Canada, FS1, Univision, UDN in US), and that's a far more severe challenge.
The Canucks, of course, understand this, but they're itching to take a run at the region's foremost powerhouse. Whether they'll show El Tri all they've got is another matter.
“Mexico has always been a tough team. Quality players,” said LAFC midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye, whom Herdman is using as a left back in this tournament, after Canada’s emphatic 4-0 romp over Martinique at the Rose Bowl on Saturday. “For where we are right now with Canada soccer, I think that's a great test to have in the next game, and we really want to show well.”
How well? That depends. The aim is to reach at least the semifinals, for the first time in a dozen years, where a rematch with Mexico would be likely.
“I think Mexico scores a minimum three goals every game. That's been the trend,” said Herdman, who remains unbeaten in charge of Les Rouges with six official wins, five of them shutouts, since taking charge in January 2018. “There's a genuine reality check when you come up against a team that's so prolific. And we have to give that some real attention.
“The Canadian DNA in these matches has been typically to defend. I think we've got a little bit more about us now, so I think the players are excited for this game. But you also have to think about travel and the altitude [in Denver]. There's an opportunity to rotate players, because I think our squad is a little bit deeper [than past Canada teams].”
The possibility of a June 2 rematch in the semifinal round in Glendale, Arizona, is also in play. Herdman says there's a “plan in mind” without divulging what it might be.
“We'll probably see the Mexicans, if it goes to plan, late in the tournament,” he noted, “so how much we want to show them in this first game is also something to keep consideration.”
The teams have met three times in previous Gold Cups. Mexico pulled out a 3-1 victory at the Coliseum in Los Angeles in 1991, the inaugural tournament, and rolled to an 8-0 destruction at Estadio Azteca two years later. Canada upset El Tri, 2-1, in overtime in a quarterfinal at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego en route to its 2000 title.
After Mexico’s 7-0 win over Cuba in the second game of the doubleheader, head coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino said he was “not surprised” by Canada's performance against Martinique.
“It is a good group, very well trained,” he said. “An opponent that is strong.”
The Canucks looked good in the opener, but it could have been a very different game had Martinique been more efficient with their chances. They had four outstanding opportunities while trailing 1-0 in the last five minutes of the first half, forcing two big saves out of goalkeeper Milan Borjan and some timely defending from Marcus Godinho.
“It's early days [with this group],” Herdman said. “This was our first test. I thought we did well, but there's work needs done. I'm not happy with everything in that game, put it that way. And I think the midfield going forward did a tremendous job, but there's a bit of work to be done going the other way.”
Two of Canada’s goals came via 19-year-old Jonathan David, who has six goals in five international appearances. The Belgium-based striker knows things will be tougher Wednesday.
“It's a different challenge, because we know it's a very tough opponent, and we might not get a lot of chances,” David said. “And that's why we have to be clinical and make the most out of the chances we get to try to score.”