DENVER – A young Canada side faced a formidable challenge as they continued their Gold Cup quest vs. Mexico on Wednesday, and while Les Rouges eventually fell in a 3-1 defeat, they showed flashes of promise despite the loss.
“I think as a measuring stick, we were able to see 21- and 19-year-old players with no experience against this type of opposition, and living there,” Canada manager John Herdman said postgame. “Living against their $35 million-dollar players. Tonight was real learning for those guys.”
Playing with five at the back defensively to start the match, Canada weathered the storm from Mexico as El Tri dominated shots and possession. It was a defensive effort that drew kudos from former Atlanta United and current Mexico boss Tata Martino.
“They played good defense throughout the match,” Martino said via translator. “They were composed throughout, starting with five defenders and moving to four after making subs. They played very well and I was not surprised at all.”
But two key goals turned the tide in Mexico’s favor – Roberto Alvarado’s opener before halftime and Andres Guardado’s second strike, which sealed the result after Canada had closed the gap within 2-1 following Lucas Cavallini’s goal in the 75th minute.
“We had the momentum on that goal we scored and to get sucker-punched on that third goal, that sort of killed it a little bit,” said Herdman.
Regardless, the learning experience was valued by both coach and players alike.
“Mexico is a top team in Concacaf,” added CanMNT and LAFC midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye. “I think in a game like this, with our young players, it’s a good test for them and a good way for them to understand what it’s like to play at the highest level. As much as we didn’t get the result, it’s important for our young players to play in a game like this so we can learn from it.”
While the game did give him and his team some useful data points, Herdman maintained that it wasn’t a “true” measuring stick. With squad rotation in place and his team still in good position to punch their ticket to the knockout round, the Canadian gaffer didn’t want to show his hand too early in the tournament.
“I didn’t put my best team out there,” he explained. “That was an important step to make sure we have freshness for Cuba. They'll get a sense of what they have to do next time coming in there. But I just have to say I'm proud of the effort of the players. We didn’t roll over for Mexico.”