Following a 4-0 win over Martinique and a 3-1 loss to Mexico, John Herdman’s side exploded for a 7-0 victory over Cuba on Sunday to guarantee a top-two finish in Group A. Canada’s quarterfinal opponent will be either Costa Rica or Haiti, depending on the result of Monday’s match between those two teams. They will face whichever team finishes second in the group.
Lucas Cavallini and Jonathan David each bagged hat tricks for Les Rouges, while Junior Hoilett also found the net against an overmatched Cuba side.
Familiarity breeds content
After some unexpected lineup and tactical choices in Gold Cup games against Martinique and Mexico, Canada’s starting XI on Sunday more closely matched what we’ve seen since Herdman took over in early 2018.
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Atiba Hutchinson, the 36-year-old Canadian talisman, got the day off after starting both previous group-stage games in central defense, yielding to a more orthodox four-man back line featuring Alphonso Davies on the left.
Presumably Hutchinson was being rested in anticipation of the quarterfinals. But the question remains: Will Hutchinson play at the back or in a central midfield role, as we saw in the latter stages against Mexico? The answer may come down to the condition of Mark-Anthony Kaye, who sat against Cuba due to injury.
And while the Derek Cornelius/Doneil Henry center back tandem is established, the fullback spots remain up for grabs. On the left, does a healthy Kaye start with Davies pushed up? On the right, it’s a toss-up between two newcomers: Marcus Godinho, who started against Martinique and Cuba, and Zachary Brault-Guillard, who started against Mexico.
On a team that’s become flush with attacking options in the last few years, Cavallini and David have solidified themselves as the national team’s two-man strike force at this Gold Cup.
Yes, they ostensibly lined up in a 4-3-3 alongside Hoilett against Cuba – and, yes, he did also find the back of the net – but Hoilett’s tendency to wander around the field (to good effect, it must be said) precludes him from inclusion in this discussion.
If you had to pick only one as Canada’s go-to in the knockout stage, who would it be? Cavallini or David? Come on, pick one. As far as thought experiments go, it’s been a long time since CanMNT fans have been able to engage in one this exciting.
Sense of security
The 7-0 result was Canada’s biggest win in Gold Cup play, surpassing the record they’d set earlier in the tournament against Martinique. And while fans may revel in the offensive outburst, it’s incumbent upon Herdman and company not to get complacent about thumping a Cuban side that lost their three Gold Cup games by a combined 17-0 score.
Coming into the tournament, the questions about Canada focused on their defense and, quite frankly, we don’t yet have the answers. The back line, still a very young one, did get flummoxed on a few occasions against Cuba, before getting bailed out by either ’keeper Milan Borjan or the assistant referee’s offside flag.
While a big win (even against a crummy opponent) is always going to provide some positive vibes, one wonders whether a sterner test on Sunday may have provided greater benefit in the long run. We shall see in the quarterfinals.
Milan Borjan (6): Can’t complain about another clean sheet; made a critical leaping save moments after Canada’s first goal to avoid a Cuba equalizer that may have altered the match.
Alphonso Davies (6):. Showed just what’s possible from a fullback position with some thunderous runs through 70 minutes. He wasn’t bad on the defensive side, either.
Derek Cornelius (5.5): A nice throughball to Hoilett set the table for David’s opening goal; beyond that, he mostly watched one-way traffic moving away from him.
Doneil Henry (5.5): A relatively quiet night at the office for the 26-year-old, who made way at the hour mark for national-team debutante Kamal Miller with the score 5-0.
Marcus Godinho (6): Looked more confident than in his Gold Cup debut against Martinique, providing several overlapping runs on the right.
Jonathan Osorio (6): Once again, an important part of the team’s connective tissue in the attack, though wasn’t buzzing around the opponent’s goal as much as in the two previous group-stage games.
Samuel Piette (6): Helped prevent Cuba from ever exerting themselves on the counterattack. Just as importantly, Piette avoided a second yellow card of the competition.
Scott Arfield (6.5): Showed hunger in the attacking third from the get-go, but also helped set up teammates, including deferring to Cavallini on a penalty kick the striker ultimately skied over.
Junior Hoilett (6.5): Could have donned a chef’s hat at the final whistle to commemorate all the delectable crosses he served up to teammates.
Lucas Cavallini (7): Three goals is always good – especially his second, a sweet heel flick – and it could have been four, if not for a strange stutter-step choice on a second-half penalty kick.
Jonathan David (7.5): Got things rolling three minutes in, won a penalty kick in the second half, casually blasted home from 20 yards for his second, then finished off the hat trick in style.
Kamal Miller (5.5): Made his senior-team debut as a second-half sub and got the jitters out a 1v1 confrontation with a Cuban attacker just upon entering the game.
Ashtone Morgan (5.5): Like Davies, whose fullback role he took over, Morgan took plenty of opportunities to get upfield, though when the game was out of reach.
Liam Millar (5.5): Getting some late-game minutes with the game already decided, the 19-year-old winger made one barreling run into the Cuban penalty area and failed to put a shot on target.