Canada conquer Cuba, but questions remain: Ratings, observations from CUBvCAN

Canada’s Concacaf Nations League campaigned continued on Tuesday night with a 1-0 win over Cuba at a neutral venue in the Cayman Islands, as the two met for the second time this international break.

Having taken the first meeting 6-0, the Canadians were looking to set themselves up for a pair of clashes in October and November against the United States. And though the win completed a perfect start, John Herdman’s side would doubtless have liked to take a few more goals from the match.

Given the circumstances, as will be seen below, it was a fitting, if underwhelming, result.

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Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes?

Herdman made five changes from the starting XI that featured at BMO Field four days earlier, with Sam Adekugbe, Steven Vitoria, Will Johnson, David Wotherspoon and Cyle Larin inserted in the places of Kamal Miller, Derek Cornelius, Sam Piette, Jonathan Osorio and Junior Hoilett, respectively.

The coach had hinted in his comments following the 6-0 win that some rotation would be coming – equal parts rewarding those for hard work put in during the camp and fulfilling a desire to see what other options would look like in position – but few would have expected quite that many.

The result was a less fluid, more disjointed outing, barring the occasional flash of the dynamism reminiscent of the first. That the energy levels and intensity were lacking will be of some concern, though credit should be given to the Cubans, who were an altogether more compact and sturdy opponent on the night.

There he is

Alphonso Davies was uncharacteristically quiet in the first meeting. Shockingly so.

The former Vancouver Whitecaps/current Bayern Munich starlet failed to factor on Friday’s scoresheet despite the free-flowing goals. Herdman wasn’t even asked about his performance in his post-match presser – a rarity indeed, given how strongly he has factored in the imagination of the Canadian public the last few years.

On Tuesday the teenager wasted no time making amends for that oversight, smashing in what proved to be the game-winner in emphatic fashion with a left-footed blast past the helpless Cuban goalkeeper when a loose ball fell to him on the left side of the box.

That was the Fonzie observers were expecting to see.

Davies was one of the driving forces of the Canadian attack on the night, muted thought it was. On the other hand, Jonathan David, who stole the headlines on Saturday, was a virtual non-factor. Canada will need both firing when the next games come around.

Progress made, but questions linger

Cyle Larin | Canada Soccer

With the win, Canada did what they had to do in the two matches against Cuba.

They took all six points, they built up a goal-differential of +7, though it remains to be seen whether that’ll be enough, with the Americans having two matches of their own to surmount that total.

Doneil Henry’s red card, for a pair of yellows – the first clear, the second less so, apparently for dissent – means that one of the defenders that Canada would likely have counted on in the more challenging games ahead will not be available.

It was a reminder of the dangers of Concacaf, the unpredictability, and that nothing can ever be taken for granted when playing in this region. The slightest infraction will be punished, the most severe may not.

The performance raised questions too – or maybe failed to answer some already at the forefront. Do Canada have the depth required? Can they break down a team that sits deep and looks to play spoiler? In 11 matches under Herdman, the Canadians have outscored their opponents 40-7 and lost just twice – against Mexico and Haiti in the Gold Cup.

It’s about to get a lot harder.

Player Ratings

Milan Borjan (7) – Sporting the armband, the goalkeeper was a calming influence on the night and did all that was asked of him.

Richie Laryea (6) – After a slow first half, showed that same attacking verve and willingness to mix it up that earned him such plaudits after Saturday’s match, though not as involved.

Steven Vitoria (6.5) – Barely noticed him, which for a center back, is not a bad thing; shuttled the ball forward, kept the game in front of him, did his job.

Doneil Henry (4) – Got noticed: the first yellow card was fair enough (a central defender beat when forced to defend out wide, and brought his opponent down), the second, though harsh, was the kind of Concacaf mistake that an experienced player needs to avoid.

Sam Adekugbe (6) – Proved a viable option at the left back position, brought a good mix of forward thrust and defensive nous, though did not show enough to win the position outright from Miller.

Will Johnson (6.5) – Exactly as expected: energetic, tenacious, willing to stick a boot in and capable at moving the ball.

Mark-Anthony Kaye (5.5) – After his scintillating outing a few days earlier, MAK was not at the same level on this night. The vision was there, but the execution was off, guilty of a couple of particularly poor balls that would be costly against superior opposition.

David Wotherspoon (6) – An interesting night from a player making just his second appearance for the CanMNT, flashes of decent link-up play with unfamiliar teammates, some decent service, though some equally bad.

Jonathan David | USA Today Sports Images

Jonathan David (5.5) – One of those rare nights where the Iceman does not score for Canada. Shunted out to the right, David was nowhere near as impactful as he was on Saturday, though the Cubans had learned their lesson and the service was lacking.

Cyle Larin (6) – Picked up an assist to get himself on the scoresheet, though how intentional it was could be debated; displayed some interesting link-up play and threw himself about, but largely starved of service in his hour on the pitch.

Alphonso Davies (7) – Got his goal, showed flashes, got kicked. Pretty standard stuff, but Canada will need more from Davies come October, November and beyond.

Jonathan Osorio (6.5) – Brought some added intensity and drive forward when he came on in the 52nd minute, but with Henry’s red card three minutes later, that burst was short-lived.

Derek Cornelius (6) – Stepped into the shoes of his Vancouver clubmate in the middle of the backline for the final half-hour once Larin had been sacrificed, barely put a foot wrong.

Liam Millar (6) – A lively cameo from the other teenage winger, delivered some dangerous service into the area in his 11 minutes.

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