BMO Field, Toronto -
34 years, 6 months and 13 days.
That’s how long it’s been since Canada last defeated the United States in soccer.
It’s been such a long time, but George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, John Wayne, Donald Trump .... your boys tonight, took one hell of a beating!!!
And this was no fluke. The better side, the more committed of the two, won the day, despite losing key midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye with a pulled hamstring after only 5 mins.
From the very beginning until 66th min substitute Lucas Cavallini sealed the victory in minute 91, the Canadians looked the more likely. Only once when the Americans engineered space in the box and you felt sure Pulisic with all his quality, would score, was the Canadian goal seriously troubled. But Milan Borjan came up big, diverting the ball for a corner.
Borjan, one of the senior pros in John Herdman’s squad also used his experience in calming down an aggrieved Richie Laryea after he’d been fouled, with the Canadians 1-0 to the good at the time.
You could sense Alphonso Davies was in the mood from early on in the contest. First he let fly with a well-struck shot on 12 mins that didn’t trouble Steffen too much, then a few minutes later tied US captain Tim Ream in knots, before delivering a ball into the danger-area.
Canada were enjoying the opening exchanges more, and should have taken the lead through Jonathan David after 16 mins. Christian Roldan had given the ball away. David collected but was unable to beat the advancing Steffen. The ball ricocheted back to the Gent striker, who composed himself expertly, dragging the ball away from the American ‘keeper, before pulling his finish wide of the far post.
Approaching half-time, Liam Fraser, Kaye’s replacement, and McKennie traded yellow cards committing fouls against each other. Further first-half, physical niceties included Roldan’s tackle from behind on David, followed by Osorio’s heavy challenge back on the American, the hunter hunted.
US coach, Gregg Berhalter spoke of Canada’s desire, post-match, suggesting it was the main difference between the sides. He expressed disappointment his side was unable to find the commodity in equal measure.
“Desire leads to physical games, to them competing on every single play. When you saw the emotion they played with. Guys like Piette, Vittoria at the back, these guys were playing with emotion. We didn’t match that.
“It carries them into being physical on every play, sometimes on the borderline of being a little bit dirty, but that’s soccer. That’s how the game is played sometimes and we have to come to terms with that side of the game.”
Canada opened the second-half with intent. Davies fancied himself over Long, but the US centre-back, twisted one way then the other, held firm to block. David had another half-chance at the front post, the ball going just the wrong side of the post after good combination play between Arfield and Laryea. That Pulisic chance followed, Borjan’s big moment, a crucial play in the match.
Then the goal finally arrived, Canada’s first against the US since 2007. Davies was the finisher, but the creation was all about his captain. Arfield, driving forward, pick-pocketed Bradley before feeding Davies and on to David. Ream had the chance to clear, but the ball went only as far as Fraser who again brought Arfield into the play on the right side of the box.
The Rangers man produced the decisive pass of the match across the US goal and Davies, more committed than Long at the back post, forced the ball over the line.
“A million emotions,” was the young striker’s response when asked what was going through his head when he saw all his team-mates running towards him. “Excitement. I am happy to score in this game. We knew it was a big one,” said the Bayern youngster labelling it as, “ ... the biggest goal I’ve ever scored.”
The exciting thing for Canada, is there will be more from Alphonso, not quite yet with the strength of a fully developed player, but with pace, confidence and technique all in his locker, it’s clear a special talent is forming. He’s a level-headed boy too.
Canada made a double change soon after the goal with a new spearhead, Hoilett and Cavallini replacing Davies and David. Alphonso’s night was done, but the new strike-force was also determined to make their mark on the game. Hoilett went through on 72 mins, hampered by the attentions of Aaron Long, yet forcing a decent save from Steffen in the American goal.
After Haiti, a huge question-mark remained over the Canadian team’s character and ability to close out a game from a winning position. Here was the test, and it was passed with flying colours. The US were unable threaten seriously in the game’s final phase, the Canadian midfield and defensive block had the bit between their collective teeth, never were they in the mood to ‘let them past’.
Derek Cornelius, in and out of the Vancouver side last season, and a subject of past criticism, was a rock in defence. So too was Portuguese-based Steven Vittoria, and they were well-aided by the cohesive and focused unit all around.
Players post-match were quick to praise coach Herdman and it should now be beyond doubt the impact the English coach is having on the rejuvenation of Canadian soccer at the international level. He had his lowest moment at the Gold Cup during the summer amidst cries of ‘another false dawn’, but here last night Herdman and his team smashed through a barrier. It’s not the end, and more is needed, but ‘it’s on plan’ as the coach might say.
The emotion in his voice post-match, portrayed that of a proud coach, one who senses his group are going somewhere and one hugely satisfied that an un-shattered belief in his squad post Haiti, now appears justified, when once it looked anything but.
The coup de grace was left for Puebla striker Lucas Cavallini to apply. When his childhood friend Jonathan Osorio lobbed a ball over the top in added time, for him to run onto, “All I wanted to do was smash the net. And that’s what happened.”
Cavallini, only Steffan to beat, kept his concentration, allowed the ball to bounce, picked his moment and drilled an unstoppable volley past the American. Unbridled joy, the unshackling of a million emotions and thirty-odd years of frustration all laid to rest, right there, right then.
Canada announced its arrival to CONCACAF’s top table, certainly not yet the best in the region, but finally, once again, a serious contender.
A big return game now in three weeks, another test for this developing squad. You sense cohesion and character, for once, will not be a negative factor. Whether it carries them on to win the group is another matter. What is important now is that Canada has returned to the stage, loud and proud.
The only disappointment of a quite special night was the paltry crowd figure. Just over seventeen thousand were there to see history made. Those in attendance undoubtedly played their part, but Canada’s wider soccer public, despite many previous disappointments, must do better.
Canada - Borjan - Laryea, Cornelius, Vittoria, Miller - Osorio, Arfield (c), Piette, Kaye (Fraser, 9) - Davies (Hoilett, 66), David (Cavallini, 66)
USA - Steffen - Yedlin (Lima, 73), Long, Ream (c), Lovitz - Roldan (Zardes, 73), Bradley, Pulisic (Arriola, 60), McKennie - Morris, Sargent
Match Officials -
Referee - Daneon Parchment (Jamaica)
Asst Refs - Juan Carlos Mora (CRC), Ainsley Rochard (TRI)
4th Official - Keylor Herrera (CRC)
Attendance - 17,126