Last night Canada’s MNT provided further evidence of its arrival at CONCACAF’s top table.
With the sport at an unprecedented high in the country - the women’s national team were recently crowned Olympic champions - a second successive away draw in World Cup qualifying raised optimism to unprecedented heights.
Coming against the USA in Nashville and Mexico at the iconic Azteca, these were not just any old draws away from home. Going into the backyards of the region’s two powerhouses and emerging unscathed is the most significant thing to happen in Canadian football since... well, the women’s spectacular triumph in Tokyo and I suppose the 2-0 Nations League defeat of the USA in 2019. Yes, there can be no mistake, Canadian football fans are on the crest of a surge.
But despite recent triumphs, in World Cup terms this is huge. Not since 1986 has Canada come within a sniff of qualification, and before last night Les Rouges had failed to take a solitary point in its last four World Cup qualifying visits to the Azteca, or even find the net. They were outscored 0-16!
All-time v the Mexicans in World Cup play there has been only one success, way back in Vancouver in 1976. Last night was the eighth draw. Unsurprisingly, the Mexicans prevailed a dozen times, usually fairly comfortably.
Although last night the Canadians did have their two main stars of European football, Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David, they were missing several key squad members; Milan Borjan (Covid), Atiba Hutchinson, Cyle Larin, Lucas Cavillini, Junior Hoilett and David Wotherspoon. At least the latter two will meet up with the squad for the weekend clash with the Reggae Boyz in Kingston.
The Canucks were brave, prepared to go toe to toe with the Mexicans, and continue to show improvement and greater confidence as this campaign develops. How they’d wish to have their opening game back now, a 1-1 draw with Honduras in Toronto.
The young Canadian side, six of the starting line-up is under 24, took the game to their illustrious hosts from whistle one, and there’s some regret an even more landmark result was not achieved.
“We wanted three points,” said Canadian coach Herdman. I’m content with the point but at the same time I think there was an opportunity to take three. I think we’ll walk away from this, looking at it in time thinking we could have taken all three points.”
His comments are not without credibility. Before going behind to a 22nd minute goal by Jorge Sanchez, set up by Hirving Lozano, Canada’s Richie Laryea stung the palms of Ochoa between the Mexican posts. And after, the pace of Buchanan and Davies always a threat, this pair combined to almost conjure an equalizer, the Bayern man just unable to direct goal wards from close range.
Then the excellent Vitoria left behind defensive duties to bring the best from Ochoa on 40 mins, following Eustaquio’s free-kick delivery.
But Canada wouldn’t have to wait long before restoring parity. Two minutes in fact. It can go down as my favourite Jonathan Osorio goal. The Toronto FC man consummately composed, controlled and finished expertly, but just as much the goal was about Davies’ delicate pass which eliminated four Mexican defenders.
As expected there were a few niggles and anxious moments in the second-half, notably a yellow card for Laryea ensuring he’ll sit out the weekend meeting with Jamaica.
Nashville’s Alistair Johnston, experiencing a nervous second-half, could thank his lucky stars, when his clearing header rebounded from the cross-bar to safety in the 64th minute, and shortly after, Wolves striker Raul Jimenez had the ball in the net for Mexico, but the Salvadoran referee made the right call, awarding a free-kick to Canada for a foul.
Still undefeated and their most difficult tasks on paper now complete, Herdman’s men must retain focus for several more stern tests ahead.
This Canadian squad has boldly underlined its arrival, but it’s the wrong time for players to start believing too deeply in all the written positives. This is where the coach earns his money. Feet must remain planted firmly on the ground.
Sure they have given themselves a hugely stable platform from which to progress, but with only one victory after four rounds of the Octagonal so far, it’s much too early for anyone to be getting ahead of themselves.
Mexico: Ochoa - Sanchez, Araujo, Gallardo, Montes - Herrera (Romo, 80), Alvarez, Guardado (C Rodriguez, 72)- Corona (Antuna, 72), Jimenez, Lozano
Bench (not used): Talavera, dos Santos, Pineda, Funes, Cota, Moreno, Dominguez, Vega, L Rodriguez
Head Coach: Gerardo Martino
Canada: Crepeau - Johnston (Adekugbe, 76), Vitoria, Miller, Laryea - Kaye (Fraser, 77), Eustaquio - Buchanan, Osorio (Millar, 77), Davies - David (Brym, 86)
Bench (not used): Pantemis, Piette, Shaffelburg, Brault-Guillard, Henry, St-Clair, Cornelius
Head Coach: John Herdman
Match Officials -
Referee: Ismael Cornejo (SLV)
Asst Refs: Geovany Garcia Lima (SLV), Zachari Zeegelaar (SLV)
4th Official: Jaime Alfredo Herrera
1-0: Jorge Sanchez (MEX) - 22 mins (assisted by Hirving Lozano)
1-1: Jonathan Osorio (CAN) - 42 mins (assisted by Alphonso Davies)
54 - YC Steven Eustaquio (CAN)
57 - YC Richie Laryea (CAN)
57 - YC Jesus Manuel Corona (MEX)
68 - YC Tajon Buchanan (CAN)
83 - YC Steven Vitoria (CAN)