After the high of qualifying for the World Cup in March, this was a strange and awkward window for Canada to say the least. Games against Iran and Panama were both cancelled due to reasons that are well known by now, but there were still two competitive games to be played in this window – both in the CONCACAF Nations League versus Curaçao at home, and Honduras away. Canada beat Curaçao 4-0, and lost 2-1 away to Honduras, and while the window didn’t work out the way we wanted it to, there were still some key observations to take from these games, as Canada looks ahead to Qatar this November.
Davies Loves Playing in Vancouver
It has been a while since we have seen Alphonso Davies in action for Canada. Due to a heart condition, the Bayern Munich star has missed Canada’s last five games, and after finishing a league season in Germany, Davies looked as eager as ever to don the red of Canada vs Curaçao at his old stomping ground.
Davies almost scored immediately within the first minutes, which set the tone as Canada dominated Curaçao throughout. Davies won a penalty in the twenty-seventh minute that he calmly slotted into the net, his corner in the forty-second minute lead to a Steven Vitoria-headed goal and then in the seventy-first minute, Davies combined well with Richie Lareya to tap the ball in for his second goal of the night.
Davies stayed behind well after the final whistle to selfies and autographs for fans and was quick to thank them in an interview after the game. Davies played eighty-one times for Vancouver Whitecaps, and it’s clear to see that he loves putting on a show at BC Place.
Width Will Be a Crucial Strength for Canada Going Forward
A staple of Canada lately has been their strength out wide both at full-back and on the wings. John Herdman was able to play arguably his strongest side against Curaçao and the combination of fullbacks Alistair Johnston and Sam Adekugbe and wingers Tajon Buchanan and the aforementioned Davies gave Curaçao headaches all game. All four of them are capable of getting in advanced positions and being able to run up and down the pitch all day, which bodes well ahead of Qatar.
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Against Group F giants Croatia and Belgium, Canada’s speed on the wings is expected to play a crucial role in the Canucks getting anything out of those games, and should one of those four be injured/suspended, Canada has plenty of options. Herdman rang the changes against Curaçao with winger Junior Hoilett and fullback Richie Lareya coming on as substitutes, and both being involved in Canada’s two second-half goals. Lareya came on and played ahead of his fellow right-back Johnston, with Davies (a left-back with his club) on the other wing. An attacking strength for Canada could also prove to be a solid defensive part of the field?
A Crucial Transfer Window for Richie Lareya
Should Canada play back four in Qatar as they did against Curacao and Honduras, right-back is probably the biggest question mark Canada has going into the World Cup with both Richie Lareya and Alistair Johnston competing for that spot. Game time has been split between the two of them in the last couple of windows, and although it’s not been uncommon for Herdman to deploy Lareya in a more advanced position, it still remains to be seen who will be the starting right back, and unfortunately for Lareya, Johnston holds one key advantage at club level – game time.
Johnston has been a revelation for Montreal in the MLS this season and the twenty-three-year-old enjoying a career year in Quebec. Meanwhile, Lareya moved from Toronto FC to Nottingham Forrest back in January, and despite being part of a side that earned a promotion to the Premier League, Lareya found his game time very limited as he struggled to get a game ahead of Djed Spence.
Whilst Lareya showed back in March and in this window that lack of club game time doesn’t seem to affect his Canada performances, any lapse in match concentration and fitness from the defender could prove costly when up against some of the best attackers in Europe and Morocco this winter. Spence won’t be at Forrest next season, but expect to see The Reds reinforce this position this summer, putting Lareya in a tough spot.
A loan move to the English Championship would appear to make the most sense, then again with League Cup games and the chance of injuries/suspension, perhaps Lerya does intend to stick it out and get game time in one of the best soccer leagues in the world? Only Richie himself knows what he will want to do, and the rest of us will have to wait and see between now and September when the European transfer window shuts.
CONCACAF Gonna CONCACAF
I’m not really sure where to begin here. In torrential rain conditions that would lead to the game being cancelled in probably 85 percent of the world, Canada lost 2-1 to Honduras in a game that you could probably struggle to qualify as an actual soccer game. The pitch was torn up, the ball wouldn’t move naturally, and both teams struggled to move the ball, but as if that was enough, Canada also had to deal with some very questionable refereeing.
Playing with the lead, Honduran players spent a lot of time on the rain-soaked pitch, essentially time-wasting to run down the clock and the referee did nothing to stop it. The game got really out of hand at the end when Alistair Johnston was controversially shown a second yellow card at the end of the game, and in the aftermath, the referee appeared to push Canada captain Milan Borjan. Six minutes were added on at the end of the game, in that six minutes roughly two minutes of soccer was actually played with the referee blowing the final whistle much earlier than he probably should. It is difficult to take much from the game against Honduras because of the abhorrent conditions the game was played in, it was truly, peak CONCACAF.
The CMNT Brotherhood Is as Strong Ever
One thing for sure have learned about what has been a difficult window for Canada is that there is a real togetherness and team spirit around this side whenever they take to the field. Whatever you think about the strike, it’s a sensitive issue that easily could’ve torn the dressing room apart. Instead, the team stuck together and at the end of the game against Curaçao, Borjan – a leader on this team gathered the squad onto the pitch for a huddle where he gave them a passionate team talk in a defiant moment of unity. Then in Honduras, Borjan once again rallied the troops after Jonathan David made the score 2-1, in a game which won’t decide Canada’s Nations League fate (next March will decide that).
As things weren’t going their way toward the end, they easily could’ve shrugged off Alistair Johnston’s red card with it being so late in the match. Instead, they all charged over, protesting the decision, getting in the faces of Honduran players and most importantly, standing up for their teammate. Even at the final whistle, when again you wouldn’t blame them for just wanting to get out as soon as possible, they were still up for the fight against the Honduran players. This squad has achieved a lot in a short amount of time and no matter what, they stay together as a true team.
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