As Guatemala and Canada finished playing out a 0-0 draw in their second matches of the 2023 Gold Cup, one thing became clear: Guatemala was the far superior team on the day. It was a revelation once more for Canadian fans, who came into this tournament with high hopes but so far have had them nearly squashed. Guatemala, like many other of the Central American nations, carry immense quality but they don’t play under Europe’s shining lights.
Undoubtedly, the brutally hot and humid weather, as well as a crowd significantly favouring La Azul y Blanco, played a part. The Guatemalans not only are very used to the climate, but the supporters did put so much behind the players as the match wore on. Every energetic counter-attack, something Guatemala did often even in the game’s latter stages, could be denoted by an uproar. Jeers and whistles would also come into the fold when Canada picked up the ball.
With 56% possession [according to SofaScore], that did become a common sound. Canada, once again, was the better offensive team in terms of the areas they got in and chances they created, but the final ball was seriously lacking. That has been the most obvious storyline during the tournament so far. This time around, Les Rouges were a measly 4-for-28 on crosses. The unflattering stat could be derived from the right side of the pitch, which is very good on paper but certainly needs time to gel. Ali Ahmed, Richie Laryea, and Moïse Bombito were a combined one-for-nine on crosses; and it doesn’t help that Ahmed and Bombito are relatively inexperienced. For both of them, the Gold Cup is their first international tournament and Canada call-up. There certainly is quite the contrast in how they play as youngsters versus the ferociousness of Laryea. While he drives head-on into areas crammed with defenders, very much willing to sacrifice his body to draw a penalty; Ahmed and Bombito sometimes looked hesitant when storming toward the Guatemalans. Ahmed on certain occasions would sort of tiptoe out of the way, and Bombito frequently looked rushed and not in control when he had many dark blue shirts surrounding him. That duo were excellent in Canada’s first match, and are still learning, so once a couple of skills are fine-tuned, they will be very tenacious.
Canada’s midfield was also paramount to getting a result. It alternates between three-to-five players and covers all areas of the field. Liam Millar was very much playing box-to-box, and he had to do that in one instance where he turned the ball over and had to sprint back down the pitch. Liam Fraser, who was the one change in the starting XI (Zac McGraw came on for him at halftime) did pretty well, but a poor tactical foul early on resulted in a yellow card and thus John Herdman had to do something about it.
S. 2 Ep. 21: Canada Doing What Canada Does – FC13 Podcast
Jonathan Osorio had plenty of plays running through him in the midfield. Participating in every minute despite a brutal shoulder-on-face collision late in the match where concussion protocol could’ve been brought into effect, the Toronto FC man recorded 72 touches and was 94% accurate on passing. He didn’t venture up the pitch like he did against Guadeloupe, so there weren’t any monumental missed chances due to not pursuing the ball. Osorio was somewhat of a holding midfielder in his positioning and play style, but didn’t do a defensive shift like McGraw, Millar, and Laryea did. And at the back, Steven Vitória had a bounce-back performance. With three clearances and two tackles, Vitória played a big part in making sure Nathaniel Mendez and co. didn’t break the line.
The heart of Guatemala’s attack, though, wasn’t the deadly counter-attack. It was set pieces. Canada somehow kept conceding these, and Aaron Herrera of CF Montréal was up for the task of getting them into the box. Six shots inside the box (not all off corners and free kicks) speaks volumes as to the placement of these balls. Canada was extremely lucky that the calibre of shots didn’t match the passing. Coming to mind immediately is defender Jose Ardon’s header that took a hard bounce off the ground following his header and went wide. Canada didn’t mark him, and he bolted into an open space and really should’ve converted. Herrera ended the night at three accurate crosses and three long balls, also managing one shot right at Milan Borjan off a free kick.
Canada has to prevent luck from saving them. Yes, the referee, Mexican Marco Ortiz, did make some questionable calls going the way of Guatemala, but Canada simply can’t be giving up so many set pieces. If Borjan was tested much more. like he easily could’ve been, then it’s a very different story being written today.
Following this battle, Herdman has to look back on it and think about what the team actually looks like. There is no question that tired bodies will be all around, so making different choices of players being substituted into the starting XI and into the match will be essential. The midfield group will need fresh legs, and up top Lucas Cavallini went nearly invisible. On defence Canada can hold it down once more but other than that it seems like some things will need to be tinkered with in order to get a win to round out the group stage. In short, rotation going to players who haven’t had a fair shot yet and will be full of energy and hunger will be a key. Just look at Ahmed. His first two shots have been extremely effective and is a gem Herdman has stumbled upon.
And a win must be executed. Getting three points alone against Cuba doesn’t guarantee a spot in the knockouts but that order of business must be handled well. Preferably with a few goals too. Canada might actually need the Houston heat to defrost what was a pretty cold attack.
Top photo by Concacaf
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