TORONTO – The Canadian men’s national team put the hammer down on Saturday, kicking off its CONCACAF Nations League group stage with a resounding 6-0 win over Cuba at BMO Field.
Captain Junior Hoilett led the way with a hat trick while Jonathan David, Doneil Henry and Jonathan Osorio also scored for Canada, who played their first international match since dropping out of the 2019 Gold Cup following a shocking loss to Haiti
Canada and Cuba meet again on Tuesday (7:15 p.m. ET/OneSoccer) in a neutral venue encounter in the Cayman Islands. Les Rouges will cap their three-team group stage against the United States – Oct. 15 in Toronto, Nov. 15 on the road – in a pair of contests that will likely decide who moves from Group A on to the Nations League final four.
Here’s what we learned Saturday, and some things to expect from the second Canada-Cuba contest in the Cayman Islands.
Red-hot Jonathan David continues tear
Jonathan David is halfway to being Canada’s all-time leading goalscorer, with 11 goals in nine appearances. Dwayne De Rosario scored 22 times for Canada in 81 appearances. It’s only a matter of time before the 19-year-old David, who made his debut a year ago, topples De Rosario for the scoring mark.
David scored again in the Nations League opener on Saturday, setting a team record for most goals in a calendar year (eight) in the process. A team official confirmed that David’s game-worn jersey is already on its way to the Canada Soccer Hall of Fame.
“He’s a gift,” Canada coach John Herdman said of David, who previously appeared as a winger for the national side. “With Jonathan, he has that IQ, you can play him across the front three and his timing is so clean.”
David displayed his impeccable timing vs. Cuba as an advanced centre-forward, smudged into the backline as space was limited. Forced forward, David broke through the defence, just as he did on his goal – smartly sailing past the back four before several moments of quality followed.
When you count his league form with Belgian side Gent – four goals from five games – David is running at a goal-a-game pace, making Tuesday a key chance for him to add to his record-quadrupling run of 11 goals for Canada.
‘There needs to be:’ CanMNT squad rotation expected Tuesday
Herdman fielded a shifted starting XI on Saturday featuring all-new fullbacks and, in turn, Mark-Anthony Kaye in midfield. Kamal Miller and Richie Laryea (more on them later) were standouts on the flanks as part of Canada’s width.
With the team travelling for the second match on Sunday and set to play Tuesday, the short turnaround could see squad rotation. For Herdman, this brings a chance to look at other squad players ahead of crucial Nations League matches against the U.S. in the months ahead.
“I think there needs to be,” Herdman said of possible squad rotation. “There are a few guys I want to take a look at. Guys that have travelled from Europe that haven’t seen the pitch in a few camps.
“They’ve been patient and hung in there.”
Herdman insinuated that, via GPS readings post-match, his side wouldn’t need as long of a recovery compared to hot, high-altitude Gold Cup matches this summer.
“I need some questions answered for that U.S. squad,” Herdman told reporters. “That will be a tough one to pick.”
Laryea adds ‘something different’ to fullback role
Saturday’s game saw a promising combination for Canada at the fullback positions, with Orlando City’s Kamal Miller and Toronto FC’s Richie Laryea lining up to the left and right of defence, respectively.
A total of one cap between them, Laryea made his debut, and the two created defensive balance; the former tracked back, the later bombed forward.
As the attacking of the pair, Laryea was, visually, quite confident on his international debut, knocking balls past defenders and earning cheers at his club’s home ground.
“He brought something different for us,” Herdman said of Laryea. “And with that level of cohesion, with Junior (Hoilett) and Mark-Anthony (Kaye).
“That was a top performance.”
Far from a big defensive task, the experiment paid off — and it’s a pairing that Canadian supporters could see again.
Reminder: Every goal counts
In a three-team group, margins are thin, as we’ve seen in the CONCACAF Gold Cup (umm … 2000).
Herdman has clearly laid out his goal of topping the group and, therefore, advancing to the Nations League final four. If Canada and the U.S. split their two results, goal difference could come into play.
These two matches against Cuba are vital. And, as strange as this sounds, Herdman likely wanted to score more than just six goals in Toronto. Chances were there, whether in the form of shots coming off the woodwork or looks on goal going begging.
A big neutral-venue win away win on the Cayman Islands, which is not far out of the realm of possibility, would tilt the odds in Canada’s favour more than you’d think.