HIGHLIGHTS: Canada thrashes Cuba in CONCACAF Nations League opener

  • Canada 6 (Hoilett 13’, 50’, 82’; David 21’; Osorio 52’; Henry 65’), Cuba 0

  • Jonathan David scores record 8th goal of 2019 for Canada

  • Reds score six goals in a home game for the 1st time

TORONTO – Canada is off and running in style at the CONCACAF Nations League.

David Hoilett bagged a hat trick, and Jonathan David continued his torrid scoring pace, as Canada opened Group A play with an emphatic 6-0 drubbing of Cuba before an announced crowd of 10,224 spectators at BMO Field on Saturday.

It was a record-breaking night for Canada, who set a new team benchmark for goals scored in a home game.

Jonathan Osorio and Doneil Henry also scored and goalkeeper Milan Borjan earned his 19th clean sheet for Canada, who surely must be looking ahead to a crucial two-game set against its neighbour to the south.

Canada and Cuba meet again next Tuesday (7:15 p.m. ET/OneSoccer) in a neutral venue encounter in the Cayman Islands. The true test, though, comes when Canada faces the United States – Oct. 15 in Toronto, Nov. 15 on the road – in a pair of contests that will likely decide who moves on to the Nations League final four. The top team from Group A, along with the winners from the other three round-robin groups, advance to the tournament semifinals next June.

“I enjoyed the game. I enjoyed watching (the players) express themselves, and I think the fans enjoyed it as well. It was a good night. The players committed whistle to whistle, they didn’t lose concentration. The focus was there in all moments of the game, and that’s what I take the most pleasure from,” Canadian coach John Herdman told reporters after the game.

Beating a lowly team such as Cuba (ranked 179th in the world) isn’t terribly impressive, but it is very important for Canada (ranked 78th) if it’s going to qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Under new qualifying rules, the top six teams in CONCACAF, based on the FIFA world rankings in June 2020, move on to “the Hex,” the final round of qualifiers for the region. The top three nations in “the Hex” qualify for the World Cup in Qatar.

Canada currently sits eighth in the CONCACAF region, behind Mexico (No. 12), the U.S (22), Costa Rica (44), Jamaica (52), Honduras (67), El Salvador (68) and Panama (74). In order to crack the top six by next June and advance to “the Hex,” Canada has to win games like this in order to pick up valuable ranking points and move up the FIFA ladder.

If Canada doesn’t make “the Hex,” it would be forced to compete in a secondary CONCACAF qualifying competition, with the ultimate winner then facing the fourth-place finisher from “the Hex” in a two-game series. The winner of that would then have to play a home-and home playoff against a nation from outside CONCACAF with a World Cup berth at stake.

Saturday marked Canada’s first return to action since suffering a disappointing 3-2 loss to Haiti in the Gold Cup quarter-finals, a game that saw the Reds squander a 2-0 lead as they bowed out of the tournament. With the bitter taste of the Haitian loss still lingering, the Canadians showed no mercy to the Cubans.

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“We couldn’t wait to get back together and put in a solid performance to get back on track. …. It’s great to put in a performance like that and break a record here in Toronto,” Hoilett said.

Herdman handed a first cap to Toronto FC fullback Richie Laryea on the night. With Scott Arfield and Atiba Hutchinson unavailable due to injury, Hoilett wore the captain’s armband for the first time. Cavalry FC goalkeeper Marco Carducci was on the bench for Canada.

The Reds swarmed the Cubans right from the opening kickoff, with Hoilett pouncing on a giveaway in midfield before hitting a swirling shot from outside the box that nestled inside the near-post.

David padded Canada’s lead with a highlight-reel goal, beautifully controlling a fabulous pass from Mark-Anthony Kaye, and then keeping his composure as he held off two defenders before slotting his shot through the legs of Cuban goalkeeper Sandy Sanchez.

The strike was the eighth of 2019 for David, who set a new team record for most goals in a calendar year. Still only 19, David has nine goals in 11 international appearances, and it’s only a matter of time before he surpasses Dwayne De Rosario (22 goals) as the country’s all-time goal scorer.

A team official confirmed that David’s game-worn jersey is already on its way to the Canada Soccer Hall of Fame.

Dubbed the “Ice Man” by Herdman, David shows great maturity for a teenager, and Canada is just beginning to reap the awards of his cool touch on the ball and icy composure in front of the net.

“I’m always someone that’s calm. My teammates always tell me this, that I’m always relaxed (in my finishing). … This is the way I am,” David said.

Canada nearly made it 3-0, only to see Sanchez rob Alphonso Davies of a goal, tipping the Bayern Munich star’s shot from in close off the crossbar. The home side was cruising, but the visitors nearly cut into the lead following a miscue by Canadian defender Doneil Henry inside his penalty area. Luckily for Henry that Borjan bailed him out by denying Cuban forward Maykel Reyes.

Undaunted, the Canadians started the second half with a flurry, and they were duly rewarded when Hoilett netted his second of the game with a low drive from the edge of the box off a brilliant cross-field pass from Osorio. Moments later, Osorio made it 4-0 by tapping home at the far post off a setup from Hoilett.

Henry scored his first international goal by stabbing home a shot past Sanchez as Canada continued to beat down the Cubans, before Hoilett completed his hat trick by converting from the penalty spot.

NOTES: The Canadian men’s team is unbeaten in 15 games (with 10 wins) at BMO Field, a run that dates back to 2011… Canada and Cuba last met at the Gold Cup when the Reds rolled to a 7-0 win in Charlotte, North Carolina – both Jonathan David and Lucas Cavallini netted hat tricks for Canada…