John Herdman still feels the sting of Sunday’s penalty shootout loss to the U.S. at the Gold Cup. But the Canada coach considers the tournament will pay real dividends in the future.
The 45th-ranked Canadian men were missing a slew of marquee names following their 2-0 loss to the 11th-ranked Americans in the June 18 CONCACAF Nations League final loss that preceded the Gold Cup. They made it to the Gold Cup quarterfinal, pushing the U.S. to the limit in a back-and-forth contest.
Despite the final result, Herdman believes the summer campaign turned out to be a “really important step” for his team.
The CONCACAF Nations League final, Canada’s first in 23 years, provided big-game experience.
The Gold Cup offered something different but just as worthwhile.
“Because I felt it just pressed a little bit of a reset button for our culture,” Herdman told The Canadian Press. “It showed what it really means for players to represent our country — young, hungry players — and then put them around a veteran group that has bought into the brotherhood, the culture, leading the country to the next level.
“It was invaluable, an invaluable experience, to just get that feel that there’s a crop of players here that want it really bad and they’re going to prevent this country falling into some kind of complacency trap. And that’s how it’s going to be now for the next two years.”
Canada opened play June 27 versus unranked Guadeloupe in Toronto, having to settle for a 2-2 tie after conceding a 93rd-minute own goal. The Canadians then flew to Houston where they tied No. 116 Guatemala 0-0 and defeated No. 165 Cuba 4-2 to concluded second in Group B behind Guadeloupe.
That set up the quarterfinal showdown in Cincinnati with the U.S., which topped Group A. The Canadians were looking for their first victory over the Americans on U.S. soil since 1957.
After substitute Brandon Vazquez gave the U.S. a 1-0 lead in the 88th minute, Canada forced extra time via a Steven Vitoria penalty in the 93rd minute and pulled ahead 2-1 on a Jacob Shaffelburg goal in the 109th minute.
The Americans tied it on a Scott Kennedy own goal in the 115th minute and went on to prevail 3-2 in the penalty shootout.
Herdman liked what he saw in the buildup to the game, with players having gone through extra practice sessions to prepare.
“You smelled and felt something on game day, that this group had really locked in,” he said. “So I think that hurts more than anything. Because they got that close. And if they had [kept] that 2-1 lead or won the penalties, I fell like this group would have felt they were invincible. They were taking step upon step upon step.”
A victory over the U.S. would have meant a semifinal matchup against No. 57 Panama, a team that a full-strength Canada dispatched 2-0 in the CONCACAF Nations League semifinal.
But Canada’s entry at the Gold Cup was without Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David, Cyle Larin, Tajon Buchanan, Alistair Johnston, Atiba Hutchinson, Stephen Eustaquio, Samuel Adekugbe and Ismael Kone.
Ahmed, Bombito, Zac McGraw, Jacen Russel-Rowe and Dominick Zator all made their national team debuts for Canada against Guadeloupe. Minnesota United ‘keeper Dayne St. Clair took over after two matches when No. 1 Milan Borjan was sidelined by injury, earning his third and fourth caps and was exceptional in the U.S. loss.
“I think the fans got to see some of our future,” Herdman said after the Guadeloupe game. “And I think this tournament’s opened a window for that opportunity.”
Next up for Canada are FIFA international windows in September (Sept. 4-12), October (9-17) and November (13-21), each allowing for two matches per period.
Herdman, who has been clear his team needs to stay busy, says there has been plenty of action behind the scenes trying to set up his team’s fall schedule against a backdrop of financial issues with Canada Soccer. He said he’s hopeful an announcement will come soon.
In the meantime, Herdman hopes that players like David and Buchanan, currently at France’s Lille and Belgium’s Club Brugge respectively, can make a “next-level” transfer move to a bigger club.