HOUSTON – Alphonso Davies continues to be the revelation of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, helping Canada to within sight of its first quarterfinal appearance since 2009.
Davies converted a Scott Arfield cross in the 26th minute to give Canada the shock lead at BBVA Compass Stadium before Costa Rica’s Francisco Calvo scored just before halftime as the two teams battled to 1-1 draw on Tuesday night.
For Davies, a 16-year-old star with the Vancouver Whitecaps, it was his third goal in two games at this tournament as he further underlined his growing importance to the squad.
Canadian fans must have felt their hearts go in their mouths when Davies was subbed off in the second half with what appeared to be an injured ankle. But Canadian coach Octavio Zambrano was quick to assuage any worries that Davies might be sidelined for Friday’s group-stage finale.
“He’s going to be OK. He’s not limping and I spoke with our physio and he assured that he’s going to be ready for the next match,” Zambrano said. “Whether we decide to put him in at the start or just kind of assess a little bit and leave him out, we have some fresh legs that want to play. We may opt to keep him out and see how the game unfolds and put him in if the game demands it.
“For now, he’s good. He’s not showing anything major.”
Tuesday’s result keeps Canada in first place in Group A with four points after two matches, ahead of Costa Rica (also with four points) on goal difference with both nations having one game remaining in the first round.
Canada’s goal was a result of a pretty play that saw Michael Petrasso find Arfield who then crossed in from the right side. Davies capped it off beautifully, timing his run with impeccable precision as he overlapped around the outside of a Costa Rican defender and into the box where he finished in style with his left foot.
It was a combination featuring three players that figure to be part of the national program for plenty of years to come and that’s pretty encouraging.
Canada’s young players are playing without fear against more seasoned professionals and are showing the early signs of some exciting partnerships. From goalkeeper Milan Borjan’s reliability, Arfield’s engine in the midfield, to Davies’ pace and game changing ability, it’s been a fun two games watching this team.
“It’s exciting. Day-by-day we’ve got ability going forward and it mixes with the midfield and defence,” said Junior Hoilett, who showed some good creativity in the second half. “I’m excited for the games to come.”
Calvo headed in a corner kick with just a few minutes remaining in the first half when he managed to exploit some less-than-stingy Canadian marking.
But other than that one mistake, Canada’s defending as a team was sharp, with Arfield and newcomer Mark-Anthony Kaye coming back to make vital interceptions at different points in the game.
“The defenders did a really good job. We received the one goal from the corner kick and that’s the whole team’s fault,” said Borjan who once again was simply invaluable in the Canadian goal.
“That’s how I look at it. It’s not one guy. It’s the whole team. We’ve got to do a better job on that but we’ve got to get ready for the next game and try to beat Honduras and get first place in the group.”
Canada managed to create a few chances in the second half, but it was Costa Rica who pressured late. Some good work by Borjan, combined with some last gasp defending, saw out the result for Zambrano’s young Canadian team.
It’s certainly encouraging to see a Canadian side that has come into this tournament with no expectations continue to play with abandon and earning results because of it.
“The effort was there. We grinded out a result,” Zambrano stated. “Sometimes you have to do that especially at these competitions against opposition of this calibre. You wish to play an open game and do things the way you plan them but the game dictates different options.”
Canada now plays Honduras on Friday in Frisco, Texas, knowing that four points could already be enough to see them through to the knockout round.
Of course, Honduras has caused nightmares of many Canadian players and fans in previous World Cup qualifying campaigns. So, if there’s a sign that a new dawn is at hand in the Canadian men’s program, who better the opponent with a chance at advancing to the Gold Cup knockout round in the balance?