HARRISON, NEW JERSEY – The drought is over, but as is always the case with the Canadian men’s soccer team, it wasn’t easy.
Canada not only scored for the first time at the CONCACAF Gold Cup since 2011, but it also registered a victory, picking up a somewhat nervous 4-2 decision over French Guiana on Friday night at Red Bull Arena.
Dejan Jakovic and Scott Arfield scored in the opening 45 minutes, while 16-year-old Alphonso Davies scored twice in the second half for Canada, who won in this competition for the first time in eight games.
Roy Contout and Slovan Privat scored two minutes apart for French Guiana, who had chances for a third to set the Reds’ hearts racing. But as a biblical rain poured down Canada breathed a massive sigh of relief when Davies added an insurance goal with five minutes left in regulation with a solid finish on an Anthony Jackson-Hamel pass.
“It didn’t really quite happen the way we wanted, but I saw glimpses of what I want from this team,” stated coach Octavio Zambrano, who admitted he was hoping Canada would score in the first 15 minutes and then control things from there.
“We had a breakdown at one point that we really needed to be cognizant of and need to examine. We will watch the videos on how we can correct it, but you can’t ask for everything in the first match.”
Any worries about Canada nearly seeing a three-goal lead slip away will easily be tempered by the emergence of Davies, who only recently received his Canadian passport. Even before scoring his first goal, there were flashes of the creativity that he has routinely displayed with the Vancouver Whitecaps in MLS this season. The teenager fits in at this level, that’s for sure, and given his age, it’s exciting to think about what else he can do as he grows older and gains more experience.
“At first when I went out there, I was a bit nervous,” admitted Davies, who earned his second cap for Canada.
“It was a new atmosphere for me. Coming out there and starting a game with my country. I was a little bit nervous. At the end of the game, I got more comfortable.”
At 16, he is the youngest player to score in Gold Cup history and he is already earning rave reviews from his more experienced teammates.
“He’s probably the most exciting kid— he’s still a kid— that I’ve ever played with and seen with my own eyes,” said Arfield, who put in possibly his best performance for Canada.
“By far he’s the most technically gifted, humble, modest young man that I think is going to go from strength to strength.”
Even though Canada controlled lots of the possession early on, it was lacking in the decisive moments. Given its goal drought at the Gold Cup, it was somewhat fitting that it took a fortuitous deflection off Jakovic for the Reds to finally score.
In the 28th minute, Arfield delivered a free kick from the right side and it was initially punched by Guiana goalkeeper Donovan Leon. However, the ball was directed into Jakovic’s ribcage and bounced into the goal. Jakovic didn’t look like he knew what was happening, but it didn’t matter.
Right before halftime, Junior Hoilett put a ball in from the right flank to Arfield, whose initial attempt deflected back to him. Arfield then composed himself and coolly finished from outside the penalty area.
Davies, already facing plenty of hype at his age, showed just a glimpse of his potential on the hour mark when he was sprung behind French Guiana’s back line from a Lucas Cavallini pass. Davies showed incredible pace to break away and score his first goal for Canada.
Then the wheels almost completely fell off for the Reds, as starting goalkeeper Milan Borjan left the game and was replaced by backup Maxime Crépeau.
Borjan came to punch a loose ball and crashed into a group of players and took a shot in the eye. Medical staff came out and looked to initially signal a substitution, but after a few more minutes, Borjan was up on his feet.
When walking through the media mixed zone after the game, Borjan indicated that he could see just fine despite a swollen eye, but before coming out, he ran to the sidelines and indicated that he wasn’t fine to continue.
“Perhaps, this time, it wasn’t the best. There was a little bit of confusion but he came out and he’s OK and has been examined,” Zambrano said. “I don’t foresee anything major but we’ll wait to see what the doctor has to say.”
Contout scored a header off a corner kick in the 69th minute and then two minutes later Privat was left alone a few yards out to score at the near post.
Canada will play Costa Rica in Houston on Tuesday.