Canada midfield immense in historic World Cup qualifying win vs. Mexico

Cyle Larin's brace was enough to help Canada hold on to a 2-1 win over Mexico in World Cup qualifying. With the win, Canada jumped to first place in the standings.

What a night for Canadian soccer.

On a night of milestones, from defeating Mexico 2-1 -- its first win over El Tri in Concacaf World Cup Qualifying since 1976 -- to players matching or breaking records, Tuesday will be fondly remembered as a landmark evening.

That includes the "Iceteca" proving to be a fortress in this November window for the Canadian men's national team.

Here are three takeaways from a historic night for Canada.

Midfield pivot shines

The hero might be Cyle Larin for his goals. It could potentially be goalkeeper Milan Borjan for a jaw-dropping goal-line save at the death.

Whoever receives the plaudits, take nothing away from Atiba Hutchinson and Stephen Eustaquio.

It was a bold strategy from coach John Herdman to go with two players in midfield, especially considering this was only their third match starting together. Luckily, Mexico also opted for a duo in midfield with Orbelin Pineda occasionally dropping into the centre for support off the ball. That meant the majority of the tactical issues of a double pivot could've presented were nullified.

"We got wind that Mexico were going to change their structure with a three centre-back structure," Herdman explained. "We had never seen them do that since [playing] Iceland a couple of years ago, so we had to adapt pretty quickly, change some roles and responsibilities. But right at the call was always Eustaquio and Atiba, whether we were playing with that 3-4-3 defensively or the 4-4-2 defensively. Those two players are really the heartbeat."

Hutchinson, who set the national team's all-time appearances record with his 90th cap, was brilliant. The captain completed 26 of 34 passes. He had two interceptions, nine recoveries and finished the game in the process.

Take a moment to remember he is 38 years old, and the surface was essentially an ice sheet.

Hutchinson's partner was equally important, though. Eustaquio was orchestrating the game as he often does, getting stuck in defensively and providing the assist for Larin's winning goal. In total, he had 33 completed passes on 42 attempts, five tackles and five recoveries. His distribution wasn't as crisp, which can be chalked down to the pitch's conditions.

Highlighting Eustaquio's performances is becoming repetitive because this is the norm for him in a Canadian shirt. This was only his 18th cap for the team, but at 24 years old, it's easy to picture him accumulating dozens more appearances.

It's Miller Time

Lost in the hoopla was another steady display from centre-back Kamal Miller.

The CF Montreal defender was mopping up every Mexico attack that came his way on Tuesday. Raul Jimenez and Hirving Lozano couldn't wriggle free from the 24-year-old's grasp all night. Miller racked up nine recoveries and two interceptions as a result of his brilliant reading of the game. However, he remained disciplined with his passing to release full-back Sam Adekugbe into space down the left flank, as well as break lines with his progressive carries into the final third.

Considering the plethora of attacking talent up front, it's worth remembering how much the Canadian defence has been bolstered over the last few months. Miller is one of three sturdy left-sided centre-backs along with Derek Cornelius and Scott Kennedy, who missed this window due to injury.

In fact, the defence deserves its fair share of the credit for Canada's rise in 2021. Mexico's marker was just the 11th goal the team has conceded in 19 games during the calendar year. It goes beyond the back four, as this Canadian side now defends as a team off the ball.

For example, this was Canada's average positioning (via SofaScore) before and after its substitutions. Note the compact shape to ensure there's little space for Mexico to maneuver through.

This was always the question mark surrounding Herdman's side. If it can stay tight defensively, then the attacking talent can see the team through. That is precisely what's happening this year.

Laryea fulfils new role

An interesting wrinkle to Canada's tactics saw Richie Laryea operating as an inverted full-back (or wingback, in this case).

When Canada was on the ball, Laryea drifted inside to form a midfield trio at times. This provided cover in the right half-space to defend against counters as well as Mexico's forwards who were cutting inside. It also freed up Tajon Buchanan to provide the width on the right flank.

That is a tweak that could be seen in future matches, especially in games where Canada wants to keep its best attacking players on the pitch without sacrificing the midfield structure.

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