Canada squanders opportunity in Gold Cup opener

Canada's Gold Cup action started with a 0-0 draw against El Salvador.

Canada opened play at the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup on Wednesday night with a dire 0-0 draw against El Salvador in Carson, California.

This wasn’t coach Benito Floro’s first competitive match in charge of Canada, but it was the first major test of his managerial reign. The result and overall performance were not promising, though it’s still too early to judge this team just yet. Still, this was a winnable game against the weakest of the Reds’ group opponents, so there’s denying this was a missed opportunity for Floro’s side.

It’ll be interesting to see what adjustments he makes and how the team does against stiffer competition in the form of Jamaica and Costa Rica later on in the group stage.

Here are my three thoughts on Wednesday’s match.

Lack of midfield creativity

This tournament was always going to be tough for Canada without two of their best and most experienced midfielders. How the Reds could have used Atiba Hutchinson and Will Johnson, both absent at this Gold Cup, against El Salvador? Fellow veteran Julian de Guzman, curiously, didn’t pass a fitness test and was unavailable—a huge blow for a team already missing its most creative player (Hutchinson) and its captain (Johnson).

Floro made matters worse with his team selection. The central midfield duo of Samuel Piette and Kyle Bekker offered very little, both as a tandem and individually. Canada’s play in midfield was predictable and static at times, with little movement off the ball. Tesho Akindele and Tosaint Ricketts, fabulous in the second leg of the World Cup qualifiers against Dominica last month, were pedestrian on the night.

The selection of Bekker, who’s only made two starts and seen limited action this season for FC Dallas, was a curious choice. Surely, Jonathan Osorio or Russell Teibert, regular starters for their MLS teams and far more dynamic players, would have offered Canada more of an offensive spark than the bland Bekker. Only in the final 10 minutes did Floro sub out Piette and Bekker for Teibert and Osorio, and only then did Canada really start to look dangerous going forward. The Teibert-Osorio tandem should have started, or at least come on far sooner for the ineffective Piette and Bekker.

Larin’s remarkable miss

It’s a miss that Cyle Larin won’t soon forget. In the 28th minute with El Salvador coming on strong after being subdued early on by Canada’s pressing game, the ball took a deflection and fell kindly to the feet of Larin who got in behind the defence. The Orlando City forward was in alone on goal, and rounded the Salvadorian goalkeeper and found himself staring at an open goal.

But the youngster rushed his shot—he could have taken another two touches and moved in closer on goal—and badly misfired wide of the near post.

It was a comical miss, and any forward worth his salt would have buried it. Larin, though, lost his composure and blew the chance—something he really can’t afford to do, in light of Canada’s long-standing scoring problems. Had he scored, it would have forced El Salvador to chase the game, and given Canada the advantage. Instead, the match unnecessarily remained on a knife edge, and Canada had to survive just to earn a point.

More on CONCACAF Gold Cup: In-depth tournament preview || Match schedule || Group standings || Analytics: Canada looks to youngsters

Stamatopoulos a standout

If there was one notable positive for Canada it was the play of goalkeeper Kenny Stamatopoulos.

Starting in place of the more experienced Lars Hirschfield, the Greek-born shot stopper, who’s floated in and out of the national team setup since making his debut in 2001, made two crucial and big saves in the first half, denying Irvin Herrera from inside the penalty area both times. Those saves kept the match getting away from Canada at a time when El Salvador was in the ascendency.

Stamatopoulos made a meal of things later in the half when he punched a ball instead of making an easy catch, keeping the plat alive and allowing El Salvador another short on goal. But he quickly recovered and the danger passed.

Stamatopoulos made a strong save on a stinging Arturo Alvarez attempt from just outside the box early in the second half, and made other important stops for the remainder of the half, crucially holding onto the ball on difficult shots and not giving up rebounds.

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