Canada puts in valiant effort in loss to Mexico at Concacaf Gold Cup

Lucas-Cavallini

Mexico defender Diego Reyes, left, fights for control of the ball with Canada forward Lucas Cavallini. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

• Mexico 3 (Alvarado 40’; Guardado 54’, 77′), Canada 1 (Cavallini 75’)
• Canada suffers first loss at 2019 Gold Cup
• Reds’ last win vs. El Tri was in 2000

Show respect, but not fear.

That’s how midfielder Jonathan Osorio described how Canada had to approach its group-stage game against Mexico at the Concacaf Gold Cup.

“I think we shouldn’t fear any team. If you fear any team you’re at an immediate disadvantage. We can’t fear Mexico. We have to respect them; respect them, yes,” Osorio told Sportsnet.

But maybe the Canadians showed their Concacaf counterparts a little too much respect, as the Reds parked the bus for most of the game in attempt to thwart the Mexicans. Only after going down did Canada open it up a bit, but by then it was too late, and they went on to suffer a 3-1 loss on Wednesday night in Denver.

Mexico tops Group A with six points, ahead of Canada and Martinique (both three points) and pointless Cuba. Martinique beat Cuba 3-0 in Group A action from Denver earlier in the day.

Despite the loss, Canada sits in second place in Group A ahead of Martinique based on its superior goal difference. The top two teams advance to the quarterfinals. Canada’s final group stage games is against Cuba on Sunday in Charlotte, N.C. Mexico faces Martinique the same day.

Canadian coach John Herdman made six line-up changes from the starting 11 that earned a 4-0 win over Martinique last Saturday. There was also a tactical change, as Herdman switched from a 4-4-3 to a 3-4-3 set-up, with forwards Lucas Cavallini and Cyle Larin drawing in after both sat out in the tournament opener, and starting in a front three that included Alphonso Davies.

It was a bold move by Herdman to go with this formation against the Mexicans, even more so in that he didn’t start captain Scott Arfield, winger Junior Hoilett and forward Jonathan David, who all scored against Martinique. Perhaps the Canadian coach was looking ahead, believing his side could meet Mexico in the semifinals, and he didn’t want to tip his hand and keep the Mexican coach Tata Martino guessing before a possible return match.

Mexico is the top Concacaf nation in the current FIFA world rankings, coming in at No. 18 (60 spots above Canada), and it has now won 19 of 27 international contests (with only three losses) against the Reds, dating back to their first meeting in 1957. What’s more, Canada’s last win over Mexico came in the quarterfinals on the 2000 Gold Cup, so it wasn’t a terrible surprise that Herdman set his team up to defend and keep things tight on Wednesday.

Martino made three changes from the team that steamrolled Cuba 7-0 last weekend. Jonathan dos Santos came in for Carlos Rodriguez, Edson Alvarez replaced Carlos Salcedo and Erick Gutierrez started instead of Andres Guardado. An injury forced Gutierrez out of the game in the 37th minute, with Guardado subbing in.

The Mexicans dictated the pace of the game in the opening 45 minutes, using their swarming pressing game to dominate possession and hem Canada deep inside its half for long periods. The Reds barely saw the ball, and had to play through the constant Mexican pressure and hit out on the counterattack. Mexico didn’t threaten to score until the half hour mark, when Jesus Gallardo floated a cross into the box and Dos Santos’ volley just went over the crossbar.

Canada held its own against Mexico, but Atiba Hutchinson and Zachary Brault-Guillard failed to deal with a speculative ball played into the box from the flank, allowing Roberto Alvarado to blast home his rebound attempt after goalkeeper Milan Borjan initially made a brilliant save.

Moments later, Cavallini snuck in behind Mexico’s defence and forced a solid save from goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa. Borjan was called into action just before the halftime break, standing tall and making a fine stop on Raul Jimenez from inside the box after he breezed past defender Doneil Henry.

Davies nearly equalized for Canada early in the second half, holding off a pair of Mexican defenders inside the box and flashing an angled shot just wide of the far post. But Mexico quickly turned around and pounced on a Canadian giveaway before Guardado unleashed a marvelous shot from 20 yards out that blew by Borjan and nestled into the top corner.

In response, Herdman swapped out Larin and Russell Teibert for David and Osorio. He also introduced Arfield at the expense of Will Johnson. The substitutions and a change in formation breathed new life into Canada’s attack. David picked the pocket of Mexican defender Nestor Araujo, and then squared the ball for Cavallini to score into an empty net.

But the Mexicans responded two minutes later, punishing Canada after a defensive miscue by Davies, as Guardado’s shot took a deflection and beat the handcuffed Borjan.

NOTES: This was Canada’s first loss in seven games since John Herdman took over as coach last year. The Reds now sport a 6-0-1 record under Herdman… The 16 nations at the Gold Cup have been divided into four groups, with the top two teams in each group advancing to the quarterfinals to be played in Houston and Philadelphia on June 29 and 30… The semifinals are scheduled for July 2 in Glendale, Ariz., and July 3 in Nashville, followed by the final in Chicago on July 7, the same day as the final of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in France… The United States are the defending Gold Cup champions.

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