Altidore guides U.S. over Canada in friendly


United States' Jozy Altidore, left, and Canada's Steven Vitoria vie for the ball during the first half of an exhibition soccer match (Mark J. Terrill/AP)

CARSON, CALIFORNIA – It was essentially a pre-season game for two nations looking ahead to World Cup qualifying, but in Canada’s case this contest against the United States was a pretty good preview of what to expect next month against Mexico.

Canada very nearly hung on for a scoreless draw on Friday against the U.S. in the opening match of what is shaping up to be a crucial year for the Reds. But Toronto FC forward Jozy Altidore converted a header in the 89th minute as Canada dropped a 1-0 decision to the Americans in an international friendly at StubHub Center.

The U.S. were the favourites and they lived up to that billing as they peppered the Canadian goal with 17 shots, eight of which were on target, while Canada could only register four shots, all off target.

With Mexico expected to take both games next month, playing under pressure is something Canada should get used to and learn to deal with in World Cup qualifying.

“Mexico’s got some players similar to how the U.S. plays and they play quick one touch combinations and I thought at times that we dealt with it okay and I thought at times we didn’t,” Canadian midfielder Will Johnson offered. “We just have to learn those movements, make sure we’re on the same page and make sure we don’t give up as many chances as we gave up tonight.”

Altidore had a number of scoring chances throughout the game, including striking the post in the first half with a shot from a tight angle, and then having a sitter of a header go just wide, and a powerful shot saved by the otherwise outstanding Canadian goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau in the second half.

But Canada couldn’t hold out for the draw and it was Ethan Finlay, who had once been mentioned as a possible addition to the Canadian team, who provided a perfect cross that Altidore finally managed to head in.

“We’ve had better games before. It was a little tough in the first half. The Americans played a very solid game,” coach Benito Floro conceded.

“The first half we kept up with the balance. The USA had a very good balance as far as tactical movement. They moved the ball very well. In the second half, the fitness level wasn’t there and they had more scoring chances.”

Canada was without most of its most influential players—most notably Atiba Hutchinson, David Edgar, and Junior Hoilett—and the Americans carried much of the play as a result. But the hosts were unable to put away any of the quality scoring chances they were able to create.

It’s not to say Canada didn’t get their chances as they had a few early set-piece opportunities that they were unable to convert. Also, Cyle Larin had a decent shout for a penalty in the 20th minute as a reckless tackle from American defender Jermaine Jones just on the edge of the penalty area went unpunished.

But as these January camps are more about getting players ready for bigger games ahead while blooding some younger talent, Canada and the Montreal Impact both have to be impressed with Crepeau.

A member of the under-17 team that went to the World Cup in that age group in 2011, Crepeau really looks to be starting to come of age as he made confident saves and showed no fear coming off his line when needed.

“Obviously we’re sad not to get the result but overall, from what we did during the week, we could have gotten by so it was a positive,” said Crepeau, who is likely still third in the depth chart in Montreal behind Evan Bush and Eric Kronberg.

“But I’m happy to get my first cap and for this year, it’s just starting up and I’m looking to play some games this year at a professional level and just to grow and get to the next level.”

In the dying minutes Finlay won space on the left flank and beat Canadian defender Doneil Henry to cut the ball onto his right foot and delivered a cross that couldn’t have been placed any better for Altidore to head in.

Both sides are essentially in pre-season mode with the vast majority of their squads just starting their North American club campaigns.

The Americans will play Guatemala home and away next month in World Cup qualifying.

Canada, who has four points and is in second place in its group, welcomes Mexico to Vancouver’s BC Place on March 25 before heading to Mexico City for the second game.

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