Scott Arfield didn’t fully understand what he was getting into when he was called into Canada’s squad for this month’s CONCACAF Gold Cup.
The Scottish-born midfielder made his debut for the national team last March in a World Cup qualifier against Mexico. Since then he has firmly established himself as a key player for the Reds. He’s appeared in eight games (seven as a starter), including last Friday’s 4–2 win over French Guiana at the Gold Cup in which he scored his first goal for the team.
The result ended Canada’s seven-game winless run at the continental competition that dated back to 2011. Dejan Jakovic’s fortuitous opener in the first half also mercifully ended Canada’s goal drought at 596 minutes in Gold Cup play.
Canada’s dubious reputation preceded it ahead of this tournament, with its scoring woes and lack of wins the hot topic of discussion among fans and media who cover the team. But Arfield’s lack of knowledge about the desperate nature of the situation perhaps signals a new era, where the Canadian team isn’t dwelling on its past failures. Instead, it’s focused on carving out a new identity under new coach Octavio Zambrano.
“Honestly, I didn’t know about the goal drought. I knew that we hadn’t done too well in the competition in recent years, but it was only [last week] that I learned about the goal drought. I never knew the extent of the goal-scoring problems. But we had expectations going into this Gold Cup, and we firmly believed we could get goals. The patience that we possess as a team, it was only a matter of time before we ended the drought,” Arfield told Sportsnet.
“The lack of results, it wasn’t an issue. There’s a few players here who played in those Gold Cups, but the new manager has come in with a new style, so you quickly forget the history. As players, we didn’t think about it and we had moved on.”
The Canadians were pretty dominant against French Guiana, controlling possession and the pace of the game, and jumped out to a commanding 3–0 win after an hour. Arfield helped to set up Jakovic’s goal, and then scored himself, while 16-year-old Alphonso Davies converted on a breakaway.
Davies went on to score late in regulation time to seal the win, but he wasn’t the only youngster who shined on the night. Starters Junior Hoilett (27) and Lucas Cavallini (24) played with purpose in the final third of the pitch, while Anthony Jackson-Hamel (23) and Russell Teibert (24) came on as second-half substitutes and did a credible job of fortifying the Reds’ attack.
The young blood infused some badly needed vigour into this Canadian team against French Guiana, and Arfield is hopeful they can do likewise on Tuesday night when Canada faces Costa Rica in Houston.
“[This is] a fantastic squad, full of pace and youthfulness, which it probably hasn’t had in some time. There’s also a new mentality that Octavio has instilled, so I think we’re going to go from strength to strength in this tournament. We believe we can go a long way,” Arfield said.
“We’re in a healthy place at the moment. We can surprise and hurt a few teams with what Octavio has established. They’ll be in for a game on Tuesday night.”
That’s pretty bold talk about a Canadian team that currently sits 100th in the FIFA world rankings, seventy-four spots behind Costa Rica, who is considered one of the best nations in the CONCACAF region. But Arfield contends that self-belief has been high within the Canadian camp, a longstanding problem with the side. In the past, the win against French Guiana would have been celebrated as a pretty big deal. For Arfield and his teammates, it was simply expected, and there is a belief that greater things are on the horizon for Canada at this Gold Cup.
“The mood within the team is pretty much the same. The result magnifies the way we’re feeling, but I don’t think much has changed in terms of our expectations for this tournament,” Arfield said.
It was far from a perfect performance by Canada against French Guiana. Up 3–0 after 60 minutes, the Reds made two substitutions and let the game get away from them as their opponents scored twice within a two-minute span. What once looked like a blowout suddenly turned into a competitive match.
Canada refocused, though, and quickly took control of the proceedings before Davies’s second goal of the night in the 85th minute put the final result beyond dispute.
Arfield, though, believes Canada learned a valuable lesson, and that it can gain from the experience.
“We lost our shape after we made subs and tactically we got stretched. [French Guiana] started to come into the game and get more ball retention. But we showed character to get the fourth goal to kill off the game,” Arfield stated.
“That to me is far more important than the two goals we conceded. If we drew or lost that game, we’d have felt hard done by. But to get three points the way we did, it shows we have the experience and character to get out of tough situations.