Three games into the John Herdman era and Canada is undefeated and have yet to concede a goal.
Herdman is the first Canadian men’s national team manager to post three consecutive shutout victories to open his tenure following Canada’s 5-0 win over Dominica on Oct. 16 at BMO Field in Toronto.
Canada’s results in their two competitive matches in the CONCACAF Nations League qualifiers have been beyond reproach. However, eight months out from the 2019 Gold Cup, what a Herdman side may look like against a team capable of punching back remains to be seen.
For the second straight match the Canadian manager started a pair of teenage attacking players — Alphonso Davies and Liam Millar — as fullbacks. Deploying five attacking players has proven effective against CONCACAF minnows deploying a low block.
“We knew the type of style that Dominica was going to come out with, which meant certain players, those attacking players, could go into other areas of the field.
There’s no way you can do that against Mexico,” Herdman said. “Therefore, the competition (for places) is going to be immense. The level of competition in training, the standards of players in their club environments, the drive — and I’m challenging them in their one-on-one meetings — to keep pushing for the next level because selections are going to get tougher and tougher. Those players that can live above the line in all moments of our identity they are the players that are going to play consistently.
“We’re going to have some great options to manage tournaments like the Gold Cup now. We can have depth in a tournament. We can rotate players. We can bring players in to affect different types of opponents.”
For the match, the tactics and formation were spot-on. Canada opened the scoring 2:22 into the contest with the second-fastest goal in Canadian men’s history. They overwhelmed Dominica and took a 3-0 lead after 18 minutes.
Jonathan David lashed an Alphonso Davies pass past Dominica keeper Glenson Prince to open the scoring. Eleven minutes later Lucas Cavallini, David and Junior Hoilett combined with some quick passing for a Hoilett goal.
In the 17th minute, Russell Teibert’s ball over the top found Hoilett who took it down with a quality first touch and was immediately taken down from behind for a penalty by Kervin Lawrence. Cavallini converted the penalty with a cheeky Panenka and Canada were up 3-0 after 18 minutes.
The quality of the start by Canada was a credit to Herdman and the players. Taking the drama out of the proceedings so early has not often been the norm against CONCACAF minnows. Yet, outside of Dominica defender Malcolm Joseph mis-hitting a clearance into his own net seconds into the second half, Canada went more than hour without scoring putting the ball in the Dominica net on their own.
Cyle Larin scored in the 81st minute to complete the 5-0 win.
Canada completed 457 passes to Dominica’s 103 and had 73 per cent of the ball, but failed to turn that into goals, despite loading the starting XI with attacking options.
Canada matched their record for largest home win, so it’s hard to find much fault with putting their foes away early and hitting a historic high mark.
When the sides met in a World Cup qualifier at BMO Field in 2015, Canada started four true defenders (Nik Ledgerwood, David Edgar, Adam Straith and Ashtone Morgan) and had Sam Piette and Julian DeGuzman deployed as holding midfielders. Canada won that match 4-0 against six of the same Dominica starters.
Alessandro Busti, the 18-year-old Juventus U23, made his Canadian debut and earned the shutout in goal.
Along with Busti, Zachary Brault-Guillard, the 19-year-old right back from Olympique Lyonnais II, and Ballou Tabla, the 19-year-old attacker from Barcelona B, each won their first senior caps and are cap-tied to Canada.
Canada used six teenagers in total as Herdman continues to give opportunities to young players.
“I think you could see that they hit the ground running,” Canadian captain Atiba Hutchinson said of the young players. “They had a lot of confidence and they just wanted to go out there and express themselves. They’re young players, they have a lot of talent, they’ve got confidence. They’re playing with their clubs. It’s a chance for them to come here and play for Canada and put on a show for the fans here and for everybody watching.
“There are a lot of good players, a lot of talent. You can see that they are enjoying themselves out there. That’s something good to see for Canada.”
Canada will travel to unbeaten St. Kitts & Nevis on Nov. 18 for their penultimate match in Nations League qualifying.
Canada 5 Dominica 0
Canada: Busti; Millar (Brault-Guillard 66), James, Cornelius, Davies; Teibert, Hutchinson; Hoilett, Osorio, David (Tabla 55); Cavallini (Larin 54).
Dominica: G. Prince; M. Joseph, E. Bertrand, Lawrence; George, Frederick (T. Joseph 72), C. Bertrand, J. Prince (Fritz 46), Lockhart; Wade (Jervier 89).
Goals: David (3), Hoilett (14), Cavallini (18 PK), M. Joseph (46, OG), Larin (81).
Caution: Millar (59).
MOTM: Jonathan David, Canada.
Referee: Oscar Macias, Mexico.
Attendance: 10,523 — BMO Field, Toronto.