Canada completes perfect year

Narrow win in St. Kitts and Nevis puts Canada in Nations League driver’s seat

Matthew Gourlie

It wasn’t always pretty, but Canada’s 1-0 win away to St. Kitts and Nevis was sufficient.

With that result Canada completed a first year under new head coach John Herdman that was perfect.

Canada will finish 2018 with four wins in four matches and not a single goal conceded. There are a lot of areas that need improving and a lot of progress to be made if anything approaching that standard of achievement is to be duplicated, but for a start it was enough.

“It was a resilient performance,” Herdman told Canada Soccer after the match. “At times you do have to dig in and grind out results in tough conditions and that’s what the players did tonight. We finished the season perfect with four wins and four clean sheets.”

The asterisk to Canada’s achievement is the fact that they saw off a New Zealand side that wasn’t at full strength in conditions that made it hard to play at all, let alone with any grace or purpose. Then the Canucks reeled off wins over the U.S. Virgin Islands, Dominica and St. Kitts and Nevis in CONCACAF Nations League qualifying.

You can only play the teams in front of you and with those three shutout wins Canada a draw to guarantee a spot in the 2019 Gold Cup and are one of six unbeaten teams remaining vying for one of the six Group A spots for when Nations League proper kicks off next year.

After much talk about goal differential, if Canada beats French Guiana in Vancouver on March 24, they will be at the Gold Cup and in Group A of the Nations League next year no matter what anyone else does.

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Canada’s Atiba Hutchinson acknowledges the pass from Russell Teibert as he celebrates his goal with Zachary Brault-Guillard, left, Lucas Cavallini, Ballou Tabla and Alphonso Davies in CONCACAF Nations League qualifying against St. Kitts and Nevis on Nov. 18, 2018. photo courtesy Canada Soccer

“It was a good game from us,” said Canadian captain Atiba Hutchinson. “It wasn’t an easy game. We won against a team who wanted to go out there and get something, here at their home. For us to pull out a good result here in St. Kitts was an important step for us and we’re all pleased with it.”

After picking up their first caps, Ballou Tabla and Zachary Brault-Guillard each earned their first start. While Herdman started a proper fullback for the first time in three games, Alphonso Davies retained his left back role.

St. Kitts’ top player, Romaine Sawyers from Brentford in the English Championship, found some joy down the right against Davies.

The Canadian attack was struggling to find space down the left as well. While Tabla was operating wide on the left, Russell Teibert was also trying to provide width there once Canada had possession. That left little space for Davies to attack down that flank.

In the end that was where the Canadian goal came from. Teibert made another wide run from his central position and found himself in acres of space. With time to pick his head up, he saw Atiba Hutchinson making a surging late run into the area. With the St. Kitts & Nevis backline static, Teibert served up a great ball that Hutchinson powered into the corner of the goal shortly before half time.

“Me and Russ, we made eye contact. I knew once he saw me he was going to put it in. He’s got that eye, he’s got good vision and his passing is incredible,” Hutchinson said. “I just had to make my run, get that first post run in — the opening was there. I made the run and he played in a perfect ball and I just had to get my head on it and fortunately I was able to score.”

With Sawyers covering every inch of the pitch in Basseterre and six-foot-three defensive midfielder Lois Maynard (Marcus Rashford’s cousin and veteran of more than 150 English National League matches) battling in the middle of the pitch, the Sugar Boyz were not an easy side to play through.

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Canada captain Atiba Hutchinson makes a near-post run during CONCACAF Nations League qualifying against St. Kitts and Nevis. photo courtesy of Canada Soccer

St. Kitts’ right back Gerard Williams made a great last-ditch tackle to deny Tabla a chance and then made a desperate, diving block to deny Lucas Cavallini of what seemed a likely goal.

As the Sugar Boyz pushed for an equalizer and Canada made their substitutions, they really should have doubled their lead.

Jonathan David tried to set up fellow sub Cyle Larin when he might have been better served to try to score himself. Davies was well-saved by Julanni Archibald with a right-footed attempt, but a second good look from Davies with his weaker foot was squandered.

St. Kitts had some late-match heroics at home against Puerto Rico to open qualification with a win and they were determined to do the same, but failed to test Milan Borjan.

David hit the bar from a near-impossible angle in the second phase of a corner kick in added time as a second goal just wasn’t in the cards for the visitors.

While still getting into advanced positions, Teibert put in a great shift covering a lot of ground in the centre of the pitch with Scott Arfield and Jonathan Osorio both not in the squad. Samuel Piette got stronger as the match went on and repelled numerous St. Kitts attacks and Hutchinson provided composure on the ball. Derek Cornelius had another steady match in the centre of the Canadian back line. Canada still has yet to concede with Cornelius on the pitch in his first three caps.

Canada 1 St. Kitts and Nevis 0

St. Kitts and Nevis: Archibald; Williams, Harris, T. Leader, R. Hanley (Mitchum 75); Maynard; Sawyers, Somersall, Wharton (Isles 74), Sterling (Elliott 61); Panayiotou.

Canada: Borjan; Brault-Guillard, Henry, Cornelius, Davies; Piette, Hutchinson, Teibert; Hoilett (Millar 71), Tabla (David 66); Cavallini (Larin 74).

Goal: Hutchinson (44)

Cautions: Harris (73); Piette (41).

MOTM: Russell Teibert.

Referee: Kevin Morrison, Jamaica.

Attendance: 1,242 — Warner Park Football Stadium, Basseterre, St. Kitts and Nevis.

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