What an evening for Canadian football.
On the night of milestones, when Mexico won 2-1 – its first victory Tri In the Concacaf World Cup qualifiers since 1976 – players who set or break records on Tuesday will be warmly remembered as a landmark night.
This includes “Iceteca,” which turns out to be a fortress in this November window for the Canadian men’s national team.
Here are three takeaways from Canada’s historic night.
Midfield pivot shines
The hero may be Cyle Lar from his goals. It could be goalkeeper Milan Borjan who saved the finish line explosively in the event of death.
Anyone who gets praise, don’t take anything away from Atiba Hutchinson and Stephen Eustaquio.
Coach John Herdman’s bold strategy was to go with two players in midfield, especially considering this was only their third match to start together. Fortunately, Mexico also chose a duo in midfield as Orbelin Pineda sometimes dropped in the middle to support the ball. This meant that most of the tactical problems with the double pivot were nullified.
“We got the wind that Mexico was going to change its structure with the structure of three central defenders,” Herdman explained. “We’ve never seen them do that since [playing] Iceland a couple of years ago, so we had to adapt pretty quickly, change roles and responsibilities. But right away there were always Eustaquio and Atiba, whether we played in a 3-4-3 defense or a 4-4-2 defense. Those two players are really heartbeats. “
Hutchinson, who set the national team’s all-time record in the 90th match, was great. The captain made 26 passes out of 34. He received two abductions, nine returns, and ended the game in the same process.
Remember for a moment that he is 38 years old and the surface was basically an ice sheet.
However, Hutchinson’s partner was just as important. Eustaquio controlled the game as he often does, got stuck in the defense and offered a pass to Larin’s winning goal. In total, he had 33 completed passes from 42 attempts, five tackles and five returns. His distribution was not as sharp as can be calculated from field conditions.
The emphasis on Eustaquio’s performance is becoming repetitive, as this is normal for him in a Canadian shirt. This was his 18th match on the team, but at the age of 24, it’s easy to imagine him collecting dozens of appearances.
It’s Miller’s time
Another steady screen from Central Defender Kamal Miller got lost at the top.
A CF Montreal defender wiped out every Mexican attack that got in his way on Tuesday. Raul Jimenez and Hirving Lozano could not get out of the hands of the 24-year-old man all night. Miller collected nine rebounds and two abductions as a result of a great read of the game. However, he remained disciplined in his pass to free winger Sam Adekugbe into space on the left and to break his advancing moves into the final third.
Given the numerous offensive gifts ahead, it’s worth remembering how much of Canada’s defense has been strengthened in recent months. Miller is one of three strong left-wing central defenders along with Derek Cornelius and Scott Kennedy who missed this window due to injury.
In fact, the defense deserves a fair share of Canada’s rise in 2021. The Mexican mark was only the 11th goal the team has missed in 19 matches in a calendar year. It goes outside the back four because this Canadian team is now defending as a team outside the ball.
This was the average location in Canada (via SofaScore) before and after its exchanges. Note the compact shape to ensure Mexico has little room to move.
This was always a question mark on Herdman’s side. If it is able to stay tight on defense, the attackers can see through the team. That is exactly what will happen this year.
Laryea is taking on a new role
An interesting wrinkle on Canadian tactics saw Richie Laryea act as a reverse winger (or in this case, a winger).
When Canada was on the ball, Laryea drifted in, sometimes forming a midfield trio. This provided protection in the right half to defend the opponents as well as the Mexican attackers who cut in. It also freed Tajon Buchanan to give width to the right side.
This is an adjustment that can be seen in future matches, especially in games where Canada wants to keep the best offensive players on the field without compromising midfield structure.