Seven Up: The CanMNT cruise to 7-0 win over Aruba in CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers, setting up pivotal Suriname round 1 finale

Canada Soccer’s Men’s National Team picked up a big 7-0 win over Aruba on Saturday, giving them 9 points from 3 games so far in round 1 of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying action. Here’s what went down in that match, as they now get set to take on Suriname in a massive game on Tuesday.

It was always expected to be a big result, so on one hand, they more than delivered on that front. 

For Canada Soccer’s Men’s National Team, it might not have been the way they would’ve liked to get the result, but they did what they needed to do on Saturday, picking up a big 7-0 win over Aruba in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying action.

With this result, they’ve now put themselves in the driver’s seat heading into the last game of this 1st round of World Cup qualifiers on Tuesday, when they’ll take on Suriname in a ‘win and you’re in’ game against their fellow CONCACAF foes, with a spot in the 2nd round on the line.

Thanks to this win, though, they can head into that game with the comfort of knowing that a draw will also get them through, if needed, as both Canada and Suriname sit with 9 points from 3 games heading into the last matchday, but Canada currently has the better goal difference with +22, slightly ahead of Suriname’s +16, giving them the tiebreaker.

But they won’t want to rely on that Tuesday, as they’ll want to prove to those around CONCACAF that they’re a force to be reckoned with, and that these wins over some of the smaller nations of the region are just a warning sign for what’s to come for this team. 

So although a heavy win against a clearly overmatched Aruba side didn’t prove anything that we didn’t already yet know about this Canadian team, something that this Suriname game on Tuesday will do a lot better job of telling us, Canada did what they had to do on Saturday, which was the most important thing for them to do right now. 

“Yeah, all of these games pose a different mental challenge,” Canadian midfielder Mark Anthony Kaye said after the game. “Maybe on the team sheet they don’t have the same players as us, but they’re always going to fight, and CONCACAF is (always) a challenge.”

Despite that, though, there is still a lot to take away from this game from a Canadian perspective, so it wasn’t as if it was a completely empty viewing experience, no matter what the scoreline suggests. 

Here’s some of what stood out for Canada, as they continued their rocking start to World Cup qualifiers. 

Cavallini can’t stop scoring for Canada:

And what better place to start than with the enigmatic Lucas Cavallini, who continued his strong start to 2021 for Canada, scoring his 4th and 5th goals of the year in the 1st half to help put Canada up 3-0 heading into halftime. 

Despite a dry spell with his current club, the Vancouver Whitecaps, where he only has 1 goal through 7 games, he’s now got 5 goals in 3 games for Canada, and that number should probably be even higher if he finished some of the chances that he got against Bermuda in March. 

Obviously, the quality of the opposition has factored into this hot run for Canada, but you can only beat those who lie in front of you, and Cavallini is doing that right now. 

Plus, most importantly, Canada is playing to his strengths by feeding him the sort of wide balls that he strives on in the box, so that’s perhaps something that the Whitecaps should consider doing more of when their #9 returns to their team in a few weeks. 

Just listening to Cavallini’s first provider, Mark Anthony Kaye, who assisted him on his first goal, it’s something his Canadian teammates recognize, so now it’s just about doing that more often at the club level. 

“I tried to put it in a good area knowing that Cava is the type of guy who’s going to be in the box trying to pick up chances,” Kaye explained after the game. 

Mark Anthony Kaye and David Wotherspoon’s magic: 

On the subject of Kaye, however, it’s worth highlighting his fantastic performance in the heart of midfield for Canada on Saturday. 

His 2 assists will be what steals the headlines, no doubt, but it was the effort that he made in terms of progressing the ball forward at every opportunity that stood out the most, as seemed to have his fingerprints on nearly every Canadian attack. 

For a Canadian team lacking invention at times in the middle, Kaye helped be that key to unlocking the door that can be their offensive creativity, and Canada was better off for it on Saturday. 

Along with his leadership and work rate, he was an easy shout for player of the game, showing why he’s one of Canada’s most important midfielders right now. 

“Mark was for me man of the match,” Canada’s head coach, John Herdman, said after the game. “He really did lead that team, we needed him to and he was one of the leaders in the leadership group that took this mission on, and I think the word he was clear on was ruthless. Ruthless performance, and he wanted to set that tone, and I think he did tonight, particularly in the second half, just kept organizing the team, and back pressing, making recovery runs, he was everywhere.”

But while Kaye might be the name everyone was talking about after the game, it’s important to highlight how good that David Wotherspoon was alongside him in midfield, as they continued to show the growing signs of the partnership that they started to create back in March. 

With Wotherspoon deployed a bit in front of Kaye as more of a #10, he was tasked with roaming into space to make things happen, giving Kaye someone to play through offensively. 

So even though he didn’t make as much noise on the scoresheet as his last start for Canada against the Cayman Islands, where he had 1 goal and 3 assists, Wotherspoon was still buzzing on Saturday, finishing with 2 shots on target and 2 key passes. 

Coming off of a massive season for St.Johnstone at 31 years of age, he’s quickly become a valuable part of this Canadian squad, either as a starter or as a sub, and he proved that once again in this game. 

“Spoony is Spoony,” Herdman said. “He’s just a consistent performer, he does what it says on the tin, he has a really solid profile as an attacking midfield position, you know that he’s going to make those clever channel runs, he will create assists, and he just has a composure and calmness in the game.”

“He’s a smart player,” Kaye added. “By the way he moves, he’s got such a good first touch that allows him to continue going forward, so I like playing with him.”

So although only 1 of these 2 might start on Tuesday against Suriname, they put up fantastic accounts of themselves as a partnership against Aruba, and should play big roles in that big clash, in some form or another. 

With no Atiba Hutchinson and Scott Arfield in this camp for Canada, they were going to need someone to step up big for them in midfield, and in this game, Kaye and Wotherspoon showed that they are more than capable of doing that job. 

Obviously, stiffer tests loom now, but you have to be happy with the early returns from these 2. 

Zachary Brault-Guillard’s redemption:

But while Kaye and Wotherspoon were excellent together, Zachary Brault-Guillard was the story of the night on Saturday, as the CF Montreal right back had a great cameo off the bench, scoring his first goal for his country against Aruba in the process. 

That itself would’ve been noteworthy on its own, but it’s worth noting that he wasn’t even supposed to be in this squad in the first place, only finding his way to Florida to train with the group as part of an 11-man taxi squad, whose sole job was to provide more bodies for training and in case of injury. 

Throughout the week, he clearly impressed, though, showing Herdman that he was missing out by not bringing him in. 

So heading into Saturday, Herdman chose to put him in the 23-man squad ahead of Jonathan Osorio and Doneil Henry, who have dealt with knocks throughout 2021, making him an option off of the bench. 

From there, an injury to Junior Hoilett paved an opportunity for him to come onto the field in the 34th minute, and from there, he didn’t look back. 

“Told him last night that he was joining the squad,” Herdman said. “He had a terrific game yesterday in our intrasquad game, he was up against Phonzy and there were some really good interactions there.”

On a Canadian team filled with right back depth, it was always going to be hard for Brault-Guillard to fight for minutes, but as he showed on Saturday, he should remain in that conversation going forward.

Based on how he’s clawed his way into this squad and now onto the scoresheet, you can only admire that determination, which indicated that this might not be the last time we see him on the field for Canada this camp and in future camps.

“That’s what football’s about,” Herdman added. “The universe gives you a moment, and then you’ve got to try and take those moments.”

Tajon Buchanan’s bright debut:

But when we say that Brault-Guillard has competition at right back, we mean it, though. 

There’s obviously the likes of Richie Laryea and Alistair Johnston, Canada’s 2 right backs in their squad, who were on the bench but didn’t play on Saturday. 

Along with someone like Juan Cordova, who’s been excellent in Chile for Huachipato, and it shows that Herdman has options to choose from at that position. 

And that list continues to get longer, as names continue to emerge from different corners. 

That was the case on Saturday, as New England’s Tajon Buchanan started and put up an excellent shift at right back, showing the sort of damage that he can do at that position for Canada.

Nominally a winger, he’s started to get reps at the right back position dating back to the end of the 2020 MLS season, and clearly, Herdman liked what he saw in those games enough to want to give him a shot there in this match.

And in what was only his first cap at the senior National Team level, Buchanan looked comfortable among his teammates, picking up 2 assists, adding 3 key passes and finding a few good looks at goal, wreaking havoc for Canada down the right side. 

As someone who is still very raw at the position, he’s still got a lot of growing to do defensively, but he more than makes it up with his offensive instincts, which he knows how to best deploy when running from deep areas. 

For Herdman, he’s someone that he’s excited to keep working with, knowing that although this was just his first game for him at the senior level, he’s someone who can provide value to this team offensively long-term.

“Really strong performance tonight,” Herdman said. “I think once he let go of the nerves, you can really see what this kid can do. Just his tactical acumen of how to join the attack, attacking that inside channel, the outside channel, he’s got a really good brain for this game.”

Herdman added: “He’s progressing (well), and tonight was his first step in his MNT journey, and it was well deserved.”

Tactical notes: 

Elsewhere, as we usually do, it’s worth pointing out a few tactical notes from this game. 

Just don’t tell Herdman, who joked post-game to Sportsnet’s Peter Galindo, who does a lot of fantastic tactical work, telling him that “You give too many of our secrets away!”. 

Jokes aside, though, Canada did do a few interesting things this game, with the biggest of those being the continuation of their 3-4-3/3-4-2-1 in possession. 

By allowing their full backs to push up, and their wingers to tuck in, they were able to get the ball into wide areas quite frequently, creating a lot of their goals on those sorts of overlaps. 

Starting with Kaye and Wotherspoon’s interplay in the middle, they tried to open up that space down the flanks whenever possible, forcing Aruba to stretch out their deep block, opening up pockets in the middle for Canada’s attackers to float into. 

Considering that these tactics will allow them to get the most out of their strong full backs and midfielders, as well as Alphonso Davies, there’s a lot to like there, and it’ll be interesting to see more of that formation in action against Suriname. 

Defensively, there are still a few warts to still work out, but Canada continued to run a simple 4-4-2, using that formation as a sort of safety valve to offer protection to their defensive line. 

Things still got a bit iffy in transition, something Canada has to be wary of against Suriname, but as they get more reps, you’d have to hope the execution continues to get better. 

Overall, though, they did what they needed to do, with some aggressive subs ultimately proving to be the biggest difference-maker in terms of allowing Canada to fully grasp a hold of this game.

And speaking of that Suriname game, we’ll do more of an in-depth tactical preview later this weekend, so stay tuned for that if that’s something you’re interested in. 

That double sub:

Also, a big shout out to Canada’s stars, Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David, who shared the field with Canada for the first time since November of 2019. 

Although they’ll be needed at their best for Suriname, you did wonder if they were going to see the field at all against Aruba, and alas, Herdman decided that they would with around 25 minutes to go, bringing them in together as part of a double substitution, creating a pretty memorable moment.

For an Aruba side already down 4-0, it had to be completely demoralizing to imagine the prospect of then facing two players playing huge roles for some of Europe’s finest, but hey, that’s the sort of depth that Canada has at the moment, and that depth was on full display Saturday. 

“I wonder how it feels for Canadian fans,” Herdman joked. “Because it feels exactly the same for me as it does for them. I love what these quality players can bring to the game, so I’m a big fan. It’s great that they can come in and enjoy wearing that new red shirt.”

In the mixer: 

Lastly, here are some last notes from the game on Saturday. 

-Big shout out to Dayne St.Clair, who made his debut for Canada in this one, officially cap-tying him to Les Rouges. He might not have had to make a save, but it was good to see him come in and pick up a clean sheet, as he’s going to be one to watch for in the future with Canada. After a rough start to the season for him at the club level, it was nice to see him have this moment on Saturday. 

– As per John Herdman, it sounds like Sam Adekugbe’s knock that forced him off the field isn’t too bad, but they just decided to take him off for precautionary reasons. 

-He didn’t give an update on Junior Hoilett, however, but did note that his knock was worse than Adekugbe’s. 

-And speaking of Hoilett, it’s too bad that things ended the way they did in this game, as it was his 31st birthday on Saturday. He did score a goal, which was nice to see, but here’s to hoping that the birthday boy will be able to return to the field in time for Tuesday. 

-Now, Canada will play a 11v11 match in training on Sunday with those who are fit enough to do that, as they get set to take on Suriname on Tuesday. As they get set to travel to Chicago for that game, that should offer Herdman some of his last chances to pick his best 11 for that vital clash. 

Looking Forward:

So now, Canada’s focus has firmly been turned to that aforementioned Suriname game, which hangs over the head of Canadian supporters like a cloud right now. 

Despite being favourites heading into that game, they’re well aware of the threat that Suriname provides, knowing that if they aren’t at their best, they will get punished. 

But with so much on the line, they’ll look to come out with the mindset that they can get the job done, allowing them to put them one step closer to that Octognal, the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, a stage they haven’t been to since the 1990s. 

They’ve so far done what they’ve needed to do heading into that game, but the real tests start now, and they know that. 

As they look to make history, they’ll look to take the confidence gained from this game and channel it into Tuesday, allowing them to take care of business. 

And based on what we’ve seen here, there’s a lot to take away, no matter the quality of opposition, so look for them to do just that and try and come out flying against Suriname, in what might be their biggest game yet in just over 3 years under Herdman. 

Up Next: Canada vs Suriname, Tuesday, June 8th, 2021, 18:00 PDT, 21:00 EDT (Soldier Field, Chicago)

Cover Photo via: Canada Soccer/Twitter

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