Good Monday morning Caps fans, hope you all had a lovely and relaxing weekend. If you happen to be a U.S.-based reader, I hope you’re reflecting on the legacy of Juneteenth today in America; if you’re Canadian, I hope you’re having a great Monday.
The main event for soccer fans of both countries was not the relatively paltry MLS slate but rather the Nations League final Sunday night between the U.S. and Canada, with the Americans getting the better of their northern rivals 2-0.
As a USMNT fan, I have to say, the notion of going toe-to-toe with the pace of Canada sans Weston McKennie and Sergino Dest, who were both dismissed during the bruising semi-final clash with Mexico, left me pessimistic about this match.
But the U.S. had a good enough defensive performance to cope, with Joe Scally and Brendon Aaronson stepping in admirably. Canada certainly had their chances (and overwhelmed the U.S. at times, to be sure) but there wasn’t enough end product and often was one too many passes or touches in the box to cause bright moments and good opportunities to pass them by.
The Nations League is a bit of a Mickey Mouse tournament but, naturally, when you haven’t won a trophy in decades, to come up short is rather disappointing. Canadian fans will probably be asking questions about the team’s setup to start the match and why reinforcements, notably in the form of Tajon Buchannan, were not brought on sooner, as a goal in the early stages of the second half would have really changed the trajectory of the game.
Attention for the Canadians will now shift to the eminently winnable Gold Cup, with both the U.S. and Mexico bringing heavily rotated squads. Canada isn’t an exception, with Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David, Cyle Larin and friends staying at home.
Canada announce squad for 2023 Concacaf @GoldCup 🍁
Canada will open the tournament on Tuesday, June 27th in Toronto against the winner of a Guadeloupe-Guyana Preliminary Round match.
— Canada Soccer (@CanadaSoccerEN) June 19, 2023
This is still a pretty strong side, however. Much of the defensive backbone from the Nations League was selected, as was Stephen Eustaquio, Jonathan Osorio, Lucas Cavallini and Junior Hoilett.
And it will be a glimpse at a handful of young players. Most notably for Caps fans that includes Ali Ahmed’s first call-up — a good sign both for a speedy return to the Caps lineup but also a fitting reward for an impressive season. Jacen Russell-Rowe also gets his first call-up and both Ahmed and Victor Loturi seem to have a pretty clear pathway to minutes at midfield.
The expectations for Canada with this lineup seem clear: finals or bust. Canada is in what is seemingly the softest group, with Guatemala, Cuba and either Guadeloupe or Guyana making for plenty of opportunities for rotation and a chance to get the younger players’ feet wet.
Winning the group could mean a path of Jamaica and Mexico to the finals but the Mexicans are in a bit of an existential tailspin at the moment, opening this tournament up a bit more than usual. That raises the stakes for Canada but this is seemingly a squad that could rise to the occasion.
Best of the Rest
The Whitecaps 2 side fell to Minnesota United’s reserves 2-0 Sunday afternoon in an unfortunate sign of what was to come in the Nations League
Atiba Hutchinson will retire after the Nations League final, marking the end of the national team road for a Canadian legend
Inter Miami are said to be signing Sergio Busquets on a two-year deal, adding another aging legend to their side. In 98 degree heat in August, what could go wrong?
A look at what comes next for the MLS Players’ Association in a post-Messi world