The Canadian men’s team closed out their home-and-home opening CONCACAF Nations League duel with Cuba on Tuesday, posting a 1-0 win in the Cayman Islands. Two games. Two wins. Two shutouts. Seven goals scored. None conceded. Not bad, eh? Canada currently tops Group A with six points, ahead of pointless Cuba and the U.S. (who have yet to play). The Canadians face the Americans – Oct. 15 in Toronto, Nov. 15 on the road – in a pair of contests that will likely decide who moves on to the Nations League final four. The top team from Group A, along with the winners from the other three round-robin groups, advance to the tournament semifinals next June. This pair of matches against Cuba served as a warm-up for the U.S., as Canadian coach John Herdman tried out new players in new roles. Here's a look at how Canada's preparations went, and what to look for in the series against the Americans based on what we saw from the Reds versus Cuba...
Is this a bad start?

With goal difference in mind ahead of back-to-back tilts against the U.S., a 1-0 win doesn’t seem like a great result on first glance. Against a weakened Cuban side (due to defections), surely Canada should have been expected to post another multi-goal win. As mentioned, with this three-team group format, margins can be quite thin and goal difference matters. Taking a step back, however, Tuesday's result was a big victory for the Reds. Canada’s six points is the best start of any League A side through the first two matchdays of the competition. Top seeds from each group (U.S., Honduras, Costa Rica and Mexico) have been idle to start the tournament. That puts Canada in the best position, of any country so far, to advance to the Nations League final four with a plus-seven goal differential. What else could you ask for?
Don’t forget about Cyle Larin...

Did you? I wouldn’t blame you for forgetting about Larin in the middle of what has been Canada’s most potent attacking calendar year. Herdman tapped Larin for a start against Cuba on Tuesday, shifting the big leftie into the centre forward role in place of Jonathan David, who shifted to the wing. Larin is a different prospect than David or Alphonso Davies. Spending most attacking sequences with his back to goal, the 24-year-old trying his best to bring balls down while serving as an outlet against Cuba. It didn’t work to much effect, with his wingers – Alphonso Davies and David – unable to engage due to the compact Cuban defence. It wasn’t an ideal performance by Larin for Canada, whether it was due to his confidence, tactics or the condition of pitch. Still, with the Besiktas signee currently on loan in Belgium and playing every week, don't be surprised if he gets another chance.
Not quite pitch-perfect on Grand Cayman

Another reason Larin wasn’t as involved in Canada's attack vs. Cuba could have been the conditions of the playing surface. "The pitch is bubbling, there’s a level of frustration on the field," Herdman said after the match. "You can’t get your rhythm or tempo that they’re used to playing on MLS pitches every week." It didn’t suit the Canadians, who unlocked the cautious Cubans with snappy, on-the-floor passing at BMO Field on Saturday. Herdman said play during Tuesday's contest had to be largely down the wings, rather through the middle, although Canada did still have the bulk of possession. "It took a little bit longer than we’d hope to get control of the game, but I don’t think we were ever in jeopardy," Herdman stated.
Spots up for grabs against U.S.

Herdman made five line-up changes on Tuesday following last week's 6-0 win. Sam Adekugbe started at left fullback (replacing Kamal Miller), Steven Vitoria partnered with Doneil Henry in the centre of defence (Derek Cornelius gave way), David Wotherspoon and Will Johnson came into the midfield (for Jonathan Osorio and Samuel Piette), and Larin started up top. Herdman indicated he'd use squad rotation to help decide his team against the U.S., and several players made a case for more playing time. Adekugbe looked solid, although his defensive responsibilities were limited. Tried-and-true Will Johnson was impressive in the midfield pivot role, although that's likely to be filled by Samuel Piette vs. the U.S. Steven Vitoria put in a solid shift in central defence, and could very likely start next month (more on that below).
Doniel Henry sees red

Doneil Henry’s sending off in the second half adds another wrinkle to Canada's home match against the U.S. next month. His second yellow was for dissent, after an earlier clattering was called a foul, sending the hard-tackling defender to the showers early. His expulsion means he's also suspended for the home game against the Americans. It’s a blow for Herdman, as he considers Henry the best of his current crop of centre backs. As an MLS regular, Henry is used to competing against American attackers at club level alongside Derek Cornelius, who is a shoe-in for a starting spot. Losing half of your starting centre-back pairing going into one of the biggest matches of the year isn’t ideal, but you never know. Canada will host the Americans Oct. 15 in Toronto at BMO Field (7:30 p.m. ET/OneSoccer).

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