FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Qualifiers Final Score: Canada 3-0 El Salvador Goalscorers: Hutchinson 6', David 11', Buchanan 59'
Match in a minute or lessThe Canadian men's national team came out flying at BMO Field on Wednesday night, dominating El Salvador en route to a 3-0 win to finish the first window of FIFA World Cup Qualifying with five points from three games, putting them in good position within the 'Octagon' of Concacaf sides. Legendary Canada veteran Atiba Hutchinson, wearing the captain's armband, scored the opener off an intricate passing move in just the sixth minute, and Jonathan David followed it up with a well-placed header in the 11th to make it 2-0. After calming things down to see out the first half, Canada added another on the counter-attack in the 59th minute as David won the ball off an errant pass at the back and set Tajon Buchanan in all alone to score the dagger.
Early energy takes pressure off, allows Canada to settleThe words "must-win" were thrown around pretty frequently ahead of this game. While not an unfair bar to set, that's always a tag that comes with a lot of pressure. Had Canada missed early chances, or taken longer to work their way up to speed (as they did, in many ways, against Honduras), that pressure would surely have mounted in the minds of players and fans alike. So, perhaps it's fitting that it was Atiba Hutchinson -- the most calming, reliable force in this Canadian team for years -- who scored the sixth-minute goal to put Canada immediately in the driver's seat. It's a credit to the Canadians that they entered the game without tension, showing a clear gameplan for the first 10 minutes or so that they executed to perfection. In the early going, the Canadians repeatedly overloaded one side with numbers, looking for quick one-two passing moves that either put them in on goal or opened up a long switch of play across the pitch. It was that quick passing that produced the opening goal -- Jonathan Osorio, Junior Hoilett, Richie Laryea, and finally Hutchinson all coming together within a few feet of one another despite advancing about 35 yards up the pitch. After scoring twice, Canada were able to ease off from the frenetic early pace somewhat, letting the back four settle and absorb a few waves of fairly toothless El Salvador possession. From that established base, they let Tajon Buchanan go to work on the counter-attack -- which he did on a number of impressive occasions through the first half. That's how Canada scored their third goal, too -- as El Salvador advanced, the Canadian forwards looked for the right moments to win the ball back and spring Buchanan or Jonathan David. The latter stole the ball from an errant Eriq Zavaleta pass, and laid off to Buchanan for the clean finish.
Off-ball movement spurs free-flowing attack from front fourOne of the only ways a team in possession can break down an opponent sitting in a low block is to keep the attacking players in constant motion. Canada opened the game with a flexible 4-2-3-1 formation, with Junior Hoilett, Jonathan Osorio, and Tajon Buchanan sitting behind Jonathan David. Flexible, though, because that was rarely the rigid pattern for those players to stand in; Osorio and Hoilett were interchangeable at the left wing or number 10 spot, and Buchanan had plenty of freedom to get close to David, with Alistair Johnston covering behind him (plus there seemed always to be more space on his side). Canada managed to create that space by consistently moving to prevent El Salvador from settling. The Canadians would contract toward the middle while awaiting a goal kick, then instantly spread the pitch to either pull the opposition to one side or space them out in the middle. At no point would a Canadian player make a pass and stand still; he would, every time, look immediately for new space to run into, whether to await another pass or draw the attention of a defender. The inclusion of Jonathan Osorio in this game really changed the way Canada played after the first two matches of this window, with that extra creative presence making a huge difference. Osorio has always been a very intelligent player, particularly with his movement off the ball (look no further than the run he made after his first pass before Hutchinson's goal), which was exactly what the Canadians needed: Canada knew they needed to diversify the attack in this match, especially without Alphonso Davies, and they definitely did that -- the three goals coming in very different fashions. Some teams, when they dominate a game, will be stuck in a cycle of possession without purpose (look no further than the United States against Canada on Sunday). That was not this game.
Canada emerge unscathed from heated, aggressive challengesSeeing how this game unfolded, it's not hard to see why Canada and Bayern Munich might've been hesitant to risk Alphonso Davies if he's dealing with an injury already. The intensity was high from kickoff, almost every loose ball resulting in contact between opponents. Tajon Buchanan, in particular, was on the end of a few rather nasty challenges in the first half, with one aerial kick-out from Alexander Larin looking mightily like it could've been a red card (not the only such incident on Wednesday). The game ended with 128 duels in total (the lion's share of them won by Canada) and 41 fouls, although perhaps a handful more went uncalled with both sides making crunching tackles across the board. This was always likely to be a factor in this round of World Cup Qualifying -- no opponent Canada plays will make things easy for them, with everybody desperate to get to Qatar. Thankfully, though, Canada emerged relatively unscathed from this game; Samuel Adekugbe and Tajon Buchanan picked up yellow cards, but at times it seemed unlikely that either side would finish the match with 11 men on the field. More importantly, though, it didn't seem that Canada picked up any serious injuries. With the result all but settled by the hour mark, John Herdman was able to make a few substitutions to protect players like Junior Hoilett and Atiba Hutchinson, and see out the match in a very professional fashion. The way Canada managed to avoid those sorts of antics in the second half bodes very well for coming matches.
CanPL.ca Player of the MatchJonathan Osorio, Canada Providing a new dimension to Canada's attack, the Toronto FC midfielder made an instant impact with his work on Hutchinson's early goal. He commanded his space wherever he found himself -- with time spent on either wing and in the middle -- consistently tracking back to put pressure on opponents.
What’s next?This match was the last one for this early September international window, but the Canadian national team will reconvene in about a month for three more World Cup qualifiers, on the road in Mexico (October 7) and Jamaica (October 10) and at home against Panama (October 13). All three matches will be live on OneSoccer.