Canada hit a World Cup qualifier near Panama with an instructive lesson

As amazing as the Canadian men’s national team World Cup qualifiers have been, Wednesday’s closing match was something else.

Estadio Rommel Fernandez closed out the qualifiers with a 1-0 loss to Panama on Wednesday after one of Canada’s smoothest performances in the final round.

There were several reasons behind this. The quality of the pitch, the rapid change in the game and the excitement of officially qualifying for Sunday’s World Cup are at the top of my mind.

However, this is not the first time that Canada has been affected by this setting.

Here are three thoughts from Canada’s World Cup qualifier:

The Canadian attack came up empty

On 2 February, Canada has just completed a tough three-match window where almost half of the squads are suffering from a lack of match fitness due to the MLS off-season.

Canada showed great effort and courage by picking up three wins in that window. But the February 2 match in El Salvador was similar in some respects to Wednesday night’s rate.

First, the constant fouling of the hosts. In that game, the Salvadors fouled the Canadian players 16 times. Prior to Atiba Hutchinson’s opening, Canada had nine shots and about 0.6 expected goals (xG).

El Salvador is considered one of the best passes at the Defensive Action (PPDA) rate for entering that game at the CONCACAF, which is a difficult metric to determine a team’s pressure intensity. For the Salvadoran, that aggression increased during the home match, so Panama was a little surprised to follow a similar blueprint.

According to Wyscout, Panama had an 8.68 PPDA on Wednesday. By comparison, Canada has an 8.74 PPDA log and is a very aggressive team in itself, second only to the CONCACAF in terms of total fouls, slightly ahead of the Panamanians.

The build-up from behind, like Alistair Johnston, Atiba Hutchinson and Kamal Miller, was generally quiet. But as soon as the ball goes to the midfielders they are pressured and either fouled or given possession.

The Canadian pass map and the Panamanian defensive action at half time told the story.

The green lines pass completely, the red lines pass incompletely. The blue triangle is the barrier and recovery. The green and red triangles are the winning and losing tackles, respectively.

The first 20 minutes were lost before a tactical change in possession from 5-3-2 to 3-4-1-2. Canada simply failed to bypass the Panamanians, forcing the Canadians to return it.


If Canada were able to enter the final third, Panama would close it almost immediately through a foul or orderly position.


“I told the boys that I was able to gather a lot of information from the US experience here and listen to Greg Barhalter, his team burned themselves in the first 20 minutes and it cost them to play and we weren’t. We’re going to do that,” said Canada. Coach John Hardman. “We wanted to make sure we finished stronger than Panama and that was the plan so our players were brought down from the bench which we knew could change the game.

After half time, Gabriel Torres opened the scoring for Panama but was replaced by Canada. Top scorer Sail Larin and winger Jr. Howlett checked in, then assisted the former for an offside goal.

In fact, Hoilett – just as he showed in the Costa Rica match to start the window – was constantly finding pockets of space and moving the ball into the promising area.

Junior Howlett’s Pass Map vs. Panama. Green lines are full passes, red lines are incomplete passes and yellow lines are likely to form.

“When you look [Panama’s] The press, what they did strategically, they just took the bottom part [their] Box away, “explains Hardman.” For the duration, they were able to be more aggressive at the top of our box and from then on, I felt like we weren’t quite in our game. We performed better.

“When you look at the value of junior [Hoilett] Coming up, Sail Larin, it’s a game-changer for Canada, that quality off the bench. But you can’t start with those players because you have to manage the people, you have to manage them physically and that’s part of tournament football. “

The difference between Wednesday’s match and El Salvador’s was the clinical finish. Hutchinson got two lucky bounces for his goal, then Jonathan David scored from a distance with a great looping strike. The Canadians, however, based on the quality of the prospects made that night were no less than what they deserved.

For Canada’s achievement, a traditionally tough venue to win in Panama – almost one result – with Violet, Larin, Richie Laria, Jonathan Osorio. Unfortunately, Panama turned them into one of three counter-attacks and Les Rouges failed to create the same clinical finish.

But that will be the World Cup. Teams will be strategically prepared and standardized across the pitch. It is up to Canada to manage these situations and adapt if necessary. Let this and Costa Rica’s defeat be a lesson in that.

No one is fighting for a full debut

In a show of confidence, John Hardman handed over his full debut to 19-year-old midfielder Ismail Kon for the national team on Wednesday.

After logging eight appearances for the club and country as a professional, no one has already seen himself play in some hostile settings. He made his CONCACAF Champions League debut against Cruz Azul at Estadio Azteca, made his Canadian debut at the Estadio Nacional in Costa Rica and then made his debut in Panama.

This is an impressive hit list for a teenager with about 500 pro minutes

However, as confident as he is playing early in his career, even when he started slowly and grew up in the game, he struggled.

Despite his height in the continental knockout tie, he fought against the fast, aggressive high press of Cruz Azul at the Estadio Azteca. But the similarities between Panama and Harry and fouling the young man were obvious.

Which has lost seven times by loose touches, some due to the twisting of the playing surface and others due to its inconsistency when playing with the ball under pressure.

Ultimately, this led someone to give up possession of a dangerous area.


No end moved to a more advanced position after 20 minutes when Canada switched from a flat midfield trio to 3-4-1-2. This allows the teenager to take the game further, away from Panama’s engagement line in the Canadian defensive third.

Considering who came through CF Montreal Academy as a winger or No. 10, it works with its strengths. Jonathan had a glorious chance to feed David but was hesitant and didn’t hit the right pass.


Kone was withdrawn at half-time and was replaced by Jonathan Osorio 45 minutes later.

These performances are indispensable for any young person, especially the inexperienced one. The important factor is how he responds and grows up as a player.

Also, there is a bigger picture, which involves sending many Canadian players to the highest levels of the sport in order to get more “Tier 1” players in the top European leagues.

“That’s what we’re pushing for,” Hardman explained. “Tonight we’re trying to give young Ismail a chance, to springboard those players with these experiences, so that we can push more players into the competitive environment where they’re experiencing the Champions League.”

Even before his call-up this month, his touch was involved in passing areas of improvement, especially under pressure, and making sharp decisions on a regular basis. The repetition of the match should iron them out.

Hutchinson will be center-back?

Another revelation in this window is that Atiba Hutchinson has started two games at center-back for the first time since 2019.

He was innocent against Costa Rica and looked calm while building from behind against Panama, Wednesday’s game may have exposed his Achilles heel.

Hutchinson’s skill on the ball and the calmness he displayed are unparalleled in the national team. However, at 39, he missed a step and when Panama hit Canada in transition in the second half, the lack of foot motion almost led to one or two more goals.

Fortunately for Canada, it was Alastair Johnston who rescued it.

Hutchinson can be effective when building from the back as a center-back. His passing accuracy and restraint in the pressure against the Panama High Press was very effective. The midfielders could no longer penetrate the ball.



When Hutchinson is forced to run and the tons of open space at the counter is covered, this is not ideal for Canada.

The good and the bad have to be considered here without mentioning the strategic discipline. If Hutchinson continues to be center-back, he will have to have a proper cover around him to mask his weaknesses and highlight his qualities.

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