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Canada v Costa Rica: Knock-out round spots on the line

With a 2-0 win in the bag against Trinidad and Tobago from their first game Canada now knows just what they need to do on Wednesday against Costa Rica to wrap up top spot in their U17 group.

Andrew Gordon at the AGS Cup.  Could his good scoring record against Costa Rica contine?
Andrew Gordon at the AGS Cup. Could his good scoring record against Costa Rica contine?
Canadian Soccer Association Flikr

Riding high after a 2-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago in the opening game Canada has all but booked their place in the knockout rounds. With T&T knocking off Costa Rica by that same 2-0 scoreline on Monday night it means that barring a major disaster Canada has a very good chance of coming out of the group and doing so in top spot.

T&T have concluded their portion of the group and finish off with 3 points and a goal difference of 0. That means that as long as Canada does better than a 2-0 defeat against Costa Rica they will safely finish above T&T in the group standings. With Costa Rica having 0 points and a -2 goal difference after their first game they know that they need to go out and beat Canada by 2 or more goals just to be in with a chance of moving on to the quarterfinals.

It is a fairly simple puzzle to figure out for Canada. Win and move on in top spot from the group, draw and again move on with top spot, lose by a single goal and still go through in top spot, lose by 2 goals or more and well lets not go there. So anything but a total nightmare against Costa Rica will be good enough for Canada to move on and continue with their dream of reaching this fall's World Cup in UAE.

Canada looked good in their first game against T&T and were full value for their 2-0 win considering they also had a number of quality chances go begging late in the match that could have resulted in a more lopsided final score. They did have a few nervy moments in defense due to being slow to close down attackers but that sort of thing is just part of the package at the U17 level. If Canada can reproduce that performance on Wednesday evening (6:30 Eastern) they should have more than enough to get the needed result.

Canada will head into the match with a fair bit of familiarity with their opposition. It was slightly surprising that Canada and Costa Rica would agree to play a pair of friendlies this winter after learning that they would be in the same group for this event but that is just what they did. Both matches ended in draws with Andrew Gordon notching Canada's only goal in each match.

A repeat of those draws would be enough for Canada but there is no chance that Sean Fleming is going to be approaching this game with that in mind. The Canadian head coach has led teams in events like this on a number of occasions and knows that with such a condensed format the key is to get on a roll early and just keep going. Taking it easy against Costa Rica might get Canada into the important Quarterfinal round but just getting there is not good enough.

It will be crucial for the young Canadians to use this match to continue to build confidence so that they are in the best position possible for that knockout match. Playing just to get the needed result has often proven to be a recipe for disaster so the best thing that Canada can do in this match is go out and play their game. Makes it sound so simple considering we have seen Canadian teams mess up the simple so many times in the past.

The game against Costa Rica will once again be streamed on (6:30 Eastern) which means that Canada and Toronto FC will have another chance to get a glimpse of some players who are hoping to make a contribution in the future. The good news from the first game was the performance of Jordan Hamilton who was one of Canada's best players and was rewarded with a goal in the second half and could have had another one late in the match if his effort had not been just wide.

His continued performances at that kind of level will be crucial for Canada and should give TFC fans optimism that he might one day be good enough to earn a place in the first team. Having been fast tracked due to his size and strength at a young age Hamilton seemed to have stalled in his development a bit in recent years but now that his size is no longer enough of a difference maker it will be important to show the club that the rest of his game is also maturing and he can find success without depending on being the biggest and faster player on the field. Against T&T he was still able to cause problems with his size and pace but he was also smart with his runs and passing which was where he caused defenders the most problems. If he can do that again against Costa Rica it should open up space for himself and other Canadians to exploit.

If Canada can get the result they need in the match against Costa Rica they will not have to wait long to find out who they will be playing in the quarterfinal when a place in the World Cup is on the line. Jamaica are currently sitting on top of Group A but do so with just 2 points from only 2 matches. With Barbados taking on Panama after the conclusion of Canada's game the winner of that match would claim top spot in the group. Assuming that match does not end in a draw and Canada gets the result they need it is looking quite likely that they would get Jamaica in the quarterfinals. There is of course a lot of soccer to be played before that is set in stone though as a draw between Barbados and Panama would leave the entire group level on two points with the following scenarios coming into play:

  • 0-0 then Jamaica win the group; Barbados are runner-up
  • 1-1 then Jamaica and Barbados advance to the quarterfinals, drawing lots for seeding
  • 2-2 then Barbados win the group; Jamaica and Panama draw lots to determine the runner-up
  • 3-3 then Barbados win the group; Panama are runner-up

Figuring out who Canada will play in the quarterfinals is far less important than getting the needed result against Costa Rica though. If Canada can get the job done against Costa Rica and come out of the group in top spot then they should head into the quarterfinals full of confidence no matter which Group A team they end up going against.