Canada was never the best U20 team in CONCACAF, which would be true even if they had miraculously pulled off a victory today against a Mexican team that was clearly a tier above. This should not, however, change the idea that this team is one of the most talented group’s that Canada has produced in some time. Today’s 2-0 loss wasn’t a case of Canada not being a team with a chance of qualifying for the World Cup in New Zealand, it was a case of Mexico being amongst the planet’s best teams at this level.
If this had been the Canadian team playing their final game of the group stage, instead of their second, this game likely would have gone very differently. That’s the sense that this team has given through two games: that they are a talented group but still haven’t found their rhythm or the right mix of players. For once, a Canadian coach has a lot of options to work with as Rob Gale has correctly, mentioned how much depth this team has demonstrated so far.
One of the positives from today’s match was how evident it is that Canada truly does have a couple of players who match up very well against the elite of their age group. There is no doubting that the scorer of the first Mexican goal, Hirving Lozano, was the best player on the pitch. But Jordan Hamilton, Michael Patrasso and Luca Gasparotto are three players who continue to look dominant regardless of the opposition. Marco Bustos and Cyle Larin, with the latter not having a ton of time to demonstrate his worth, are not far behind.
Nolan Wirth, it should also be mentioned, had a solid match. There was some surprise when Wirth started this massive match over teammate Marco Carducci, seen by most as the starter for this team going forward. However, Wirth hardly set a hand wrong and kept the score closer than it should have been. The backline in front of him was shaky at times, especially Sam Adekugbe who had a forgettable match despite showing glimpses of his stellar talent going forward. The defense improved in the second half.
In fact the team overall improved immensely in the second half, something which points to the aforementioned "improve as the tournament goes on" theory. They looked far better in terms of structure and very much limited the Mexican chances. There were a couple of well created opportunities where they could have even tied the match, which was 1-0 until the 90th minute.
While the loss just about guaranteed the fact that Canada will not finish at the top of Group B, and a chance at a berth in the tournament’s final not to mention automatic qualification for New Zealand, getting out of the group looks increasingly likely.
Barring some miracle against Mexico, the Canadian team was always going to be in a battle for the two remaining playoff spots with El Salvador and Honduras. Much to Canada’s advantage, the two teams drew each other in the opening match before El Salvador drew Haiti. Honduras followed up with a 3-0 victory over Cuba, but consider Mexico demoralized the Cubans 9-1 it doesn’t look all that impressive. Canada currently sits in 3rd place in the Group after two matches.
Canada’s next match comes on January 15 against El Salvador, and should they win it will all but guarantee a berth in the playoff stage. Should Canada reach that round they will be ranked with the other three playoff qualifiers and will be given their opponent based on that ranking: first plays fourth and second plays third. Considering only two teams, Panama and Mexico, have yet to drop points Canada has a good chance at a favourable matchup.