Canada's match tomorrow against the United States is listed as nothing but a friendly, however the true meaning of the match is far greater. Though the result will not put Canada any closer or further to a berth in the hex, the positives (or negatives) that Benito Floro will extract from the game will be influential in securing points against Mexico in March. As a result, there are certain keys to the game for Canadian fans to focus on, beyond what the final result may turn out to be.
Develop Defensive Shape
From the beginning of his tenure, Floro has preached a strong defensive structure above all else. This despite an incredibly lengthy goalless streak in 2013 and another goalless Gold Cup tournament in 2015. Although taking plenty of criticism from Canadian supporters, Floro's tactics remained intact during World Cup Qualifying. Consequently, Canada's two vital matches in November resulted in two clean sheets and overall, Canada conceded only 2 goals in 9 competitive matches in 2015.
With Mexico up next in World Cup Qualifying, Canada will look to solidify and improve their defensive structure against a similar opponent in United States. With three of Canada's four starting defenders involved in this camp (Karl Ouimette, Adam Straith and Marcel De Jong), it will be a great chance to gain chemistry and also employ a new center back that may be needed in March such as Steven Vitoria or Doneil Henry.
Committed Midfield Trio
The midfield trio Canada recently utilized has been just as important as the back four in keeping clean sheets. With solid defending from the three and the ability to maintain possession and break out into attack, this is the main ingredient to Canada's recent success. Similar to the defense, just one starter, Atiba Hutchinson, is missing from this roster in comparison to the games in November. This leaves a chance for a young talent such as Kianz Froese, Marco Bustos or Kyle Bekker to step in and gain valuable experience alongside veterans Julian De Guzman and Will Johnson. How effective the midfield is in breaking up USA's attacks and igniting a counter attack will be integral in getting results when it matters.
Creating Open Play Chances
The one negative aspect of Canada's game this past year is their inability to create chances from open play. With both starting wingers Tosaint Ricketts and Junior Hoilett absent from the camp, it will likely be up to substitute wingers Tesho Akindele and Issey Nakajima-Farran to create scoring opportunities from the wings.
If Canada is to get a goal from open play against a team like Mexico, it will need to improve its wing play and finishing ability against United States. This provides a great chance for a player like Akindele, to impress Floro and possibly play a larger role in March, while also providing Cyle Larin with more opportunities to increase his goal tally.
Gain Valuable Experience
With plenty of new players joining the national team last year, it is imperative to gain experience at the international level. Certain players who played important roles in the games in November possibly do not have enough experience to qualify Canada for the World Cup. Youngsters such as Ouimette, Cyle Larin and Akindele are all in their early 20's and have huge upside, however have yet to reach 15 caps for Canada. Therefore, the more matches for these players against quality CONCACAF opponents, the better it is for Canada in World Cup Qualifying.
Welcome New Faces
Just 7 of Canada's 15 players that featured in November are in this squad, so inevitably there will be new players in the lineup. Four members of the squad are receiving their first international call ups including two goalkeepers, Jamar Dixon and of course Steven Vitoria. Vitoria is the newcomer fans are really focusing on given his impressive resume and the fact that he has held out for Canada until the age of 29.
Coming off a somewhat unimpressive season with Philadelphia Union, Canadians fans will want to see if Vitoria was worth the wait, or if he should even be named to Canada's squad against Mexico. Regardless, this camp provides a chance for all the new or young players who are itching to impress and become a mainstay with the national team.
Ultimately, this camp provides a great opportunity for Canada to improve their system and scout new players. All signs are pointing to strong developments with the national team and Canada has every opportunity to achieve a positive result against United States, ultimately providing them with a genuine chance against Mexico.