Embattled Scotland manager Gordon Strachan might want to eat his words a little bit. In his pre-match analysis of the visiting Canadian national team, he told BBC that “they’re a hard-working side who are always developing - obviously [soccer] is not their national sport”.
National sport or not, Canada looked to be a more than capable opponent for Scotland in Edinburgh, holding the hosts to a 1-1 draw in an international friendly. It was Canada’s first result against Scotland, as all previous meetings ended in a loss.
It wasn’t a perfect performance from Canada, in fact they were probably let off a little bit by a poor Scottish showing, but it was a positive result. A few players gave new manager Octavio Zambrano something to think about going into this summer’s Gold Cup.
Chief among them was Fraser Aird, who now plays for Falkirk in the Scottish Championship after an up and down stint with the Vancouver Whitecaps. Aird scored Canada’s goal 11 minutes into the match, his first goal for Canada, and created several other chances throughout.
Aird, who represented Scotland internationally at the youth level, was the best player on the pitch for either side. The 22-year-old’s performance at right wing should be enough to get him a spot on the Gold Cup roster, if not a starting one, provided he keeps up club form.
Despite his heroics, however, Scotland probably should have walked away winners of the match if they could have finished better in the final third. Credit has to go to Canada’s keepers, as Jayson Leutwiler (second half) and especially Simon Thomas made several key saves to keep the match level.
Scotland needed a deflection to beat Thomas for their only goal, which came off the foot of Steven Naismith. Canada also defended fairly well, frustrating the hosts who left the field to a chorus of boos from the 9,158 in attendance.
Aird wasn’t the only Canadian player who made a case for Gold Cup inclusion. In a weak Canadian centreback pool, Manjrekar James puts in a solid shift whenever he is called upon and today was no different. In the midfield, Samuel Piette and Marco Bustos both played solid in possession.
Bustos was one of the few North American based players included in the side, as Canada opted not to fly its Major League Soccer contingent out to Scotland for the match. That in itself makes this result all the more impressive.
While this result was technically the first match of the Octavio Zambrano era as head coach of the national team, it was interim manager Michael Findlay behind the bench for Canada. Findlay has done fairly well in his short time with the interim tag, and will stay on as an assistant coach.
Zambrano is set to make his senior national team debut behind the bench on June 13, when Canada will face Curacao in Montreal. The match serves as preparation for Canada’s 2017 Gold Cup campaign which gets underway on July 7.