TORONTO, Canada—Despite a gutsy performance, the Canadian men’s national team suffered a heartbreaking loss in the Gold Cup semifinals on Thursday night, losing to Mexico 2-1 by virtue of an injury-time winner from Héctor Herrera.
Canada, who entered the match having not beaten Mexico since 2000 — and winning just three times in 36 previous meetings — would not be intimidated in this one, as for the most part, the first half went exactly how John Herdman’s side would have wanted.
The team held Mexico at bay, and even had a few half chances themselves, including a moment in the 26th minute when Jonathan Osorio wrestled past his defender to keep the ball in on the touch line, eventually creating a 2v1 down low. Unfortunately, the Toronto FC midfielder couldn’t pick out Tesho Akindele across the face of goal as a wayward pass was eventually cleared away by the Mexican defender.
After a back-and-forth opening 45 minutes, both teams looked poised to head into the break tied at zeroes, however, right before halftime, Mexico would get their breakthrough by virtue what can only be perceived as a Canadian mistake.
Doneil Henry, trying to recover with an epic sliding tackle, would be on the short end of a VAR check, as the replay clearly showed the Canadian defender sliding through the Mexican attacker, and thus, the referee rightfully awarded a penalty.
Orbelín Pineda would step up to the spot and make no mistake, hesitating on his run up before calmly slotting home past Maxime Crepeau to give his side the 1-0 lead right before halftime.
It was a real deflating moment for Canada, who put forth such a strong first half before that blunder. Nevertheless, with 45 minutes still to play and the game still very much in the balance, the team went into the break looking to hit the reset button.
And whatever Herdman said to them int he locker room appeared to work, as the team came out flying for the second half. One notable tactical change was Herdman electing to push Buchanan higher up the pitch, and the move paid dividends 10 minutes later.
The New England Revolution youngster was played over the top by Mark-Anthony Kaye, and despite having options in the box, like the star he is, Buchanan elected to take the shot on his own, driving a low rocket inside the far post, past the sprawling Mexican keeper to bring Canada back level and reignite life into his side.
The moment appeared to be short lived as just two minutes later, a VAR check once again punished Canada, this time on more of a questionable call. Kaye appeared to perhaps slightly clip his man on the absolute corner of the Canadian box, with little-to-no danger around the midfielder.
Ball never lies, however, as Carlos Salcedo stepped up to the spot and his effort was turned away by a sprawling Crepeau, sending Canadian — fans and players — into a frenzy.
19 year old Theo Corbeanu, who checked into the game for Tesho Akindele, almost put Canada ahead in the 77th minute, as another run from Buchanan eventually released Corbeanu down the left-hand side, and the Wolverhampton youngster tried to cleverly bend one far post past the Mexican keeper, but Talavera did well to get a hand to it.
In the 88th minute, the game would come to an abrupt hault as a homophobic chant used by a segment of Mexican soccer fans once again surfaced. The referees, rightfully so, stopped the game, demanding those chants be stopped. For context, Mexico’s soccer federation has been fined on multiple occasions by FIFA as a result of the chant — more than 15 times over the years, by one count — and the punishments are only escalating. FIFA’s latest sanction last June included ordering two upcoming World Cup Qualifying matches to be played behind closed doors.
An embarrassing and disappointing moment, but the game would carry on minutes later.
In injury time — nine minutes into seven minutes of added time —it would be heartbreak for Canada, as Mexico would finally find a way past Crepeau in open play. A cut back to the top of the box was taken well by Héctor Herrera, as his first-time effort found the back of the net, giving Mexico the late winner.
Regardless of the outcome, it was quite the effort from the Canadian side, who honestly outplayed Mexico in the second half despite the late winner. The team can hold their heads high and be proud of their performance, proving to everyone that they’re going to be a force to reckon with on the CONCACAF stage for years to come.
The future is bright.