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Non-Fungible Tactics: Did Tifo IRL get Canada’s tactics right?

Tifo IRL recently released two separate videos analyzing the CanMNT’s tactics. What did they get right and what did they miss?

What is the CanMNT’s playing style? Are they a high press, direct attacking team? Or are they a variable press, direct attacking team? What are their preferred patterns of play?

Tifo IRL is a YouTube channel that is well known and highly regarded for their in-depth tactical, historical and geopolitical breakdowns of the game of soccer. They recently released tactical breakdowns of every team in the 2022 World Cup. Canada was highlighted in two of these videos:

So what did Tifo IRL get right and what did they get wrong/miss?


What Tifo IRL got right on the CanMNT’s tactics

  1. Advantage in speed and athleticism

The CanMNT has the speed and athleticism to trouble the world’s best teams. Some of their players also have the engines to run up and down the pitch at high speeds for an entire match. It helps that most of these players are also 27 years old or younger.

This is a stark contrast to the two European sides in Canada’s group at the World Cup. Both sides rely on technical ability, tactical familiarity and experience in both International football and top five European leagues. Key Belgian and Croatia players are aging and have been staples for their respective programs for a decade (or more).

If Canada is to get a result against Belgium or Croatia, playing to their comparative advantage and getting the ball to these players in space will be crucial.

2. Emphasis on quick, vertical attacks and playing through wide areas

Canada’s advantage in speed and athleticism primarily comes from their wide players. Coach John Herdman has tactically set up his team correctly to take advantage of their strengths by emphasizing verticality and playing through wide areas.

Playing the ball quickly and vertically gives opponents less time to set up in their defensive structure. It also allows Canada’s speedy and athletic wide players the chance to attack defenders one on one with lots of space ahead of them.

Canada is a tactically flexible team comfortable playing with or without possession. During World Cup qualifying, the Athletic mentions that only a small percentage of Canada’s goals came from sequences that were 20 seconds or more. This highlights that regardless of the tactics employed by Herdman for each game, the principle of playing quick, vertical attacks is kept.

3. Alphonso Davies plays a more attacking role with freedom to roam

Despite playing left back for Bayern Munich, Herdman typically uses Davies in a more attacking role with Canada. He’s most often deployed as a left winger, but occasionally plays as a striker in a two striker formation or as a central attacking midfielder.

Canada Portraits - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Photo by Mike Hewitt - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images

Herdman gives Davies the freedom to roam and drift inside from the left side. Davies’ ability to read defenses and find space helps make this possible. The goal is still the same - give Davies the ball as often as possible and place the ball in spaces upfield where Davies can attack defenses at full speed.

Sam Adekugbe’s emergence as a mainstay in Canada’s starting 11 also allows Davies’ role freedom to be possible. Adekugbe’s speed, endurance and strong two-way play make him the ideal candidate to man the entire left flank on his own at times.


What Tifo IRL got wrong/missed on the CanMNT’s tactics

It’s worth mentioning that it’s difficult for Tifo to get too in-depth or comprehensive on the CanMNT in short video clips. Still, given that they aren’t close followers of the team, it’s important to point out what Tifo got wrong or missed when discussing the CanMNT’s tactics.

  1. Wrong: CanMNT are a high pressing, direct attacking team

Interestingly, in the first video analyzing Group F, Tifo mentions that Canada are a tactically flexible team that can adjust from greater possession of the ball (>50%) to less (<50%). However, in the second, follow up video, they place Canada in the high pressing, direct attacking grouping.

Later in that second video, they mention the variable pressing, direct attacking group where teams’ pressing tactics depend on the opponent. This is the correct categorization for the CanMNT’s style of play.

Canada can play a high pressing game against some teams. Other times, they have chosen to sit back and be more compact and patient. The pressing triggers are what dictates their press intensity in every moment when they are without the ball. Herdman’s tactically flexibility lends itself to a variable pressing side.

The CanMNT’s recipe for success has often been to set up in their mid block, force opponents into making mistakes, and then hitting them quickly on the counter for precise goals. As you saw against Belgium, pressing high and intensely also worked because of the greater advantage Canada had in speed and athleticism.

2. Miss: The inside outside pass has become a staple of Canada’s ball progression

Throughout World Cup qualifying, the 2022 CONCACAF Nations League so far and friendlies leading up to the 2022 World Cup, Canada has followed similar patterns of play. The general principle is always the same. Progress the ball to the wide areas first, then find an opportunity to send a long, vertical pass down the channel or half space where an attacking player can run at the defense at full speed.

What has become another staple of the CanMNT’s tactics is how they make that general principle less predictable. If the immediate long, vertical pass is not available, Canada will often play a quick pass inside to a teammate. Then, the fullback will receive the return pass back slightly further up field to then either drive the team forward themselves or make the long, vertical pass to an attacking player.

3. Miss: How the ball is progressed depends on whether Eustaquio plays

One of the best qualities that Herdman has is his ability to adapt to what he’s given.

When Eustaquio plays, his range of passing from midfield opens up more possibilities for how Canada progresses out from the back. He can quickly play an accurate long ball over the top just as well as a more methodical short ground pass into space.

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When Eustaquio hasn’t been available, we see more of those long balls being played by Steven Vitoria and Alistair Johnston out of the back. The other alternative midfield options are not as consistently good as Eustaquio at progressive long passes. Each of those midfielders have their strengths, but Herdman typically asks them to pass more conservatively when building out from the back.

4. Miss: The brotherhood is Canada’s secret weapon.

The CanMNT are a side greater than the sum of their parts. There are not many well known, household names that casual fans will know aside from Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David.

The WeCAN documentary shows many huddles and conversations that emphasize the importance of the brotherhood and their cohesiveness. Herdman has built team camaraderie and togetherness both on and off the pitch in a remarkably short amount of time.

This team never gives up and is willing to go to war for one another. They know that nothing is given to them. They fight together and earn everything they get.

This has translated to a team of underdogs that constantly surprise more talented teams and defy the expectations placed on them.

On paper, it doesn’t seem like much. But at a tournament as short as the World Cup, their togetherness and belief in their coach’s tactics could lead to flawless execution. If Canada is to progress out from their group, this synchronization throughout the entire team could end up proving to be a difference maker.

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