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Breaking down why Richie Laryea's return to the CanMNT squad is so key ahead of their must-win game vs Panama Wednesday
As the CanMNT welcomes back Richie Laryea after a suspension due to yellow card accumulation, here's a look at why that's such good news for Canada ahead of a must-win game for them on Wednesday.
For all the talk of who’s missing, there are still some key names to rely on.
As the CanMNT gets set to take on Panama in a must-win game at BMO Field on Wednesday, a lot of the chatter in the lead-up to the game hasn’t been around the 23 players available to Canadian head coach John Herdman for that one, but instead surrounding those who won’t be available for selection ahead of that big clash.
That’s expected, as Canada will be without regulars Cyle Larin, Atiba Hutchinson, Lucas Cavallini and Junior Hoilett due to injuries, which is a big blow, but at the same time, Canada still has a wealth of solid options to rely on for this game.
As they continue their quest through the ‘Octagonal’, the final round of World Cup qualifying, they’ll get their depth tested on Wednesday night, no doubt, but at the same time, they’ve still got a decent arsenal of names to turn to, such as Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David, Tajon Buchanan and Stephen Eustaquio, among others.
One name that isn’t getting talked about much, however, is full back, Richie Laryea, who will also be expected to start after missing Canada’s latest match, a 0-0 draw with Jamaica, after dealing with a 1-game suspension due to yellow card accumulation.
And that’s great news for a Canadian team currently looking for goals, as Laryea has become a key contributor for Canada on both sides of the ball, and will look to bring that two-way energy on Wednesday.
An emotional leader on this Canadian team, they’ll need him to come up big as they get set to welcome 30 000+ to BMO Field for their must-win clash against Panama, as he’ll be expected to help play a role in helping Canada set the tone in front of their fans.
With a win on Wednesday, they can climb back into a top 3 spot in the Octo, leapfrogging over Panama, allowing them to sit in one of the vaunted 3 spots that CONCACAF will be sending to the 2022 World Cup, which as they near the halfway point of this 14-game sprint, would be massive, making this a big game for so many reasons.
So seeing all of that, here’s a look at what to expect from Laryea in this game, as he’s quietly become a key part of Herdman’s side in recent years, and he’ll look to show why once again as Canada chases a big victory at home against an upstart Panama side.
Picking up where he left off against Mexico:
And make no mistake, Canada will be very happy to welcome back Laryea to their squad for this game, as he plays such a big role in how they play.
There’s a reason why he led Canada in minutes this Octo up until his suspension, and has played in 13 out of 16 games for his country this year, and that’s because there aren’t many players that can match what he brings to the table in this Canadian pool right now.
So that Canada will be welcoming a rested Laryea back to the fold for this Panama game is huge, as they certainly missed him in the draw against Jamaica, especially seeing how good he was against Mexico in that key 1-1 draw at the Estadio Azteca just a few days prior.
Deployed as a hybrid left back/left wing back, he was one of Canada’s most involved players offensively in that game, getting plenty of key touches in the final third, while also getting quite stuck in defensively at the other end, making some key defensive interventions in his own half.
Nominally a right back, he’s adept at playing both on the right and left side of defence, which is nice for Canada, who have been able to shift him around depending on where they need him.
For the Panama game, it looks like that’ll be on the right, but for Mexico, it was on the left, and despite being more comfortable on the right, he managed to step up and do a job against one of the best teams in the region.
So seeing that, the question has to be asked - what did he do so well against Mexico?
And to start, the answer is simple - he just played his game, as he always does.
Let’s take a deeper look by diving into the film from that match.
First, let’s begin with his defence.
He might not be what one would deem to be a lockdown defender, but he’s got a willingness to get stuck in, and that serves him well, especially in CONCACAF.
Just take this 50/50 that left Mexico’s Jesus Corona niggling for a few minutes.
It isn’t the sort of tackle that will drop jaws, but it’s just a good no-nonsense challenge, which isn’t for the faint of heart.
But that’s Laryea for you. If there’s one thing that you know with him, is that he’s going to do everything to the maximum of his capabilities, and a 50/50 is no exception.
Take this other one on Corona as another example of that.
Again, it might not be the most memorable tackle, but it helped nullify a key transition moment for Mexico, winning back the ball for Canada in a key position, helping them push the play the other way.
But while these challenges are fun to watch, what’s nice about Laryea is that his defensive game is so much more than just hard tackles, as he does find a way to make some good reads in space, as well.
Take this next clip as an example of that.
After Jesus Corona and Hector Herrera did well to open up a bit of space for themselves out wide, it left Canada in a bit of an uncompromising position, as they tried to backpedal back into position to nullify the counter.
But sensing that threat, then in came Laryea, who found a way to get in between Herrera and Corona, managing to pick up a key interception to help Canada win the ball back in another key area.
Again, it wasn’t an eye-popping interception, but it was a very smart one, one that was very representative of Laryea’s performance against Mexico.
He wasn’t making any wild last-ditch challenges, or any tackles that would stick out in the mind of most, but he didn’t need to make any of those, because as the saying goes, if you’re making a big tackle, it usually means that you’re out of position in the first place, anyways.
So seeing that, it helps explain how Corona, who was one of the best players in the Portuguese league last year, was really unable to impose himself against Canada, as he just couldn’t find a way to one-up his defensive match-up, Laryea.
All night, it seemed like wherever he turned, Corona had a Laryea-sized shadow haunting him, which probably made him pretty relieved to get subbed out in the 72nd minute, as he probably went on and had visions of Laryea in his sleep that night, showing how all over him the Canadian was during that game.
Laryea understood the assignment, and fulfilled it to the best of his capabilities, all night long, with this next clip being the best visual representation of that.
So to sum up Laryea’s night defensively, the best words to use probably would be persistent, no-nonsense and efficient, as he just had a solid all-around game, and that was backed up by both the numbers and the eyes.
When defending, that’s all you need, and Laryea had no problem committing to that, no matter the situation.
But shifting up the pitch, while Laryea was so efficient defensively, what did he do offensively to make himself heard?
And the answer was quite a bit, as he found himself involved in various different ways in the Canadian attack.
From operating as an inverted full back, to making proper overlapping runs, he’d just try and do his best to occupy space down the flanks, always making sure that Alphonso Davies had adequate support to do what he desired with or without the ball.
Seeing that, it helps explain how Davies was able to drift centrally and provide an assist on Canada’s eventual goal, as Laryea did his best to try and make sure that his star player wasn’t isolated, something that Mexico did try hard to make happen on a few occasions.
Here are some examples of that.
First, we’ve got this clip of Laryea making a nice bursting run into space with the ball, before playing it to the middle, which then allowed Canada to set up and make something happen in that area of the pitch.
It wasn’t anything groundbreaking, but by pushing the ball forward, he forced Mexico into a more defensive posture, instead of allowing them to press him higher up the field, which is the last thing that you’d want them to do to you at the Azteca.
But that doesn’t mean that he wasn’t trying to make things happen in other ways, either.
Take this next clip as an example of that.
In this one, which came right at the beginning of the game, he does well to shake off Corona, who was right on his back, before making a pass that led to a nice Tajon Buchanan run and cross.
His pass was a bit sloppy, and the attack ultimately led to nothing, but to have the confidence to make a move like that is impressive, especially considering that he was on his off-side and foot.
But that’s Laryea for you. If there’s one thing that he isn’t short in, it’s confidence, and that’s not a bad thing, as he doesn’t shy away from trying things offensively, which is what you’d like to see from him.
You’d be less than enthused if he didn’t have the skills to pull of the things that he tries, but he’s a lot more skilled than people realize, even if he’s not talked about as one of the main offensive threats on this Canadian team.
He might not be an Alphonso Davies or a Tajon Buchanan, but he’s not that far off that level offensively, and he’ll remind people of that at times.
Take this next clip as an example of that.
Despite receiving this ball from Maxime Crepeau on the bounce, and with a few Mexican players breathing down his neck, he managed to turn on the afterburners and leave them in the dust, helping fashion one of Canada’s best chances of the game.
People don’t always realize how fast he is, but that clip was a pretty good reminder of what he can do if you give him too much space, as he can make you pay for it.
Mexico quickly realized that, and they started to punish him for that physically, but otherwise, he had a few good bursts forward, and that really helped open up the field for his team.
But while a lot of attention is given to how good of a dribbler he is, it’s also worth noting that he’s a pretty adept passer of the ball, too, which is a nice skill to have in his locker.
He might not be one to rip out a 50-yard diagonal, or the piercing through ball, but he’s good at looking up and playing passes into the pocket, which can allow Canada’s midfielders to get on the ball in good areas.
We already saw an example of that earlier, but that was just a tiny example of what he can do in possession, and there might be no better clip to show that than the one below.
Despite being pressed high up the field by Mexico in this case, he was able to look up and feed a wide-open Stephen Eustaquio with a lovely slip pass, and while Eustaquio missed the pass (something we don’t often see from him), that Laryea had the confidence to play that sort of ball is encouraging.
So seeing all that, you can see that Laryea has a pretty well-rounded attacking portfolio, especially for a full back, which helps explain how he’s become such a key part of the Canadian offence this year.
If anything the lone complaint that you can have with him would be with his shooting, something that he’s slowly improving at, but other than that, he pretty much does it all offensively, which is why Herdman will be happy to welcome him back to a Canadian team looking for goals ahead of this Panama game.
It’s wild to think that Laryea has only been really playing at full back since 2019, as he used to be a forgotten midfielder in the Orlando system prior to that, yet he seems like he’s been playing the position for years.
So while he just has 1 goal and 2 assists for Canada in 19 games so far, you just feel that the 26-year-old has many more of those on the way for his country, especially based on how he’s been trending as of late.
There’s a reason why European clubs such as Besiktas have shown interest in him in the past, and that’s because he’s on a good upward trajectory, something that makes him hard to ignore right now.
That game against Mexico was just the latest example in a long line of many which shows that Laryea is one to watch whenever he takes the field, and that’s why Canada is happy to have him back for this Panama clash, as they missed his presence during the Jamaica game, and the scoreline reflected as much.
And what’s great about all of this is that this doesn’t even dive into some of the intangibles that Laryea brings to the table for Canada, such as his leadership and his willingness to stand up for his teammates.
That can be a double-edged sword at times, as he can pick up reckless cautions and fouls that he doesn’t need to, but the pay-off can be so sweet, as he can really help Canada set the tone in games.
For a Canadian team set to play in front of their biggest home crowd in years on Wednesday, having him on the pitch then will be so huge, as you just know that the energy of being at home will find a way to give him extra life, and if he’s motivated, Canada tends to follow.
So while he might not be talked in the same tones as some of Canada’s big players, make no mistake, Laryea is just as important to this Canadian team as the likes of Davies, David, Larin, Eustaquo and Buchanan, and he’ll look to prove that once again on Wednesday night.
Sitting quite shorthanded, Canada will need a big game from him, and he’ll be happy to deliver, giving them an edge in a game that’s expected to be tightly contested right to the final whistle.
These are the sorts of games that he thrives in, for good reason, so keep an eye out for him in this one.
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Richie Laryea in action for Canada last month (Keveren Guillou)