Day-after thoughts on a memorable CanMNT win over Mexico at the 'Iceteca'
The CanMNT had a night to remember in a massive 2-1 win over Mexico in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying action on Tuesday. Here's a look back at what stood out from that one.
Even the day after it happened, it all feels so surreal.
Yet, you don’t have to pinch itself. It really did happen.
Somehow, someway, the CanMNT did indeed go out and beat Mexico for the first time in 21 years on Tuesday in Edmonton, taking a big step towards the 2022 World Cup in the process.
And even as big as typing out that sentence is, that still feels like it sells the night short.
Not only did Canada go out and beat Mexico, they did so in pretty dominant fashion over the course of 90 minutes, too, taking advantage of a perfect storm (no pun intended) of snow, cold weather and an intricate tactical plan to take down a team that has caused them so much misery and heartbreak over the years.
Having come close on a few occasions, including a 1-1 draw against them at the famed Estadio Azteca last month, there was no doubt that Canada was due this kind of result, but even despite that, it still doesn’t feel all that real right now.
Long the doormats of CONCACAF, Canada has dealt with so many frustrating nights during games like these, games where they came close, but ultimately not close enough, leaving them to ponder how they were going to take that next step.
That started to change 2 years ago with a memorable 2-0 victory over the United States, their first such victory in over 34 years, but with that game being in Nations League play, Canada still needed a proper statement win to really show that they’ve arrived as a new giant of the region.
A win over a good Costa Rica side at the Gold Cup this summer was a nice start, as were massive wins over El Salvador, Panama and Costa Rica so far this ‘Octagonal’, the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers, but Canada still had yet to get that course-altering victory, such as one over Mexico or the US.
But now, they have one, truly announcing their arrival to CONCACAF’s elite.
Considering that since August of 2019, Canada hasn’t lost to any CONCACAF opposition not named the US or Mexico, they had already climbed to the edge of joining the big 2 of the region, yet just hadn’t gained entry to the club, helping turn it into a big 3.
After his victory, though, that’s clearly changed, though.
Considering that Canada now sits atop the Octo through 8 games with 16 points, and is now 3rd in CONCACAF and 40th in the world in the live FIFA Rankings, it feels like this game has truly cemented their spot among CONCACAF’s elite, and the numbers back it up.
So while their job is far from done, as they still have 6 games to maintain a top 3 position in the Octo and qualify for the 2022 World Cup, returning to the big dance for the first time since 1986, that feels as realistic of a goal as it’s ever been now, all thanks to this win.
Because of that, it feels that if Canada does indeed go on and complete the job now, you can only think that this game in Edmonton might have well been the game where belief started to turn into reality, paving the way for such an accomplishment.
Just for one night, everything came together so perfectly for Canada, making for a moment that will last on in the memories of those who witnessed it, no matter where you got the chance to do so from.
So with that in mind, here are a few day-after thoughts from this game, as the dust continues to settle on a night to remember in Edmonton.
Canada’s players celebrate their first of 2 goals vs Mexico on Tuesday (Keveren Guillou) (IG: @kevereng)
A deserved victory?
And to start, it’s worth looking back on some of the numbers for this game, because while the score certainly felt favourable to Canada, did the advanced numbers actually back it up?
The answer? Yeah, pretty much.
Just consider this - at half time, Canada was winning the Expected Goals (xG) battle 0.64 to 0, and while the xG ended up in Mexico’s favour, 1.57 to 1.36, most of that came off of a late push from the guests after they went down 2-0, because up until then, Canada was the dominant team.
So while it’s hard to distinguish the moment where score effects kicked in for Mexico, making it hard to compare them directly to their opponents, that Canada were able to generate 1.36 xG off of 8 shots shows how efficient they were on the night, and that they were full value for their goals.
And even though Mexico ended up out-possessing Canada 59%-41%, outshooting them 12-8, Canada did create more big chances (2-1), which at the end of the day, helps explain their victory.
Ultimately, the best way to describe the game is that Canada came out strong, dominating the game physically and grabbing a 2 goal lead, before sitting back and trying to get the game over the line.
And when you look at some of those stats above, before then realizing that Canada won 53 duels to Mexico’s 35 on the night, that description is backed up by the numbers, too.
That is massive, because while it’s one thing to actually go out and beat Mexico is one thing, but to do so deservedly is a whole other one, so that Canada were full value for their 2-1 win, one they fought tooth and nail for, is huge, and shouldn’t be lost on anyone.
But that’s just what this Canadian team does.
All throughout this Octo, they’ve been one of the top teams at both generating chances offensively and limiting them defensively, and this game was just another example of their ability to do that at a high level, no matter the opposition.
Eustaquio/Hutchinson come up big in midfield:
And playing a big role in making all that happen for Canada in this match?
The midfield duo of Stephen Eustaquio and Atiba Hutchinson, who had games to remember in the middle of the park on Tuesday.
Heading into the game, you couldn’t help but be a bit skeptical of the duo, as they struggled in their last game together as a double-pivot, which came back in September vs Honduras, making the choice to pair them together for this one a curious one.
But to give credit to the pair, as well as Canadian head coach John Herdman, that move worked out masterfully in this game.
Knowing that Mexico were likely to sacrifice a bit of strength in the midfield to be a bit more sturdy in the back, as they chose to shift from their usual 4-3-3 to a 5-2-3 for this game, Canada made the gamble that the pivot of Hutchinson and Eustaquio would be perfect to help stop that, and boy were they right.
Considering that they combined for 10/13 ground duels won, 3 interceptions and 5 tackles, they most certainly fulfilled their assignment, making it hard for Mexico’s midfield to play through them on the night.
So when you combine that with the work that they did offensively, as they also combined for 108 touches, 59 out of 76 passes (77% passing), 5/8 long balls, 4 key passes and 1 assist, it was overall a very sturdy performance from Hutchinson and Eustaquio at both ends of the pitch.
Not only did they do what they needed to do defensively, keeping Mexico’s midfield trio of Hector Herrera, Edson Alvarez and Orbelin Pineda to 0 key passes, 1 dribble and just 1 shot (coming off of a late goal from Herrera), that they did so while also pitching in at the other end is massive.
But that’s just what Hutchinson and Eustaquio can bring to the table.
On one hand, you’ve got Hutchinson, a long-time fixture in this team, one who just became the all-time CanMNT appearances leader in this game, and just continues to plug away at a high level at the ripe age of 38.
Then, on the other, you’ve got a 24-year-old Eustaquio, who only made his first start for Canada this year, yet is now indispensable to the Canadian midfield, becoming a huge part of this team.
Despite being at opposite ends of their careers, they’ve managed to combine and work together impeccably, sharing the baton together instead of having it passed between them, and this game was a prime example of what that can look like.
So if they can keep doing that going forward, you can only imagine that more nights like this will be in the future for them and their team, giving Canada that extra midfield solidity.
Be it together, or in a midfield trio with one a different body, Hutchinson and Eustaquio play such a key role in what this Canadian does, and this game was just another example of that.
Don’t forget that save:
But while a lot of talk in the post-game chatter will be about where Canada sits after this win, or some of the performances from the big names that were on the pitch last night, please don’t forget Milan Borjan this morning.
If he doesn’t make *this* save in the 93rd minute, this win doesn’t happen for Canada, changing the narrative completely.
So while I gave him his extended due in my post-game piece, don’t forget about his role in this victory as this game continues to sink in, because without him the story would be completely different.
Canada’s Milan Borjan celebrates the win over Mexico with his teammates (Keveren Guillou) (IG: @kevereng)
Top of the table:
Otherwise, though, it’s worth noting how big this victory is for Canada on multiple fronts right now.
Obviously, there’s what this means for the Octo, because now thanks to this victory, Canada is in prime position through 8 out of 14 games of this final round, giving them control of their own World Cup destiny heading into their last 6 games.
Sitting atop the table, 1 point ahead of the US in 2nd place, and 2 points ahead of Mexico and Panama in 4th place, Canada has put themselves in a good position to at least make the 4th-place playoff, if not a top 3 spot, especially considering that they’re now 7 points adrift of 5th-placed Costa Rica after this win.
And with both of their games against Mexico out of the way, as well as their away game vs the US, they’ve got a relatively decent schedule remaining, one that’s loaded with road games (4 of their 6 will be on the road), but with games against teams that they can most definitely beat.
So while the next 6 games won’t be easy, a chance to make the top 3 is in Canada’s hands right now, and that’s massive, because the last thing you want to do in CONCACAF is to depend on others, especially given how unpredictable this region can be.
Having so far averaged a cool 2 points per game (ppg) this Octo, well above the 1.5-1.7 ppg expected to be needed in order to qualify for the World Cup, Canada has given themselves the leeway that they need at the moment.
Considering that they now need just 5-7 points in their last 6 games to stay above that 1.5-1.7 ppg line, that’s most definitely doable, showing how important that Canada getting off to this strong start to the Octo is for them.
Otherwise, the big talking point after this game is about Canada’s continued rise up the FIFA Rankings, as with this win, they now sit 40th in the live FIFA Rankings, their highest such ranking ever. Plus, they’re also now comfortably top 3 in CONCACAF, too, which is a nice bonus.
So while those rankings don’t mean too much for now, that could also be huge down the road, for a couple of reasons.
First, there's the fact that cracking the top 50 of the rankings could now open the door for more Canadians to head to the UK, where work permit requirements are more favourable to those who play regularly for a top 50 nation, opening the door for more Canadians to move to some big clubs.
And secondly, on a similar vein, there’s the reputation boost that being a top 40 team brings as a whole, because while nearly no other country has the same work permit requirements as the UK, Canada’s rise will have certainly gathered the interest of a few clubs in top countries who are probably now monitoring some Canadian players a lot closer now.
Lastly, the higher that Canada climbs up the rankings, the more that will help them for seeding going forward for competitions such as Nations League, the Gold Cup, and if they make it that far (knock on wood), the World Cup itself.
So while for now, those rankings are more a point of pride, with each passing day that Canada remains in the top 50 (and continues to push up it), that could prove to have a big impact down the road, making it key that they’ve already pushed as high as they did.
There’s no team rising right now in the world like Canada, who started the year in 73rd, and based on where they’re trending at the moment, seems on a direct path towards the top 30 and beyond.
The stuff of a folklore tale:
And last, but most definitely not least, it feels only right to look back on how special this occasion truly was, as it consisted of the sort the stuff that books will be written about down the road.
That started in the lead-up to the match, which started all the way back when these games in Edmonton were first announced.
When that happened, many were skeptical, but also curious, mostly intrigued by Canada’s decision to bring these crucial games to a city that hadn’t hosted the CanMNT since 2013, and had grown a reputation of a hibernating soccer city, to be polite.
But then, the tickets sold like hotcakes, and all of a sudden, it seemed like these games were going to be special, especially when the projected forecast for this week dropped.
And then the matches came around, which is where the magic began.
First, the 1-0 win against Costa Rica was a great start, but that was always going to be the expected outcome for Canada.
This window was always going to be judged by the Mexico game, and the team was aware of that.
That was also reflected in the lead-up to this game, which was unlike any other that we’ve seen for a while. From the massive buzz in the city for the match, to the rising media coverage that came with that, this game already had all sorts of attention on it as the days counted down towards it.
Then, everything hit a supernova the day before the game. With a massive snowstorm, one that cancelled MD-1 training for both teams, making for a day that included travel days, training centre shenanigans and some altered travel plans, that brought up the hype for this game to a whole other level.
You could feel it on matchday, where the temperatures dropped and the ‘Iceteca’ jokes started to be thrown around, making this a game to watch.
But then, having finally arrived at the start of the game, it could’ve all ended up being a let-down. Sometimes, matches don’t live up to the hype given to them, and seeing how talked about this game was starting to become, you could only fear that.
So that both teams then went on to combine for a classic was only fitting, elevating this match to folklore status.
From the snow surrounding the pitch, to the piercing cold, measured at approximately -10 degrees Celcius at kick-off (with a windchill of around -20), and everything that transpired in the game, this quickly became one to remember.
Now, that means that everything that went on in this game will be remembered fondly for years to come. Be it Cyle Larin’s clutch brace (and his teammates’ viral celebrations that came with them), or Milan Borjan’s sweatpants, balaclava and game-winning save, or even the black kits that Canada rocked on the night, just everything about this match ended up being perfect for them.
So now, Canada has a game that they can use as a defining pillar of their run towards the World Cup, especially if they make it that far. This win might not top them winning the Gold Cup in 2000, or making their only visit to the World Cup in 1986, but it’s certainly not far behind them, not only due to how big the result was, but thanks to the occasion itself, too.
And that’s what’s so huge.
While it might not be the game that clinched a spot in the World Cup, this is the sort of match where people will look back on and know where they were when it happened, etching itself into Canadian soccer history.
That much was clear when it happened, and the day after, it’s become more clear than ever, just showing how big of a result this was, as this could very well become a defining moment for this team as they continue their journey towards the World Cup.
But while this game will certainly live at the forefront of Canadian minds for a while now, it’s important that at the same time, as warned by Herdman after the game, that Canada remains grounded as they continue to navigate the Octo.
Yes, it’s huge to see Canada at the top of the Octo, especially after a victory like that, but it could all be meaningless if they don’t finish the job and make the World Cup, making it imperative that they keep their minds focused on the task at hand.
That’ll resume that in their next camp, in January, a window that could very well be the make-or-break moment for this team’s World Cup hopes, and will continue that into March, when they wrap up the Octo with another massive window.
So until then, Canada will relish this victory, while enjoying their place atop the table, but once those big games come around, it’ll be back to business, as they look to finish what they’ve started here.
But as we saw in this game, this team is certainly on a path towards something special, and they just wrote another chapter on that journey on Tuesday, of which they’ll look to keep adding to as they continue to push towards the World Cup.
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