While the game had talking points aplenty, only one thing mattered at the end: the score. After 120 minutes and a shootout, the Americans defeated a tenacious Canada 3-2 on penalties.
John Herdman, having been outcoached during much of this tournament, found his form. He knew what to expect and lined up his boys accordingly. And for much of those 120 minutes, they did well. They were compact, disciplined and quick on the counter.
Questions can and should be asked about the tournament as a whole, but in this match and against this American team, it was a performance that, by and large, they could be proud of.
When the lineup for Canada dropped, more than a few eyebrows were raised over the choice of formation and some of the personnel included within it.
Herdman went with a 3-5-2, which included Steven Vitória in the middle of the back 3 and Zac McGraw on the right. Both are known slower players who prefer the middle of a back 3., so McGraw would have much to do on his side.
As well Moïse, Bombito drew back into the lineup as a no. 6, fresh off the Cuba match, which saw him subbed off just after the half-hour mark. Bombito had struggled throughout the tournament but has continued to have the favour of the head coach.
The beginning of the match was marred as an errant ball took out one of the linesmen. Leaving with a bloody face, it would be about eight minutes of medical attention before play could resume.
Throughout the first 20 minutes, Canada set up as expected, defensively astute. But the Americans were not providing much pressure on Canada to absorb. The bulk of play may have been in the Canadian half of the pitch, but it did not feel as though there was much danger coming from the home side.
It was not until stoppage time that any strong chance manifested itself. Canada had a call for a penalty in the 49th minute, a handball inside the 18-yard box off a corner kick. VAR called the referee to the attention of the monitor, but he ruled a foul occurred before the handball.
Both teams went to the locker rooms, nil-nil at the half. But Canada would feel the most aggrieved after not receiving what was a clear penalty call just before the whistle.
Canada started the second half as they had in the first, compact and unwilling to allow the Americans to get any foot forward.
However, the referee had now found his cards, which had stayed in his pocket for most of the first half. Aggressive plays, once allowed in the first half, were now costing Canada.
It could be argued that Canada’s cards were evidence of a team getting increasingly tired. Les Rouges had done well to keep the Americans quiet all match, but they were starting to scramble.
And Canada finally broke. In the 88th minute, Brandon Vazquez got up high over his defender and launched a beautiful header, giving St. Clair no opportunity to stop it.
But while it seemed like no way back into this match for Canada, a handball call finally went their way. Vitória stepped up to the spot in the 93rd minute, and with ice in his veins, he made no mistake.
With only a few minutes left, both teams would need extra time to figure this one out.
The late goal breathed life into a tired Canadian squad. But the Americans were still controlling the bulk of possession and taking the majority of chances.
But with the twists and turns throughout years of Canada-USA matches, this one had more to give.
Canada, through a brilliant run by Jacob Shaffelburg up the left, scored in the 109th minute. The American answered back in the 114th, off a Scott Kennedy own goal.
Neither side could find another, and so it was off to penalties. However, where the Americans had takers aplenty, Canada found themselves with most of their familiar takers already subbed off.
And that proved to be the death knell for Canada. Three of their five penalties were either saved or hit the bar. The Americans only needed three to win, which they got in four attempts.
Still, Canada should be proud of how they matched up today. Herdman was tactically on-point. And plenty of players conducted themselves well.
Lesson learned and questions moving forward
A quarter-final finish was somewhat expected as many of Canada’s starters did not partake in this year’s tournament. But the four matches that were played did provide a number of revelations.
First, Canada has kids that need to be nurtured. Ali Ahmed looked at home in each match. McGraw grew into the tournament. Bombito had moments, but being played out of his normal position seemed to hamper him.
In all, six players were given their first caps for country. Five of those came in the first match alone.
More opportunities will and should be given to these younger players to continue their development into legitimate starters.
Second, while the kids stepped up, there is a significant gap between those players who did not participate in the Gold Cup and their newly capped counterparts.
Herdman has said many times that Canada suffers in terms of development. It has gotten better over the years, but this tournament has plainly shown that much still needs to be done.
Third, there have been murmurs about the head coach himself. Has Herdman taken this team as far as he can? That is not an easy question to ask or to answer. But Canada’s record since qualifying for the World Cup last year has been less than stellar.
This game showed he can still fight and match up tactically. Perhaps that is enough to satisfy his detractors.