Here are three takeaways as Canada finished September’s Concacaf World Cup Qualifying window with five points.
Canada knew Wednesday was a must-win match and two early strikes put to bed any notions of pressure they may have been feeling.
El Salvador made clear they wanted to frustrate Canada into making a mistake. Whether it was a tug back on the shirt or leaving a foot in with a Canadian player on the ground, the visitors wanted to throw John Herdman’s team off their game.
But the hosts put their heads down and showed the best reaction for the disruption they faced.
“We wanted to have a good start,” said captain Atiba Hutchinson, who scored in the sixth minute and continued to show his value at the age of 38. “We wanted to have the sort of start that we had in the second half against Honduras. We kept saying to ourselves that was the standard we needed to play.”
El Salvador’s defending wasn’t in tune, particularly on the opening two goals within 11 minutes – and Canada took their chances.
After staking an early lead, Canada allowed El Salvador to see a little bit more of the ball, clogged up the passing lanes and forced El Salvador to try and break Canada down with more long diagonal balls.
The few moments El Salvador managed to get into the Canadian penalty area were comfortably handled by those like center back Steven Vitoria and fullback Richie Laryea.
In the end, Canada never missed a step without Alphonso Davies.
With the Bayern Munich star and Vancouver Whitecaps FC product missing out through injury, Canada needed someone to step up to create chances. New England Revolution winger Tajon Buchanan more than answered the call.
Buchanan was the focal point of the Canadian attack all night long, assisting Jonathan David’s header in the 11th minute and scoring theird third in the 59th minute. He generally caused chaos in the El Salvador backline, especially on the right flank.
La Selecta threw everything they could at the soon-to-be Club Brugge forward – and it wasn’t always kosher. Early in the first half, Joshua Perez came in late and dragged his studs over Buchanan’s thigh when he was on the ground.
With Buchanan on the ground again a few minutes later, Alexander Larin stuck his knee into Buchanan’s head. For good measure late in the first half, Larin drove his studs into Buchanan’s calf when he went for a ball in the air.
“There are dark arts here in the games in Concacaf and it’s part of the style. That’s a big part of how they play,” said Herdman, adding his team had been told to embrace these moments.
“I felt for [Buchanan] because I was saying to the fourth official that was the fifth time he’d been hit and they haven’t issued a yellow and then [Buchanan] gets a yellow for reacting. The kid was able to withstand five.”
Dropped points in the opening 1-1 home draw against Honduras had Canadian fans fearing that they were headed for yet another World Cup qualifying cycle of disappointment.
But they showed growth over September’s window, and Canada should be pleased – but maybe not completely satisfied – by getting five points from the three games.
“We’re content. We wanted seven. Seven would have been the perfect start,” said Herdman. “But what we’ve learned is that this is Concacaf. We had to have that Honduras game learning in the first 45 to feel the intensity when these teams are putting everything on the line and they are. There’s no doubt about that. You can feel it. Nobody’s going to back down.”
The 1-1 draw against the Unites States salvaged the window for Canada. Life looks a whole lot rosier while chasing one of Concacf's three automatic spots, especially if one of those points came on the road.
“We’re in a good place,” said Hutchinson. “We wanted to get three points in that first game, of course. That game happened and we said to ourselves we wanted to get a result away against the US and come back and get another three points that would be a good start to this last round. All in all, we’re happy with where we are right now.”
There's little time to celebrate, though, with another camp coming in just a few weeks. The momentum established over these three games should still be fresh in the team’s mind when they reconvene for October’s trio of games.
They’ll need it with games at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City (Oct. 7) and at Independence Park in Kingston, Jamaica (Oct. 10), before they’ll return home to face Panama (Oct. 13). If they can snatch a result in either of those two road venues, they really could be off to the races.