Cyle Larin shot his way into the record book and Canada continued its march towards Qatar 2022 with a 2-0 win over the U.S. in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying play Sunday.
The 40th-ranked Canadians went ahead early with an opportune goal through Larin and then stood their ground, bending but not breaking as the 11th-ranked Americans — who had more of the ball — probed the home defence without success.
It came down to Canada finishing a chance and the Americans unable to take theirs. Still it made for a tense finale as the U.S. pressed hard through five minutes of extra time.
Sam Adekugbe added the insurance goal in the 95th minute, on a solo rush after the Americans were caught deep in the Canada end. It was his first goal in 26 international appearances.
Canada (6-0-4, 22 points) remains atop the eight-team standings in the final round of qualifying in CONCACAF while moving another step closer to Qatar 2022. The U.S. (5-2-3, 18 points) lost ground and faced losing second place in the table to Mexico pending later results.
The match at Tim Hortons Field was Canada’s 16th in World Cup qualifying since last March, with John Herdman’s team improving to 12-0-4 while notching a fifth straight win.
Canada took the lead after just seven minutes when a Matt Turner goal kick hung up in the wind. Kamal Miller headed to the ball to Jonathan Osorio, who flicked it to Larin. The Besiktas striker played a give-and-go with Jonathan David and beat Turner with a right-footed shot as defenders struggled to catch him.
It was Larin’s record 23rd goal for Canada in his 46th appearance, moving him past Dwayne De Rosario atop the men’s scoring list. Canada’s Christine Sinclair is the world’s all-time leading goal-scorer with 188.
“Goooaall. Congrats Cyle Larin, well done young man and a great way to capture leading scorer,” tweeted De Rosario. “Keep it going.”
It was also the kind of rapid-fire goal the Canadian men, always dangerous in transition with their speed and finishing ability, have become known for.
In later games Sunday, it was No. 49 Costa Rica at No. 40 Mexico, No. 57 Jamaica at No. 63 Panama and No. 70 El Salvador at No. 76 Honduras.
The Canadian men were coming off a 2-0 win Thursday in Honduras, their first victory there since 1985, while the Americans downed El Salvador 1-0 in Columbus.
Canada now flies south to wrap up the international window against El Salvador in San Salvador on Wednesday while the Americans host Honduras in St. Paul, Minn.
The Canadian men will have three remaining games after that. Come March, the top three teams will book their tickets to Qatar 2022 while the fourth-placed side will face an Oceania country to see who joins them in representing North and Central America and the Caribbean.
Passionate sold-out crowd
The game sold out within hours with Canada Soccer expecting a crowd of 24,000. But stricter pandemic-related restrictions limited the crowd to 12,000, after the first ticket sale was voided and a smaller second one was held.
Despite such limits, there was plenty of atmosphere. The Canadian bus arrived at the stadium Sunday to cheers, flares and streamers from jubilant fans.
“It was pretty amazing. Goosebumps. You could feel it on the bus,” Herdman said of the welcome.
It was -5 C, feeling like -7 C, at the 3 p.m. ET kickoff, and got colder as the afternoon wore on. Despite the chill, there was a festive feel with flag-waving fans singing along to Sweet Caroline while waiting for teams to take the field. The crowd then delivered a passionate rendition of O Canada.
Mexican referee Cesar Ramos let the teams play, allowing for some physical challenges on both sides.
After going down 1-0, the Americans began to mount some attacks but lacked a clinical finish. Canadian defenders did their part, throwing their body in the way as the U.S. held the edge in possession.
Canadian defender Steven Vitoria was cautioned for a professional foul in the 31st minute, a second yellow that means he will miss the El Salvador game.
Chelsea star Christian Pulisic had a chance from a free kick just outside the Canadian penalty box in the 36th minute but fired his shot well high.
It was Milan Borjan, who grew up in Hamilton, to the rescue with a spectacular reflex save in the 43rd minute, using his right hand to claw away a Weston McKennie header off a Pulisic corner. The Red Star Belgrade ‘keeper, who made two crucial saves in the win over Honduras, pounded the Canada badge on his chest after denying the Americans.
What an ENDING. <br><br>Sam Adekugbe makes it 2-0 and Canada is still top of the table 🇨🇦<br><br>🎥: <a href=”https://twitter.com/onesoccer?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@onesoccer</a> <a href=”https://t.co/GifrdB0ru6″>pic.twitter.com/GifrdB0ru6</a>
The U.S. had 64 per cent possession in the first half but only one of its seven shots was on target in the first 45 minutes.
The Americans kept pressing in the second half, with Canada looking to counterattack through David and Larin. Borjan comfortably handled a Brenden Aaronson shot in the 59th minute.
Turner came up big in the 70th, stopping David’s long-range shot and then Larin’s close-range effort off the rebound.
Larin exited in the 73rd minute, to a standing ovation. U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter turned to his bench, bringing on all his available substitutes by the 76th minute.
The visitors finished with 10 men with defender Chris Robinson limping off in the dying minutes and Berhalter out of subs.
Borjan easily handled a Pulisic free kick in stoppage time.
Support from Davies
Canada was without Bayern Munich star Alphonso Davies, who has been sidelined by myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, after testing positive for COVID-19.
“Time to show .canmnt is here to stay. Good luck to my teammates tonight,” Davies tweeted before kickoff.
Once again, the 21-year-old from Edmonton still managed to entertain, livestreaming on Twitch as he watched the game and celebrated Larin’s goal.
Larin is LETHAL 🍁<br><br>Canada takes the early lead in Hamilton thanks to a goal from Cyle Larin <a href=”https://t.co/kMDMDZFGdc”>pic.twitter.com/kMDMDZFGdc</a>
Influential midfielder Stephen Eustaquio was also still missing, in wake of reports in Portugal he had tested positive for COVID.
Herdman made four changes to his starting 11, introducing Miller, Osorio, Mark-Anthony Kaye and Richie Laryea. Borjan captained the team with Atiba Hutchinson rested.
The Canadian starting 11 came into the match with a combined 345 caps, compared to 262 for the Americans.
Tyler Adams captained the U.S. for the seventh time. The team had previously gone 4-0-2 in matches where Adams wears the armband.
The U.S. was missing defender Brooks Lennon (ankle) and forward Tim Weah, who was unable to get into Canada due to his vaccination status.
Weah, who plays his club football for Lille, had his first vaccine dose and then contracted COVID-19 while awaiting his second shot, a combination that meets full vaccination requirements in France but not in Canada, according to Berhalter.
Canada and the U.S. tied 1-1 when they met in Nashville in September in both teams’ second outing of the final round.
While the Americans led the overall series between the two North American rivals at 16-9-12 (12-1-7 since 1990) coming into the match, Canada had a 6-4-4 edge in World Cup qualifying.
Sunday’s game was the first between the two on Canadian soil since October 2019, when Canada downed the U.S. 2-0 in CONCACAF Nations League play to end a 34-year, 17-match winless run against its North American neighbour.
It also marked the first-ever match at Tim Hortons Field for the Canadian men.