Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Canada's Gold Cup: A post-mortem

Last night Canada made an inglorious exit from the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup with a 1-1 draw against Panama.

So it ends.

Let's get the weak excuses out of the way:
  • Canada's players aren't used to the kind of heat they faced in Tampa and Kansas City, unlike their Caribbean and Central American opponents.
  • The injury to Atiba Hutchinson disrupted much of what they wanted to do in the midfield.
  • The team can feel hard done by on account of the flaky best-3rd place system when other groups got to beat up on the likes of Cuba and Grenada.
We'd normally throw CONCACAF officiating into that list, but in this tournament that was one of the lone bright spots for Canada.

The players: Should any of them feel good about their performance?

I don't think I'm speaking out of turn by saying that a number of players did not perform well in this Gold Cup. We had the glaring error from Lars against the USA. We had the uninspired midfield play from, well, almost everybody. There were defensive lapses. Gilt-edged chances were missed.

Let's start from the back.

Lars Hirschfeld: His one mistake cost Canada a goal, so despite an otherwise decent performance against the USA he goes in the bad books. D
Milan Borjan: He was solid against Guadeloupe and for most of the Panama game. But when it counted late, he made a critical mistake. He also has been scored upon on corners in 2 of his last 3 starts against much shorter teams. He shows a worry tendency to charge for balls he can't get to, and his trouble organizing his defence. B-
Marcel de Jong
: Was repeatedly out of position against the USA, then injured himself in his sleep. D
Mike Klukowski
: A breath of fresh air, as he actually seemed to know what to do when he had the ball, and combined well with Simpson. Good defensively too. B+
Andre Hainault
: I felt that the centre backs were the least of our concerns. He even seemed to get the notion into his head to get forward with the ball a bit when Panama was leaving acres of space. B
Kevin McKenna
: McKenna, our captain, seemed to win almost everything in the air and was rarely caught out of position. B+
Nik Ledgerwood
: I thought in the first half against Panama he was among Canada's best players, but he did not have a strong tournament. He was decent defensively, but apart from the first half against Panama, offered little bringing the ball forward. This position is a point of weakness and I'm almost be happy to see Stalteri back there. C-
Terry Dunfield
: I tend to look too kindly on players who always make the easy pass instead of trying too much on losing possession (De Ro). Dunfield didn't give away the ball cheaply, but rarely did much useful with it either. He is likely a bit out of his depth at this level, though he did a lot of good defending against Panama. D+
Atiba Hutchinson
: A credible performance against the Yanks, then forced by an overbearing PSV to withdraw due to a minor injury. B+
Dwayne De Rosario
: It would be hard for me to go negative on a guy who scored both of our goals if they weren't both penalties. He drifted in and (mostly) out of games, gave away possession, and was generally sulky. He was better in the early going against Panama, as was most of the team, but I'm beginning to question if he has any future with Canada. C-
Will Johnson
: I feel a bit badly for the guy. When he was played in his natural position, in front of the back four, he did well. When we was pushed into a more attacking role out wide he looked lost. I'd rank him lower if it weren't for the many times I saw him break up an attack tracking back on a full 50 yard sprint. C-
Josh Simpson
: Considering his performance in the Ecuador friendly and the opener against the USA the rest of his tournament was a disappointment. Partly this must go down to coaching, but he must also try something different if every flank run ends with him turning and passing the ball back. B-
Julian de Guzman
: I thought he was good to very good against Panama. The other matches were poor. D
Simeon Jackson
: His best moments came when he worked from the outside in to create chances for himself and others. Unfortunately, he failed to finish any of those chances. The most glaring mistake was the clear cut breakaway early yesterday when he failed even to hit the target. We expect better from a premiership player. C-
Ali Gerba
: The probably had the team's best scoring chances from open play. Unfortunately they came in the last 30 minutes of a match against the U.S. where Canada was already down 2-0, and he was trying to shoot past the keeper in the tournament. He did not rise to the occasion against Guadeloupe, and lacked the fitness even to get into the match against Panama. C+

The other players didn't see enough time on the pitch to leave an impression.

Whither Hart?

My initial reaction yesterday was that Stephen Hart needs to go. World Cup qualifying, albeit an easy preliminary stage, begins in the fall. Canada will not advance to Brazil playing the way they did last night. Tactically, the team seemed to lack the know how necessary in order to create chances in the final third. Hart did not seem to make adjustments.

But like most fans, I know less of tactics than he does. What was most disappointing was the lack of urgency in the team. The players are too comfortable with Hart, not surprising since they were involved in his selection. There is a right situation for a players' coach but Canada is not it. We need a hard-ass.

If I thought there was any chance that the CSA would pony up for one of those interchangeable Dutch, Serb or Turkish coaches that always seem to be coaching Central American and African teams in the World Cup, I'd dump Hart in a second. He's had his chance to impress and hasn't grasped it.

But that's seems impossibly unlikely. The best we can hope for, I suppose, is that Hart learns from this experience and applies those lessons once we come up to qualifiers. Even if I'm almost ready to give up on Hart, I'm not ready to give up on 2014 since it represents our best chance to qualify for the next decade. In case you haven't noticed, Canada has few if any prospects aged 20-24 that you'd expect to form the core of the team when we get start qualification for 2018 in 2015-16.

I hope your evening last night was better than mine.


Pompey Canuck said...

I think the D for De Jong is generous.

The questions around Hart were always going to come but I think he should take the team through the 2014 WCQ & WC if we get there. If WCQ don't go well then he is out.

Anonymous said...

I felt Dunfield looked a step below at this level in terms of athleticism and overall skillset but at least in this last match he looked first to try to play the ball forward more often but little dynamic movement was happening and once again he opted for the safe ball. Johnson has a big engine and a lot of hustle but that doesn't translate into speed, so is an offensive negative on the wing in most 1 v 1s. I haven't rewatched the tape yet but DeGuzman got some good reviews for this match so that's a positive, but consistency has been an issue for him at club level. Klukowski's a better fullback in the short game possession passing but he had some poor giveaways during the Panama game. Ledgerwood is strictly a lower division journeyman: at 26 he's not a prospect but merely a stopgap type, a younger Pozniak. Yet he was the best guy available, so that's more evidence for the younger depth issues we have discussed elsewhere. The CBs maligned at the beginning of this tourney, were indeed a bright spot.

Anonymous said...

oops, forgot to mention that the above is from me, BearcatSA!

jonathan said...

Our depth problem at RB has me wondering whether Stalteri might have been a useful addition for this tournament, if healthy.