Good Monday morning Caps fans, hope you all are off work today and enjoying a bit of a break. CWTC never takes a break however, especially after a busy football weekend.
If you’re a Caps/Canada fan, it probably was a pretty good couple of days for you. The Caps MacGyvered a win on Saturday night and Canada nabs a draw against the U.S., while looking the better team for much of the second half.
I am not as fatalistic about the match as many U.S. fans are but there is no doubt that John Herdman outcoached Gregg Berhalter in the second 45 minutes, something which is alarming for the USMNT (but not a fireable offense in my opinion).
The game plan for Canada was clear: sit back and rely on potent counter attacks, a strategy which was effective all match long, even after Alphonso Davies had to leave with an apparent injury. The fact that it only brought about one goal was largely down to finishing, with Cyle Larin whiffing on a couple good looks in the first half before burying his goal in the second.
The U.S. cannot unlock well disciplined, defensive looks at the moment and Canada recognized that and forced them to work hard for any chances. It was well-executed and will probably be the blueprint that other teams use against the Yanks going forward. At the end of the day, a draw was a pretty fair result and one where Canada will be much happier than the U.S.
It should be said, however, that the game was quite entertaining, a sure recognition that these are two of CONCACAF’s elite teams, with some of the best players in the federation on the pitch. Any U.S. fan who expects Canada to be anything less than a favorite to qualify for the next World Cup is poorly evaluating how talented our northern neighbors are. There is always a bit of surliness between the two countries (with some handbags on the pitch last night underscoring that) but there should be a mutual respect there as well because the youth and quality of both sides are quite similar.
With El Salvador waiting in the wings, Canada has the chance to end the first WCQ window with five points, a strong start and one which will likely leave them in the top three places, albeit with a lot of matches left to play. There were some areas for improvement (the central midfield didn’t look as formidable for Canada and there were some defensive miscues) and the El Salvador match will probably give a read on where they stand. But there is not as much finger pointing and not as much pressure on the Canadians at the moment, when compared with their counterparts to the south.
Oh and the Caps? Only went and won their fourth straight league match in a row, a feat they have not achieved since 2015. It required a second half turnaround (again) but it featured some inspired coaching from Vanni Sartini, who had to get creative after the club’s lack of midfield depth left them lacking in other key areas, most notably the Janio Bikel-sized hole in midfield.
I was initially leery of moving Cristian Dajome back to fullback but it turned out quite well and Sartini’s decision to bring on Deiber Caicedo won the Caps the game, both literally (he scored the winning goal) and conceptually (he gave the Caps a new, more dynamic threat they hadn’t had in the first half). Both Erik Godoy and Florian Jungwirth (and, later, Ranko Veselinovic) were in fine form as well, despite some shaky fullback play, and Godoy was arguably man-of-the-match with a goal on top of his steady defense.
Real Salt Lake also turned things around in their match Saturday, meaning the Caps are still technically on the outside looking in for a playoff spot. But a big match Friday against Portland will give them a measuring stick to see if their good run of form can be continued against a Cascadia rival — and a key rival for one of those playoff spots.
After a blowout win last week, Saturday was the first time Sartini really had to make adjustments tactically and he passed the test with flying colors. This was one area Marc dos Santos often struggled in and it was nice to see a manager who was so aggressive in making tweaks and moving players around positionally, even though it was a bit hard to follow in the moment.
Sartini could work himself into being in contention for the permanent job, though I think it is far too soon to be thinking about that. In the meantime, enjoy the winning streak — even if it ends Friday, the Caps are in a far better place and have made the end of this season far more interesting than many of us expected.
Shameless Self Promotion
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