Colin Miller found plenty of reasons to be positive Thursday night, but the result was the same for Canada in its second game at the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Canada’s rebuilding men’s senior team saw its hopes of qualifying for the Gold Cup playoff round fade in a 2-0 loss to Mexico.
“I actually thought we played very well in spells,” said Miller. “I thought we showed maturity in possession. We’re still not the finished article in the final third. That’s for sure.”
Miller praised his youth-laden squad for holding Mexico to goals off a corner kick and a penalty kick, and rebounding from a disappointing opening loss to tiny Martinique on a last-minute goal.
“To pick the group up and get them ready for the powerhouse that Mexico are speaks volumes for the character, and a well done everyone within our association for helping along,” said Miller.
But Canada fell to 0-2 and, with only one round-robin game remaining, will be hard-pressed to advance. Mexico evened its record at 1-1 before a pro-Mexican crowd of 28,354 at CenturyLink Field. The Mexicans have won the last two Gold Cups.
Canadian goalkeeper Milan Borjan, who faced seven shots while Canada was credited with three, also praised his club, but was more blunt in his critique.
“They didn’t have a lot of chances,” said Borjan. “The last game, (Martinique) had a lot more chances than Mexico today. We played really good, we shaped good, awesome defending. But again, we didn’t score a goal, and that’s what’s killing us the whole tournament.
“We came out with our heads up high, and today we showed that we can play with any team. But we just needed somebody to score.”
Raul Jimenez, in the first half, and Marco Fabian, in the second, scored for Mexico.
The Mexicans atoned for an upset loss to Panama in their first game.
Despite Seattle’s proximity to Canada, the Canadians were clearly the visiting side. Mexico’s supporters vastly outnumbered Canadians in the crowd. Every section of the stadium was flush with fans in green jerseys, with many sporting Mexican flags.
Most of Canada’s fans occupied a small corner of the stadium.
Despite the joyous atmosphere, both teams entered the game in difficult circumstances. With new coach Benito Floro waiting take the helm after this tournament, Canada is attempting to rebuild its struggling squad in wake of a humiliating 8-1 loss to Honduras in World Cup qualifying last year.
Meanwhile, Mexican coach Jose Manuel (Chepo) de la Torre has come under fire because of his team’s opening loss to Panama and a 1-0-5 record in World Cup qualifying. Reports have speculated that he will be fired unless Mexico wins its third consecutive Gold Cup.
Both Canada’s and Mexico’s tasks became more difficult when Panama beat Martinique earlier Thursday. The win gave Panama a perfect 2-0 mark and assured it will advance to the knock-out stage regardless of how it fares against Mexico in the final round-robin game for both teams on Sunday in Denver.
Miller stuck with Borjan after he gave up a last-minute goal in the loss to Martinique. But Miller was forced to shuffle other parts of his lineup after midfielder Russell Teibert missed the game due to an illness picked up earlier this week and captain Will Johnson (illness) and striker Simeon Jackson (club commitment) left the club along with reserve striker Randy Edwini-Bonsu (injury.)
“We obviously missed those players, the quality, but I thought the players who filled in tonight stood up and were counted,” said Miller.
Canada spent much of the first half hoping for a quick counter attack while often folding five or six players back to defend. However, the Mexicans still found space, recording five shots on goal and earning seven corner-kicks.
Canada mustered just two shots while forcing three corner-kicks in the first 45 minutes.
Borjan was tested early as he two-fisted away a free kick from Fabian from just outside the corner of the Canadian box. A little while later, Canada had a chance but Marcus Haber’s close-range shot from a sharp angle was stopped.
Haber had another scoring chance in the 29th minute as Mexican goalkeeper Jonathan Orozco dove to stop his header off a Kyle Bekker free kick.
Jimenez gave Mexico a 1-0 lead on a header in the 42nd minute as Jorge Enriquez flicked a corner kick onto him. The corner kick came after Borjan robbed Marquez from about 10 yards out after an errant bounce off a Canadian defender.
It was Jimenez’s first career goal at the senior international level. He is new to the national squad this year.
Canada started the second half with a new striker as Tosaint Ricketts replaced Haber, but the change had little impact. Miller said Haber suffered a heel injury that needs to be assessed further.
Fabian was awarded his penalty-kick in the 57th minute as Canadian defender David Edgar was whistled for tripping him slightly in the box. Goalkeeper Borjan guessed the wrong way as Fabian rolled in a shot to the opposite corner of the net.
The infraction came a day after Edgar spoke of the importance of staying disciplined at the back. Later, Edgar was lucky only to get a yellow card after he delivered a kick from behind to Jimenez’s mid-section after the ball had left the vicinity.
Now, Canada faces a must-win situation Sunday against Panama in Denver. But a victory will still not assure the Canadians a playoff berth. The top two teams in each of three pools advance along with the two third-place clubs, regardless of pool, that have the best records.
“We’re going to go for a win and then see what happens,” said Borjan. “Nothing’s over yet.”
Notes: After the game, Miller said Teibert returned from hospital Thursday morning following tests and will likely rejoin his Vancouver Whitecaps MLS side while getting further assessment instead of going to Denver. Miller is holding out hope that Johnson can fly into Denver for the game. ... Mexico lost Jorge Enriquez to an apparent hamstring injury early in the second half. ... Canada’s Keven Aleman, 19, earned his first senior international cap as he subbed on for Kyle Bekker in the second half. Aleman also had the option of playing for Costa Rica, where he was born, but chose to suit up for Canada instead. ... Unlike most FIFA-sanctioned matches, the game was played on artificial turf. CONCACAF opted not to use a temporary grass overlay like the one used here in June for the Whitecaps-Seattle Sounders game and a U.S.-Panama World Cup qualifier. Both MLS and FIFA have given CenturyLink Field’s artificial turf negative reviews, but still permitted games to be played on it.