NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Although the U.S. U23 team spent countless hours preparing to face Canada in Olympic qualification group play, the Canucks still managed keep a few cards close to their chest.
After his team's shocking 2-0 loss to Canada, U.S. head coach Caleb Porter admitted his team was caught a bit off guard by Canada's lineup and tactics.
“They set up in a Christmas tree, 4-3-2-1, and it's not a shape they've used,” he said in his post-game press conference. “That's a shape you use to really stop a team and they did that to shut us down.”
And shut the U.S. down they did.
In clogging up the midfield, Canada effectively stymied the Americans' central midfield trio of Joe Corona, Mix Diskerud and Jared Jeffrey, who were devastatingly effective in the team's opening 6-0 win against Cuba
“Essentially we were three versus five through the middle,” Porter said.
Corona, who scored a hat trick against Cuba, turned in an anonymous performance, and was withdrawn at halftime for Joe Gyau.
Things weren't much easier for the team's lone striker.
“They had the two center backs there, two holding midfielders right in front of me, so it was tough to get a rhythm in the middle of the park,” forward Teal Bunbury said to reporters. He was withdrawn in the 56th minute in favor of Terrence Boyd, who also struggled to get much going.
The Canadian gameplan to clog up the middle of the field worked wonders due to the United States' inability to take advantage of the extra width on the flanks caused by the traffic jam in the center of the park.
“It also allowed us to have a two versus one advantage on the flank,” Porter said of Canada's formation. “I didn't think we exploited that well enough.
“In that type of game, if the team is going to play that way then you have to beat them wide and I didn't think we created enough,” he added.
Canada's brilliant performance against the U.S. was in sharp contrast to its first game - a drab scoreless draw against El Salvador. Changes to Canada's lineup were expected, but Porter admitted he was caught off guard by just how significant a reconstruction the lineup underwent.
“We were a little surprised when we saw the start sheet and they had seven new guys in the lineup,” he admitted.
Among those seven new starters were the two goalscorers, Doneil Henry and Lucas Cavallini, as well as the man who provided both the assists, Philippe Davies.
“They came out with a plan, they were organized and actually went through with it very well, so we have to give credit where credit's due,” defender Zarek Valentin told reporters after the game.
The stunning loss leaves the U.S. needing to pick up the pieces in time for what is now a crucial match against El Salvador Monday night.
“We're not going to panic," Porter said. “We're going to stay confident and we're going to get back to work. You'll see a very sharp team against El Salvador.”
If the U.S. is caught off guard once more against El Salvador, its Olympic dream will be extinguished in the Music City.
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