VAN DIEST: Canada well prepared for Gold Cup clash against Costa Rica

Over a week after losing to the United States in its final group game at the tournament, Canada will face Costa Rica at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The winner moves on to face either Mexico or Honduras in the semifinal on Thursday.

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The Canadian men’s national soccer team had plenty of time to digest its first three games at the CONCACAF Gold Cup and prepare for the quarter-final.


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Over a week after losing to the United States in its final group game at the tournament, Canada will face Costa Rica at AT&T Stadium (7 p.m. ET, OneSoccer) in Arlington, Texas on Sunday. The winner moves on to face either Mexico or Honduras in the semifinal on Thursday.

“I think after the group stage, you need that mental and emotional detachment for the players,” said Canada coach John Herdman. “For the players, they’ve enjoyed having a little bit of detachment from that (tournament) cadence, and they’ve been able to reconnect. You’re only getting two or three training sessions within that week with recovery time.

“They’ve had a chance to build on the gaps they’ve seen, and hopefully, grow together in some of the tactical elements.”

Canada finished second in its group behind the United States after falling to the hosts 1-0 in Kansas City last Saturday. Canada played well in the contest and probably deserved at least a tie, but the loss gave them a tougher road to the final.

Costa Rica won its group, also including Jamaica, Suriname and Guadeloupe, as did Mexico, facing El Salvador, Trinidad and Tobago, along with Guatemala.

“I think this will be a game where both teams have nothing to lose, they can put it all on the line,” Herdman said. “With Costa Rica, I think they’re an experienced team, they have a core of players that know how to fight together. They’ve been to some big competitions, big tournaments and have seen a lot in football.


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“We’ve got a bit of a balance in there of young players that this is their first experience at a Gold Cup are desperate to take this team to the next level. I expect a really good match-up.”

Canada had to play the Gold Cup without rising stars Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David, who are both back with their respective European clubs recovering from injuries. They’ll also have to make do without forwards Cyle Larin and Ayo Akinola, who were both injured in the loss to the United States.

Akinola sustained a knee injury on a tackle from behind in the contest.

“It’s a big blow,” Herdman said. “I think emotionally the next couple of days after the injuries was difficult. For me, it was an ACL injury and that has much deeper connotations than just tournament and games and I really did feel for Ayo Akinola; that’s a tough journey to go on for a player and he’s going to need a lot of support.

“It was an emotional toll that you never want that to happen on your watch. I had it once on the women’s side.”

Without the two offensive players available, Herdman has recalled Tesho Akindele of Calgary, who is currently playing for Orlando City in the MLS.

“When you think about Tesho, he was so unlucky not to be originally selected for this team,” Herdman said. “We’ve had conversations all through the year with Tesh. He came in and helped us in the June qualifiers, he came in for three days to help prepare the team going into those qualification games.

“He’s an absolute diamond of a guy, one of the top, top guys in the business in terms of his humanistic qualities and his attitude. I think he has a big part to play to get us to this final.”


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Three years ago, Canada were knocked out at this stage of the Gold Cup, blowing a 2-0 lead in a 3-2 loss to Haiti.

With a week to prepare for the quarter-final this year, Herdman believes his team is in a better position heading into the knockout stages of the tournament.

“The last time we go to this stage, we had training canceled for lightning, and it felt cluttered,” Herdman said. “This time we’ve been able to manage those days. We have no excuses, we just have to get out and put it all out there.”

Costa Rica is considered one of the better teams in the region and have qualified the FIFA World Cup four times since its first appearance in 1990.

Costa Rica made it to the quarter-finals of the 2016 World Cup in Brazil, defeating Italy in the group stage along the way.

Canada has not qualified for the World Cup since its only appearance in 1986.

Costa Rica is one of seven teams Canada will be facing in the final CONCACAF World Cup qualifying group stage starting in September.

“Preparation for this game has been great,” said Canada goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau. “We’ve lost a few guys in this tournament, but that’s the reality of things. That’s where the depth is tested and we have a number of guys that can step in. They know each other and know the system.

“The fact we’re losing guys is unfortunate, but it’s a reality that every team has been dealing with.”


On Twitter: @DerekVanDiest

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