KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For once, John Herdman didn't mind his team going behind early. In fact he called it.
A defensive error led to a 10th-minute goal by Martinique in Canada's Gold Cup opener Sunday. But the Canadian men quickly restored order with three first-half goals in 10 minutes en route to a comfortable 4-1 win.
For Herdman, it was a chance for his team to show its mettle after a six-game World Cup qualifying run that saw it outscore mostly lesser sides 31-1. He knows tougher foes lie ahead at the CONCACAF championship.
"I'd said to the players in the team meeting before, 'Look, we've been cruising through these games … We could concede in the first 15 minutes.' I said, 'They've got the quality in (Emmanuel) Riviere.' And I said, 'We give them a chance and he'll put it away,'" Herdman said after the game.
"What I'd said is it'll be a gift because it'll give us our chance to respond. And that's exactly what they did," he added. "They were unfazed and we needed those sort of tests. I congratulated them in the dressing room at halftime. It was a wonderful response to that moment."
Riviere opened the scoring in the 10th minute for a physical Martinique side, taking advantage of an errant back pass by Mark Anthony-Kaye. Riviere got to the ball before Kamal Miller and, with goalkeeper Max Crepeau in no-man's land, poked it in off the goalpost.
Riviere, who plays for Crotone in Italy's second division, celebrated his goal with a well-executed forward double-somersault before a limited number of spectators at Children's Mercy Park.
But then Canada turned the tide.
Tajon Buchanan and Junior Hoilett played provider as Cyle Larin, Jonathan Osorio and Stephen Eustaquio scored to give 70th-ranked Canada a 3-1 lead at the half. Substitute Theo Corbeanu added an 89th-minute goal, his second in four Canadian appearances, with a tap-in off a Lucas Cavallini setup.
With two assists on the night, the 31-year-old Hoilett upped his total to a Canadian-record 14 surpassing the retired Dwayne De Rosario's total of 13.
"The team we have here makes it easy for me to get those assists," said Hoilett. "We have great finishers and a great all-around team. It's an honour playing with this group of brothers."
The Canadian men face No. 83 Haiti next on Thursday before wrapping up Group B next Sunday against the 20th-ranked U.S., also in Kansas City.
An undermanned Haiti lost 1-0 to the United States later Sunday on Sam Vines' 8th-minute header. CONCACAF said five Haiti players and one assistant coach had been isolated after returning positive COVID test results last week. The rest of the delegation tested negative.
Officially part of France, Martinique is unranked because it is not a member of FIFA. But it is an associate member of CONCACAF which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean.
Canada dominated possession and was on the front foot much of the game, with Martinique largely restricted to counter-attacks.
Martinique coach Mario Bocaly said his side lacked rhythm, having not played an official match since 2019. Still the underdogs looked dangerous at times and put Canada behind for the first time since a 1-0 loss to Iceland on Jan. 15, 2020.
Canada responded in the 16th minute with Larin outmuscling defender Romario Barthelery to head home a Hoilett corner for his 16th international goal in 38 games. The Besiktas forward has been red-hot this year for Canada with eight goals in seven games. He has scored in six of those matches, including the last three.
Larin is now tied with Alex Bunbury and Cavallini for fifth on the all-time Canadian men's scoring list. De Rosario holds the record at 22.
Four minutes later, the elusive Buchanan left Barthelery in his dust and fed Osorio, who corkscrewed his body from in-close to flick the ball past goalkeeper Gilles Meslien.
Buchanan helped set up the third in the 26th minute with another marauding run down the left flank before feeding Hoilett. The veteran winger sent the ball to a wide-open Eustaquio, who had plenty of time to pick a corner from the edge of the penalty box for his first for Canada.
With the game in hand, the Canadians cooled off as the second half progressed and Herdman rang in the changes.
Canada is without Alphonso Davies, Scott Arfield, Milan Borjan, Jonathan David and Atiba Hutchinson at the 16-team tournament. Davies, a star fullback with Bayern Munich, was in camp but injured his ankle in training and has returned to Germany.
Herdman said he had enjoyed the interplay between Davies and Buchanan in training.
"Unfortunately Davies isn't here but Tajon is bringing that excitement for the crowd and for the fans back home," he said of the 22-year-old from the New England Revolution. "Every team needs a player like that. Every fan base loves that type of player that plays carefree, they want to go after their fullbacks. A very mature performance."
Martinique's Barthelery didn't like it. He was replaced at halftime.
Steven Vitoria captained Canada, whose starting 11 came into the match with a combined 179 caps. Larin (37), Osorio (37) and Hoilett (31) accounted for 105 of those.
One negative note was six Canadians were booked.
Referee Ivan Barton of El Salvador laid down the law early, booking Martinique's Patrick Burner and Canada's Eustaquio in the first eight minutes of a scrappy start. Kaye, Vitoria, Cavallini, Liam Fraser and Alistair Johnston were also cautioned as the game wore on, as were two other Martinique players judged guilty of dangerous tackles.
The Canadian men improved their record against Martinique to 3-1-2. The loss came at the 2013 Gold Cup, thanks to a 93rd-minute long-range rocket by Fabrice Reuperne.
Canada needed a penalty shootout to defeat Martinique in the quarterfinals of the 2002 tournament. The Canadians won 4-0 last time out when they met in group play at the 2019 Gold Cup at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
Canada made a couple of roster changes ahead of kickoff.
Frank Sturing, a defender whose last club was Den Bosch in the Netherlands, came in for the injured Scott Kennedy. Vancouver defender Cristian Gutierrez was named as a replacement for Davies although Canada Soccer said he will stay with the Whitecaps until needed.
Midfielder Harry Paton is with Canada but was ruled out of Sunday's match because of COVID protocol resulting from a situation with his Scottish club Ross County.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 11, 2021