TORONTO — The post-mortem is in on Canada's Gold Cup campaign and coach John Herdman has plenty to chew on.
He believes the emotional fallout from the Canadian men's shock 3-2 quarterfinal loss to Haiti last month was compounded by the team's success going into the tournament.
"We just felt we were in a really good state and were ready to take the country forward," Herdman said in an interview. "And I think everyone felt more the shock of 'Did that really happen?'"
The Canadian men posted shutouts over Martinique (4-0) and Cuba (7-0) around a 3-1 loss to Mexico in group play. It then led Haiti 2-0 at the half in the quarterfinal before coughing up three goals in a painful, sudden tournament exit.
Canada had not lost since Herdman took the reins in January 2018, shifting over from the women's program. But the wins came over lesser foes in New Zealand, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Dominica, St. Kitts & Nevis, French Guiana and Trinidad and Tobago (in a closed-door friendly).
The Gold Cup opening victory over Martinique was Canada's sixth straight, tying a Canadian mark (the Trinidad & Tobago game was considered a B international).
Going into the CONCACAF Championship, Canada had outscored the opposition 21-1 — including 18-1 in four CONCACAF Nations League qualifying matches — under Herdman. But its feet had not been put to the fire.
"Were we prepared going into the Gold Cup for those (tough) moments?" Herdman asked.
"I don't think we had been in those moments enough. Those moments when genuine adversity is in your face," he added. " As a staff and a group of players, we hadn't performed under that sort of situation."
Herdman rotated his roster for the Mexico game, making six changes to his starting 11. It wasn't Canada's strongest lineup, although he introduced Scott Arfield, Jonathan Osorio and Jonathan David around the 60-minute mark.
"These are some of the things you look back on and say 'Was there a better way of doing it?' In hindsight if we knew Cuba was going to be that weak, would we have approached the Mexico game to give them that sort of that tough, tough experience to get them ready for something like Haiti?"
In reviewing specific lapses at the tournament, Herdman pointed to the poor back pass that led to Haiti's first goal in its second-half comeback.
"That was a carbon copy of an error that was made in the French Guiana game. Again you look internally at your processes and say it's not a mistake until it happens twice. I don't think we had fully addressed that part of our team."
Two different players (Samuel Piette and Marcus Godinho) were involved in the back passes that started the defence unravelling. But the end result was the same.
"Again, maybe tougher conversations need to have happened earlier," Herdman said.
Another question is the state of Canada's defence.
"We conceded six goals when we were put under the test against better teams and you can't concede six goals," Herdman said.
He said partnerships in the back four are under review, as is examining whether other players need playing time there. A search for eligible recruits plying their trade in top leagues is also under way.
Against Haiti, Canada played a back four of Godinho (FSV Zwickau, Germany), Doneil Henry and Derek Cornelius (Vancouver Whitecaps) and Alphonso Davies (who normally plays further up the flank when he sees action for Bayern Munich).
Atiba Hutchinson (Besiktas, Turkey) and Mark Anthony-Kaye (LAFC) also played in the backline during the tournament. Both play in the midfield for their clubs.
Herdman says most of those are playing at the "Tier 3 and Tier 4 level across the world."
"And some of them are what we would describe as Category 2 players. Those are guys that are not always starting in those Tier 3, Tier 4 teams. And that's just where we are.
"We can complain and say 'We can't fix this, we need more talent there.' But we have to find a way in our identity and our defensive organization where our front five players can give more to the back five to make sure that there's a greater solidarity there. And we put more attention on that part of the game."
Asked what level he considered MLS, Herdman replied: "Tier 3."
He considers Tier 1 as the top five leagues in the world — England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain. Tier 2 is made up of the likes of Mexico, Belgium and Turkey.
For him, Tier 3 includes MLS, Japan's J-League and the Argentina and Brazil domestic leagues.
If there is a positive to the Haiti loss, Herdman said his 78th-ranked team will learn from the experience. And he does have talent at his disposal.
Canada's next test is the CONCACAF Nations League with home-and-away games against Cuba and the U.S. in September, October and November.
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