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Canada raises bar of expectations with solid performance against Costa Rica

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Canada hasn’t achieved four points in a Gold Cup group stage since the 2011 edition of the tournament and on that occasion, it wasn’t enough to qualify.

While another positive performance should give room for optimism in the continued revival of the Canadian program, there won’t be anyone planning any trips to Glendale or Philadelphia just yet.

That said, four points through two games including a creditable 1-1 draw with Costa Rica on Tuesday night in muggy conditions in Houston will have heads raising that finally progression through the group stage is at hand.

“I think we’re going to make something of this Gold Cup,” said goalkeeper Milan Borjan, who, like many other players around him turned in an excellent performance. “With a new, amazing coach that gives the guys the confidence, gives the spirit for the games. It’s really good.”

Alphonso Davies will rightfully get a lot of credit but players like Scott Arfield, Michael Petrasso and even surprise inclusions like Mark-Anthony Kaye put in solid outings.

Canada gave up a few chances early but then Arfield crossed to Davies in the 26th minute and he put away an exception finish after timing his run to leave his defender flat-footed.

Arfield dictated good spells of the game and was a solid box-to-box runner in getting back a few times to help the back line.

“This guy never stops,” said coach Octavio Zambrano. “He’s a player with a fire inside. This is what Canada should be. This is what I want all of our players to showcase.”

It wasn’t without its wrinkles, however, and some relaxed marking allowed Costa Rica to level the game within the final few minutes of the first half when Francisco Calvo headed home a David Guzman corner kick.

Calvo looked to have eluded both Samuel Adekugbe and Steven Vitoria to take his chance but to Canada’s credit, it didn’t deflate the team and sink back into the expectation that Costa Rica would just roll in the second half.

“The defenders did a really good job. We received the one goal from the corner kick and that’s the whole team’s fault,” said Borjan. “That’s how I look at it. It’s not one guy. It’s the whole team. We’ve got to do a better job on that but we’ve got to get ready for the next game and try to beat Honduras and get first place in the group.”

There’s a bit of swagger now in the Canadian game with two results in two games.

Canada still hasn’t beaten Costa Rica in a decade but, given that it had  just pushed World Cup quarterfinalists to the limits and took a well-placed opener, the team is in a good place at this stage of the game.

“It would have been great, I thought, to go 1-0 up at halftime because I believe we could have managed the game better and perhaps get a second goal if we would have regrouped in certain tactical areas where we were soft,” said Zambrano. “But we took that goal and it changed the whole paradigm of the game so, in the end, we’ve got a point and we’re in first place in our group and you can’t help but congratulate our players for their effort.”

Next up is another date with destiny against Honduras but Canada would very well be in a position to have already qualified but that won’t be known until closer at hand.

Fortunately, the wait between the second and third games is shorter than between the first and second but this is turning out to be an exciting tournament to watch the latest rebuild of the Canadian men’s soccer program.

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