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  • Decent start


    Well, that wasn’t bad at all.

    Canada put together a determined, opportunistic ninety minutes of soccer, downing Jamaica 1-0 in the opening match of Gold Cup 2009.

    Let’s go little-picture on this one:


    This was not a strategic masterwork, moving in either direction. Much more a case of “see where it lands and try to put a move together.” A fairly mid-standard CONCACAF match, in other words.

    One-nil always seemed likely, and games like that always come down to the goal you score and the goal they don’t.

    The one Jamaica didn’t came on 64 minutes, when former Toronto FC defender Tyrone Marshall sprang Ricardo Fuller (Stoke City) on a clean breakaway. Canada netkeep Greg Sutton, without a team and looking to make a point, played it perfectly, forcing Fuller to commit, then shutting down the shot.

    This is Sutton’s specialty. His positioning and timing, one-on-one with an enemy striker, are superb. He compacts his lanky, six-foot-five frame into a ball, then dares the attacker to shoot. He then uncoils in whatever direction, and literally absorbs the ball.

    It’s a skill he needed many times playing behind Toronto’s cavernous back one-point-six last year (“back four” would be an unsupportable overstatement). But now he’s out of work, thanks to rookie sensation Stefan Frei and some pretty dreadful MLS roster rules.

    I hope everyone who needs a goalie in this part of the world saw this save. It was doubly important, because Jamaica really seemed to be taking control after halftime.

    As for Canada’s goal – well, there are two Ali Gerbas. There’s the one with marvelously subtle ball-control and first-touch skills, who can rip home a goal every two games with deft touches and a rocket shot. Then there’s the one who can’t hold a job, and bounces from team to team all over the soccer-playing world.

    This was the first Gerba – gorgeously. The ball floats in from behind, and he’s got to decide if the defender half a step behind him can get a head to it. He has to choose whether to force a header, or let the ball bounce and go for the swing-volley.

    Gerba correctly picked the latter, hitting a nasty corkscrewing far-post diagonal which could not be denied.

    The other eye-catcher, for me, was young Josh Simpson subbing on at halftime. He quickly took off on a long, defence-unravelling solo run which won a corner kick, then forced a tough save from Jamaica goalie Donovan Ricketts – all within his first minute on the field.

    Admittedly, this was an opportunistic win. Canadian players came up big here and there to claim it. It wasn’t a case of sustained ball control, overall tactics or superior field-wide talent.

    But you can win that way in this competition. I did think, however, that both Costa Rica and El Salvador – in the nightcap match – showed better stretches of sustained control, that could have put them in the driver’s seat against either Canada or Jamaica tonight.

    But Canada goes into Tuesday’s first-place clash with El Salvador – in warm, happy, red-shirt friendly Columbus – tied for first in a group where there’s a good chance three teams will advance. Canada could book a spot in the quarters, in other words, without even needing a result against Costa Rica.

    Put like that, the small picture looks okay.

    And I’m perfectly happy to stay there for at least another few days.


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