ORLANDO, Fla. — The United States earned its revenge against Canada on Friday night, beating its rivals 4-1 during their second meeting in the Nations League tournament.
One month after suffering a demoralizing 2-0 loss to Canada, the Americans punched home three goals in the opening half to take control of the rematch. The U.S. entered the match with something to prove — most important, that the October loss was a fluke.
It wasn’t a perfect game. Both sides were sloppy in midfield and coughed up the ball in their own defensive third. But the Americans improved the one area that had lacked the most during the teams’ first meeting — intensity.
“There’s been some real big criticism of the group,” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said. “It was a perceived lack of effort, a lack of heart. You couldn’t mention that today at all. The way the guys were fighting for each other, the way way they had their back, the amount of effort that was put in. … To me the difference was that we were ready to overcome anything.”
Without the crafty dribbling abilities of Christian Pulisic, the team looked to break the Canadians’ press by hammering them in transition.
That started in the second minute, when a transition breakaway set up a corner kick. The ball was whipped to the feet of Sergiño Dest, who flipped it up to Jordan Morris for the opening goal of the match.
“Coming into this game, it was all about intensity for us,” Morris said. “I think the biggest disappointment that we had in Toronto was we kind of got out-competed, so to come in today, our whole focus was on being more intense.”
The Americans set up another goal in transition in the 24th minute. A full-field switch to the backside of the goal set up Morris again, this time to feed Gyasi Zardes for a header to put the Americans ahead 2-0. The team added a third goal barely 10 minutes later when Aaron Long nodded a header in off a free kick.
Despite the scoreline, the U.S. didn’t sit in a low defensive block, allowing Canada to bring the fight to them. The Americans possessed the ball for less than 40% of the first half; but when they took the ball, it counted.
“We were trying to be effective on transition,” Zardes said. “When they turn the ball over, a lot of their players just stayed standing and didn’t track back, so that was a key element. Although they had the ball, once they turned it over, we just had to get on our horse and try to get the ball in the back of the net.”
In the second half, the extended defensive stand began to wear on the Americans. After several minutes of sustained pressure from the Canadians, the team broke through with a backpost header off a corner kick from Steven Vitória.
With the lead cut to two goals, the Canadians continued to force the Americans to defend, but the U.S. regained control in the waning minutes of the match. Zardes added a fourth and final goal in the 89th minute to cap the decisive win for the Americans.
The victory put the United States in strong position to win its group after beating Cuba 7-0 in October in the opening game of the group stage. The heavily favored Americans will face Cuba again on Tuesday in the Cayman Islands to close out group play.