WILLEMSTAD, Curaçao — Strikers Jonathan David and Cyle Larin carried their red-hot club form onto the international scene Saturday, helping Canada to a 2-0 CONCACAF Nations League win over Curaçao in its first outing since the World Cup in Qatar.
David, whose 19 goals for Lille are tied for the French scoring lead with Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappé, and Larin, who has five goals in eight games for Spain's Real Valladolid, scored first-half goals to secure the victory.
The win moves Canada (2-1-0) into top spot in League A's Group C, above Honduras (2-1-0) on goal difference. And it sets up a showdown with Honduras on Tuesday at Toronto's BMO Field to determine who wins the group — and moves on to the tournament's final four in June in Las Vegas.
A draw will do the trick for 53rd-ranked Canada. No. 81 Honduras needs to win.
Canada missed out on the semifinals in the inaugural 2019-20 edition of the CONCACAF Nations League, finishing runner-up to the eventual champion U.S. in its group on goal difference.
Tuesday's match comes one year and a day after the 4-0 win over Jamaica at BMO Field that secured the Canadians' qualification for the World Cup.
Curaçao, ranked 86th, was reduced to 10 men in the 37th minute after defender Jurien Gaaru was issued a second yellow card by Costa Rican referee Juan Gabriel Calderon for fouling Ismael Kone. Gaaru and Canadian Richie Laryea were both shown yellows in the 13th minute for tangling in advance of a free kick.
The Canadian men had several chances to add to their lead but were unable to convert. Still the outcome was never in doubt once they went ahead.
"It was a professional performance on the road," said Canada coach John Herdman, who had to watch from the stands after being red-carded in a June loss in Honduras. "We talked about being really disciplined tonight defensively and then to control the moments we could. And I thought our team did that.
"We knew we had more quality and we could create moments that we could capitalize (on). Our layers in form took those moments."
Saturday's result also secured Canada and Honduras berths in this summer's Gold Cup by virtue of a top-two finish in the group. Curaçao (1-3-0) will be relegated to League B after finishing third in the pool.
The only blemish for Canada was centre back Steven Vitoria was cautioned in the 55th minute and, having picked up a yellow in the fifth minute of the game in Honduras in June, will be suspended for Tuesday's rematch.
For Herdman, the performance demonstrated his team's maturity amidst the difficult conditions that travel in CONCACAF often produces.
"There's always heat and difficult pitches and a motivated opponent. But I think the players came through," he said.
It was 26 Celsius at kickoff at Ergilio Hato Stadium in the Curaçao capital. And it took the Canadians a bit to get going on the artificial turf.
David put Canada ahead in the 23rd minute after a period of prolonged Canadian possession. Laryea played provider, sending a perfect pass through a sea of defenders into the Curaçao penalty box, allowing David to redirect the ball past Columbus Crew goalkeeper Eloy Room.
It was David's 23rd goal in 39 appearances for Canada. Alphonso Davies played his part in the goal, drawing the defence with an overlapping run on the right of Laryea.
Larin doubled the lead in the 43rd minute, taking a pass from David in space in the penalty box and sending a perfectly placed shot past a diving Room for his Canadian men's record 26th goal in 59 appearances.
Found unmarked in the Curaçao penalty box, Davies had a good chance to make in 3-0 in the 53rd minute but squibbed his shot high.
Curaçao created a couple of chances during the game but lacked clinical finishing. Captain Cuco Martina had a clear shot in the 58th minute but sent it right at goalkeeper Milan Borjan.
Moments later, Room beat Larin to the ball to extinguish another Canada attack. Room stopped Davies again in the 60th minute.
Davies and Larin exited soon after, likely to save them for Tuesday's contest.
Atiba Hutchinson came on in the 70th minute to earn cap No. 102, adding to his Canadian men's record. The 40-year-old midfielder has seen limited action this season with Turkey's Besiktas.
Winger Tajon Buchan, who arrived in camp with a minor injury suffered with Belgium's Club Brugge, came on in the 78th minute for Canada. Substitute Charles-Andreas Brym sent a header high in the 80th minute.
Saturday's game was the first for the Canadian men since Dec. 1 when they wrapped up World Cup play in a 2-1 loss to No. 11 Morocco.
Assistant coaches Mauro Biello and Eric Tenllado manned the Canadian sideline with Herdman in the stands behind the bench, with radio in hand.
Defender Alistair Johnston was also suspended, ending his Canadian men's record of 31 straight games, after getting two yellow cards in Honduras.
Borjan captained Canada, behind a backline of Vitoria, Derek Cornelius and Scott Kennedy. Laryea and Davies served as wingbacks with Jonathan Osorio, Stephen Eustaquio and Kone in midfield behind Larin and David.
Toronto FC's Laryea and Osorio were the only MLS players in Canada's starting 11.
Five of the Curaçao starters play in the Netherlands with two in England, two in Turkey, one in Romania and one in MLS.
The Canadian men blanked Curaçao 4-0 last June at B.C. Place Stadium with Davies, a former Whitecap playing his first game in Vancouver since October 2018, scored twice.
Canada won the only other meeting with Curaçao, a 2-1 decision in Montreal in June 2017. That game marked Davies' debut, becoming the youngest player in Canadian men's history at 16 years, seven months and 11 days.
Dutch-born Remko Bicentini, in his second stint as Curaçao coach, spent six months with the Canadian team as a technical assistant in 2021 before taking charge of Curaçao again last August.
Bicentini and Curaçao take on World Cup champion Argentina in a friendly Tuesday at Santiago del Estero.
The CONCACAF Nations League features 41 teams from North and Central America and the Caribbean split into three tiers: League A (12 teams), B (16) and C (13).
Canada lost 2-1 to Honduras in San Pedro Sula after beating Curaçao last June. Those matches came amid turmoil in the Canada camp, with players refusing to take part in a planned friendly against Panama over ongoing labour talks.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 25, 2023.
The Canadian Press