ANALYSIS – It was a hot 29-degree Celsius evening in Bahrain when Canada took the field, which itself was dry and patchy. The resulting performance then matched the conditions, by lacking in quality at Khalifa Sports City Stadium in Isla Town, Bahrain.
In Canada’s first Pre-World Cup warm-up game versus Bahrain, supporters were prepared for a less than full-strength side, and thus a less-than-perfect performance. However, most would probably have still bet the Reds to see out the game with a win. A lucky deflection of Cavallini into a Bahrain defender’s ankle and into the back of the net made it so the match ended all square, leaving head coach John Herdman some more work to be done before November 23rd.
All square from Bahrain 🍁#WeCAN #CANMNT pic.twitter.com/fu3ZojUDlM
— Canada Soccer (@CanadaSoccerEN) November 11, 2022
CanMNT Versus Bahrain Ends in an Uninspiring 2-2 Draw
Canada Fans: Here. There. Everywhere. 🇨🇦#WeCAN pic.twitter.com/hmdi70O3IO
— Canada Soccer (@CanadaSoccerEN) November 11, 2022
Tired Legs, Tired Lungs
In the opening 15 minutes, you would be forgiven for thinking that Canada was about to go on a roll and potentially blow out Bahrain with how intense and sharp they were, coming out of the gates.
An Ismaël Koné goal in the sixth minute rewarded the early pressure and looked to set a precedent for how the match was going to play out. However, less than 10 minutes later, Bahrain capitalized on a sloppy pass from the debuting Joel Waterman and equalized against the run of play. From that moment on, you could easily tell that many of these players hadn’t had much game time in over a month.
While the squad was composed of pretty much only MLS players, many of those were players that would fit into either the starting 11 or close to it. Players like Jonathan Osorio, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Samuel Piette, Richie Laryea, and Kamal Miler. Bar Osorio, who was truly impressive since having been on concussion leave since August, everyone else seemed lethargic.
Kaye struggled to get into the game, and aside from a few smart switches to the flanks that lead to a couple of opportunities, he was relatively quiet. Piette was not as sharp as he usually is, always being a fraction of a second late to a challenge or interception. Laryea spent more time arguing with officials and opposing players than contributing to the attack from the wings. Miller, to his defence, was nursing a niggling injury since the first few minutes, and eventually came off in the 71st minute for another debutant in Lukas MacNaughton. But overall, you could see that fitness and sharpness were low and it showed in the sluggish performance throughout the majority of the game.
Diamond in the Rough: Ismaël Koné
While many of the names that were on that team sheet were players that were shoo-ins for the upcoming World Cup squad announcement on Sunday, many were fighting to show their quality and give John Herdman a headache for selection before the weekend. However, no one came close to impressing as much as Ismaël Koné. Koné, still just 20 years old, was dynamic in the midfield, breezing past players with deft touches and commanding the pitch. It was much to do with his enthusiasm from the start that allowed Canada to begin as it did.
His goal was much deserved, applying a world-class first touch to a long ball from Kamal Miller to break through the defence, before an equally impressive second touch set him up for an emphatic finish into the roof of the net. Even when the tempo went down after Bahrain’s equalizer, Koné was still energetic. One could see his work rate in how he tried to close down defenders and also charged into attacks, where he alternated between cutting into the middle and shifting out wide. Even his passing was sharp with some precise though-balls. Altogether, he was Canada’s best player and one of the few bright spots in a rather stagnant match.
A first #CanMNT goal for Ismael Kone?
You bet! The #CFMTL star bursts past the Bahrain backline and tucks home his finish as cool as you'd like 😎
🔴 https://t.co/7JFAUhxUCE pic.twitter.com/fW5AqjgjWG
— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) November 11, 2022
Quality in Depth an Issue as CanMNT Versus Bahrain was Concerning
While the scheduling of these matches was necessary given that many of the players had been lacking playtime since mid-October or before, it still led to some worries about injuries. With Scott Kennedy injuring himself at club level nearly a fortnight ago, and Doneil Henry injuring himself in the warm-up before the game, concerned eyes watched Canada start the game. That concern only grew when Kamal Miller fell to the ground in the early moments of the game, and eventually limped off with a potential leg injury. Those are three center-backs that could all arguably start for Canada in their opening game versus Belgium. Herdman and co. are going to most definitely be sweating as both Miller and Henry’s injuries are treated and identified.
Outside of injuries, the lack of sharpness and quality also led to concerns. Many players got handed rare starts or even debuts in this game, but few left any good reasons as to why they should be on that plane to Qatar. Joel Waterman gave away the ball for the first goal, and Alistair Johnson’s foul inside the box led to the penalty for Bahrain’s second. Edwards was lively at times but seemed to be short on gas, and it was no surprise when he was substituted early on in the second half.
Cavallini was a ghost for most of the game, except for an offside goal in the 12th minute and the fortuitous backheel that led to the second goal. In general, many of the players that Herdman called upon today were lacking in some department, and that is sure to cause some concern for him when he inevitably has to look towards the bench for some sort of quality mid-game.
Awaiting word on what brought Kamal Miller off early. He didn’t look comfortable, and is locked in as a starter when fit. Defensive depth being tested with Henry injured in warmups. Kennedy previously ruled out opens the door for players like Cornelius to step in. #canMNT
— Gareth Wheeler (@GarethWheeler) November 11, 2022
Onto the Next: Japan
While the game over was disappointing, one must remember that it was, at the end of the day, a fitness match. One that allowed players to get back up to speed after being out for a while. Nevertheless, it is one that Canada is going to want to swiftly move on and improve from, with their sights set on the last game before Belgium, versus Japan in Doha next Thursday.
The CanMNT qualified for the FIFA World Cup after defeating Jamaica 4-0 at BMO Field. This will be their second appearance in a FIFA World Cup, with their first appearance being in 1986.
Photo Credit: Canada Soccer EN’s Twitter Account on November 11, 2022.