The Canadian Men’s National Team wanted a challenge. And for their demands, they got one. The FIFA 7th-ranked nation, the Netherlands, brought Canada to heel with a decisive 4-0 in Rotterdam.

The match was the first big test for new head coach Jesse Marsch. It was an opportunity to try out his system of play, but the testing ground was anything easy.

For Marsch’s first starting XI, he surely did not disappoint with a few surprises. While it was his first test as the leader on the bench, the importance of the match as a lead-in to the Copa America cannot be understated.

Dayne St. Clair as the goalkeeper instead of Maxime Crépeau was a notable change. However, based on their respective play in MLS, it was a chance that St. Clair earned.

Placing Alphonso Davies as left-back with Liam Millar in front of him on the winger mirrored their respective positions for their domestic clubs.

Moïse Bombito was given a well-deserved start as centre-back, but it was Derek Cornelius as his partner that raised eyebrows. However, his performance for Malmö FF in Sweden’s Allsvenskan was enough for Marsch to give him a look.

The first 45 minutes played out like a classic Marsch-coached game: high wingers in attack cutting inside, full-backs overlapping and demanding strength of the centre-backs.

And it worked…defensively. Canada held the Netherlands off the scoreboard, but the same could easily be said the other way around.

Canada had difficulty getting the forward into the final third. Their passing was nice and led to some decent build-up, but it petered out at the Dutch backline.

The Netherlands had two good chances toward the end of the half. 

Near the end, Brobbey got on the end of a nice killer ball that cut through the Canadian defenders. St. Clair cut his time on the ball down, coming up high to the edge of the 18-yard box and Bombito got back in time to take a bit of the sting off the shot.

Canada got a chance of their own soon after. Cyle Larin’s shot cut back to the near post just missed. But the work by Ismaël Koné to get back and find his attackers as well as by Jonathan David to let the ball go through was smart from the Canadians.

The second half brought Canada down to Earth. Canada initially tried to play as they had in the first, but they were unable to deal with the Dutch’s right flank.

In the 50th minute, Jeremie Frimpong played in a beautiful cross behind Canada’s backline where it found Memphis Depay. Memphis got a toe on the ball, which was enough to put it beyond St. Clair.

Frimpong added one of his own in the 57th minute. Cornelius got pulled out of position by Georginio Wijnaldum who played the overhead ball to Frimpong, completely bypassing Davies.

Davies followed his man, but Frimpong had the jump. The Canadian LB was able to block the first shot, but the slide took him out of play. Frimpong’s second attempt was a left-footed beauty.

The third came off a spilled ball by St. Clair. Cornelius attempted to clear the ball in the 18-yard box, but it only got as far as Jerdy Schouten. The shot was saved but not grabbed, and Wout Weghorst jumped on the rebound, giving the Netherlands the 3-0 lead in the 63rd minute.

The final nail in the coffin was a set-piece goal in the 83rd minute. Virgil van Dijk, a Dutch second-half substitution, headed the ball in as it came back across the 6-yard box from the initial header.

A tale of two halves

Canada played like that had something to prove in the first half, and perhaps they did. It was Marsch’s first match as head coach, St. Clair had only his fifth start in a Canadian shirt and several other players were being asked to step up.

On top of that, the Netherlands was the most difficult competition Canada has had since the 2022 World Cup.

And arguably, the first half was decent. Some issues could easily be pointed out, but it was defensively sound and entertaining in how Canada defended high up the pitch with their press.

But there is no such thing as a 90-minute high press.

Offensively, Canada had only one chance in the first half, Larin’s late-half miss by the near post. While Canada moved the ball well through the middle of the park, the Dutch’s defensive man-marking made it difficult in the final third.

The second half showed the quality of depth for the Netherlands compared to Canada.

Canada no longer had the legs to press high, which meant the Dutch had time to build up to their leisure.

There is also the issue of Davies, a brilliant player, the captain and one of the best (if not, the best) on the squad.

As a left-back, he is stifled in Marsch’s rigid defensive style. Yes, Marsch likes his wingers to cut inside on the attack, giving space for fullbacks to get forward, but that requires having control of the ball, which for much of this match, Canada did not have.

And we started to see a familiar trait of Davies when he’s in a Canada shirt: attempting to take the game on his back and carry it alone. It is rarely successful.

Up next

Canada has little time for rest. They travel to Bordeaux to take on France on July 9. 

Kick-off is at 12:15 p.m. PST.