Canada Player Grades: Jonathan David, Milan Borjan stand out in World Cup qualifying win vs. USA

By | January 31, 2022

Up and down the lineup, Canada men’s national team players produced memorable performances as the hosts crafted a brilliant 90 minutes en route to a famous 2-0 World Cup qualifying win over the United States in Hamilton, Ontario.

Canada asserted its game plan and absorbed pressure brilliantly, with solid defending and dizzying counterattacks. The USMNT had no answer for Canada’s structure, and when the home side broke away on counters, the U.S. defenders were ill-prepared for the speed and precision.

Despite holding only 36 percent possession, which is exactly how head coach John Herdman wanted it, Canada still created four shots on target, besting the three produced by the United States. From stellar saves to dominant defending and cutting-edge counters, the Canadian side was better up and down the pitch and comfortable throughout the game.

MORE: How Canada beat the USA in a historic qualifier

Here is a roundup of each Canada starter’s performance in the historic win over the United States (highlights below):

Canada player ratings vs. USA

GK Milan Borjan: 8

Goalkeepers are judged by a few big moments, and none was bigger for Canada than his incredible save on Weston McKennie’s header just before halftime. If that effort finds the back of the net, the narrative of this match is entirely different.

But that’s not all of Borjan’s contribution. Playing almost exclusively long balls off goal kicks as Canada opted for the Route 1 approach, Borjan connected on 14 of his 32 long balls, a fine tally as Canada dominated the match aerially. A memorable performance from Canada’s No. 1 shot stopper.

DF Sam Adekugbe: 7

The goal to seal the match at 2-0 is the standout moment for Adekugbe, but Adekugbe was another solid performer for Canada. He won five of his seven ground duels, four of six aerial duels, and was a monster influence on a flank that included dangerous attacking talents in Sergino Dest and Brenden Aaronson.

Dest completed just two dribbles, Aaronson just three, and the pair lost possession a combined 29 times throughout the match, an acceptable haul for Canada, which absorbed pressure the entire match. Adekugbe defended well, but his 21 possession losses will detract from the overall performance.

MORE: Updated CONCACAF qualifying standings, schedule and results

DF Kamal Miller: 7

The center backs were not the stars of the show for Canada, but Kamal Miller provided a steady presence at the back for the hosts. His passing accuracy of 25/32 doesn’t look gaudy at just 78 percent, but given how Canada played without possession for most of the night and had very few buildable moments on the ball, that’s a very good showing.

In fact, of the Canadian defenders, Miller’s passing haul is by far the best – Adekugbe out-passed him with 27 successful distributions, but only succeeded at a 64 percent clip. Miller therefore provided the most calming presence on the ball for the counterattacking side.

DF Steven Vitoria: 6

In a memorable result, Vitoria was one of the weaker links, but his overall performance contributed to an otherwise successful night. His yellow card came for a tactical foul on Christian Pulisic in the 31st minute to stop a counter, and some U.S. fans argued he should’ve been sent off for obstruction against Gyasi Zardes in the second half.

He only delivered 12 successful passes, and had just one tackle and no interceptions. Overall Vitoria contributed, but wasn’t one who jumped off the page. He won’t care after a memorable result. 

DF Alistair Johnston: 8

What a performance for the former Wake Forest standout. In a gargantuan effort, Johnston commanded the flank and dominated the area. He was successful on all four of his tackles and on three of his four aerial duels, plus he contributed four interceptions and four clearances. He lost possession just 12 times, nearly half that of Adekugbe on the other wing. With the dangerous Christian Pulisic operating on his side of the field, Johnston was a brick wall, contributing to another stinker from Captain America.

The signature moment came when he stopped a dangerous Brenden Aaronson move in the box on what could have been a dangerous 1-v-1 opportunity late in the match, sticking his foot out at the right moment to dispossess the American attacker and ending the threat.

MF Mark-Anthony Kaye: 5

Kaye wasn’t one of the best Canadian players on the field, but he didn’t have to be. The U.S. seemed terrified of building through the middle, instead pushing everything out wide. That left little for Kaye to do, and he stood tall in the few moments he was called upon. His passing total of 18/25 is serviceable for a side playing counterattacking soccer, and he only lost possession 10 times.

Still, a 1/8 ground duel ratio total meant that had the United States attacked through the middle more, it could have been dangerous. Kaye was substituted off in the 58th minute, as Herdman recognized that he was struggling when picked on.

MF Tajon Buchanan: 6

Where Kaye struggled, Buchanan did, too. He was consistently a weak link for Canada, losing possession 27 times and completing just five of his 18 ground duels. Thankfully, Sam Adekugbe behind him was fantastic, and Buchanan’s troubles weren’t more damaging.

However, ultimately, none of these numbers truly reflect what was asked of Buchanan, which was relieving pressure with carries out of the defensive third even if it resulted in an occasional loss of possession. This he did successfully, with two successful dribbles on three attempts, two long balls, and a total of 79 touches on both flanks. He did contribute in the air as well, and his passing was fine when given the chance, but ultimately, Buchanan was better tactically than statistically.

MF Richie Laryea: 7

Laryea was an invisible player in this match, and that was probably the plan. While Buchanan got almost 80 touches as he sought to provide an outlet to relieve pressure, Laryea was a much more defensive-minded midfielder, accumulating only 41 touches.

Still, he did his job well. He won nine of 14 ground duels, including four tackles, while earning four fouls and committing none thanks in part to a friendly home whistle. Laryea did extremely well together with Johnston to shut down the Pulisic flank.

MORE: How Canada can qualify for the World Cup

MF Jonathan Osorio: 7

Like Buchanan, Osorio was an outlet, meant to bring David and Larin into play if the counterattack was promising enough. He also helped out defensively on both flanks. His numbers weren’t anything to write home about, but he helped the pacey counters develop.

FW Cyle Larin: 8

Larin got the opening goal, and his finish was exquisite. It wasn’t a spectacular goal, but it was expertly taken with a tight angle to shoot. It was a similar chance to the one that the U.S. conceded when El Salvador’s Alex Roldan missed just a few days ago. But Larin is a natural striker and took the chance with aplomb.

The buildup was also fantastic, as Larin nearly sent Miles Robinson to the turf with his move. Turning that talented of a center back is no small feat.

Throughout the rest of the match, Larin provided an outlet and was solid in the air. He only won two of his nine ground duels, but that isn’t important. He brought his teammates into the attack and combined extremely well with Jonathan David all game.

FW Jonathan David: 8

Jonathan David is a problem, and will be for the United States for the next decade. There’s no other way to put it.

The youngster is the perfect fit for John Herdman’s system. Constantly a threat with his lightning-quick pace on the counter, David also put his vision on display with his one-two to feed Larin through on goal for the opener. He completed 24/29 passes and was successful on three of his four dribbles. He was fouled twice, and won two of his four aerial duels, all fantastic numbers for a team with precious little possession going forward.