Canada 1 Costa Rica 1
HOUSTON — Slowly but surely, the revival of the Canadian men’s soccer program is taking shape.
Alphonso Davies scored as Canada earned a 1-1 draw against Costa Rica on Tuesday in the preliminary round of the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
The 16-year-old Davies’s third goal in two games came in the 26th minute and helped the Canadian men’s soccer team move one step closer to qualifying for the knockout rounds of the tournament.
“We took that goal and that kind of changed the whole paradigm of the game so in the end, we got a point and we’re in first place in our group,” said head coach Octavio Zambrano. “You can’t help but congratulate our players for the effort. They put everything in there.”
Canada now has four points through two games, which is generally enough to qualify for the quarter-finals but there is still one game to play against Honduras on Friday night in Frisco, Texas. Canada and Costa Rica both have four points but the Canadians have a better goal differential, putting them atop the group.
Francisco Calvo replied for Costa Rica in the 42nd minute, heading in a corner kick.
Costa Rica went all the way to the quarter-finals of the last World Cup so a draw is a solid result for Canada in another rebuild after falling out of World Cup qualifying last year.
“Today we showed we’re a team against a very strong national team like Costa Rica and we played really good,” said goalkeeper Milan Borjan, who put in a man-of-the-match performance in making 13 saves, many of them in the second half as Costa Rica pressed for a winner.
“It was fun. It’s always fun when you play for Canada. I love coming for the trips and I love playing so I’m really positive about the whole camp and whole Gold Cup. I think we’re going to make something with this Gold Cup.”
With a young, new core showing early promise, it was a lovely build-up that led to Canada’s goal.
Michael Petrasso sent midfielder Scott Arfield on his way with a pass on the right side. Arfield then crossed over and Davies timed his run perfectly to sneak past a Costa Rican defender and slotted in his left-footed shot.
Canada took its 1-0 lead to halftime but Calvo eluded defenders Steven Vitoria and Samuel Adekugbe and headed in the equalizer.
Borjan, who left Canada’s first game against French Guiana in this tournament with a black eye from a collision with teammate Samuel Piette, was back in goal and kept Canada in the game with a number of fine saves.
Costa Rica’s David Guzman unleashed a powerful right-footed effort but Borjan dove to his left and pushed away the shot with his right hand.
“He came up with the big saves as good goalkeepers do in big games,” said Zambrano. “I think he has improved a lot since the first time I saw him. He’s evolving as a goalkeeper. He’s much more composed and much better not only at shot blocking but getting at the end of crosses.
“When we needed him to come big, he did and that’s what goalkeepers do.”
Davies came out of the match in the 69th minute with what appeared to be an ankle injury. It didn’t seem too severe however, as he walked without much of a limp to the Canadian bench.
Zambrano confirmed after the game that Davies will be fit for Friday’s game.
Canada hopes to advance to the quarter-finals of the biennial Gold Cup for the first time since 2009.