CanMNT midfield trio: Why Osorio, Kone and Eustaquio could lead charge to 2026 FIFA World Cup
In their first game since the World Cup, the Canadian Men’s National Team gave onlookers a first glimpse of what their tactical blueprint could look like going forward, as they begin their journey towards the 2026 FIFA World Cup.
Faced off against Curaçao this past weekend, Les Rouges came out in a 3-5-2, instead of the usual 4-4-2 or 3-4-2-1 formations that they consistently preferred last year. Within that, their main goal was to control the middle of the park, while allowing the pair of Jonathan David and Cyle Larin to play off each other up front, with their wing backs also offering plenty of support whenever possible.
Instead of trying to rely on their verticality, they wanted to try and really control the game, something that they’re going to have to get comfortable doing more often, as teams start to really limit Canada’s ability to use their speed in games.
As they start to evolve from the team that caught the world by surprise last cycle, they know that they’re going to have to adjust the way that they play, and shifts like that will only help them push toward their goal of becoming a team that won’t just hang with the best - but can beat the best.
“Hopefully over the next couple of years, we're going to show that we belong, and we're gonna be given the opportunity to play against some of the best teams in the world because that's what you want,” defender Alistair Johnston said of his team’s shift on Monday. “You need some of those things to show. We touched on it, we did a lot of research on the World Cup, and looking back on those matches, at the end of the day, we were a really good team from box to box, but when it came to us in the boxes, we weren't clinical enough, and we let the other teams be too clinical on us.”
“So that's kind of the biggest thing that we've looked at, it’s the biggest gap that we have from ourselves to those next groups because those top teams, at the end of the day, we know we can play with them. And we showed that, but when it came to the final moment to put that chance away, they did it against us, and that comes down to us as the backline, you need to be just a little more desperate and just understand what the situation is.”
“And then on the other end, we just weren't clinical enough, we were just almost a little too naive, but at the same time, that's what happens is your first time there. So it was a big experience for everyone, but we've learned from that, and we understand that, and we’re going to learn from that and take that into the next couple of years here.”
Returning to this new formation, however, there was one thing that really stood out from the game - a new midfield set-up, as head coach John Herdman put together the trio of Stephen Eustáquio, Jonathan Osorio and Ismaël Koné together for the first time on Saturday.
Having played Eustáquio and Osorio together several times before, Koné was a big addition to the pair, as he looked to bring a bit of a new midfield profile to the table in what was just his third start for Canada.
Yet, despite the relative lack of experience of Koné, or this group together, really, they ended up doing well in their time on the field, helping Canada control play in their 2-0 win.
Led by Eustáquio, who held the base of a midfield triangle, and then complimented by Osorio and Koné, who were on either side of him, they did well to move as a unit, finding pockets in the Curaçao midfield.
Osorio, in particular, really shone, as Curaçao’s defenders just struggled to track his elusive off-ball movement, which allowed him to really create space for himself and his teammates in the middle of the park.
Also, Jonathan Osorio had a quietly tidy game in midfield for the #CanMNT, showing why he's a key option there— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) March 26, 2023
Led the team in key passes (2), had 0.32 xA, 2 tackles, won 7/8 duels and drew 2 fouls
Decent performance from him today
Along with Koné’s ability to progress the ball with his unique combination of technical ability and physical attributes, and Eustáquio’s willingness to cover ground and bring in players with his passing, it made for a fun group to watch, as all of their skill sets seemed to bring the best out of the other, allowing them to really control the middle of the park.
“Yeah, they're very good players,” Eustáquio said of playing with Koné and Osorio. “Their (ability to play at) high intensity is insane, and it’s just the way that they understand the game for me, Osorio, I don't need to train with him, he makes it easy to play with him because he's such a smart player, and he understands the tactics like nobody else.”
“And then there’s Koné with his combination of physicality, he’s so intense, but also looks like he's playing outside of his house with all the technical ability he has. So it's kind of nice to have this balance and to play with them. It was a really nice feeling, and I think we did very well.”
Because of that, it’s going to be intriguing to see how this group develops going forward.
Especially after the World Cup, where injuries and form really took a toll on their midfield group, exposing them in that area of the field, they know that it’s going to be a key position for them to continue to grow and develop going forward.
Even as longtime midfield lynchpin Atiba Hutchinson gets set to retire, they’ll now look to build around the likes of Koné, Eustáquio and Osorio, while building in new options to push them, the same way that they brought in 22-year-old Victor Loturi to his first camp to help augment depth in the middle.
As they saw at the World Cup, games can be won and lost in the middle of the park, no matter how much talent you have elsewhere on the pitch, so for Canada, they’ll look to take that to heart and make the position one of strength going forward.
“Yeah, I think we're really strong there,” Osorio said of Canada’s midfield. “Obviously, there’s Stephen and Ismaël, they're playing at a really high level at their clubs, and then there are guys like myself and Mark-Anthony (Kaye), I think we're playing day-in and day-out at TFC, where we have the pressure to bring that club back to the top of the league.”
“So I think we're all competing at a good level, and that’s been good for us, as we all work well off each other. I think the three of us in the last game, we showed that we complement each other really well, as we have different characteristics that we can bring into the game, but we're all on the same page, as well. And so for us as a group, we feel like we can make the midfield a real strength in our team.”
As a result, Canada is intent on keeping that up going forward.
From Osorio’s comments on Monday, it looks like he, Eustáquio and Koné will stick together for the Honduras game, where they’ll look to further prove that they’re a group to build around in the future.
There, they know that their skills are going to be crucial, as they face a Honduras side that’s going to limit space for them on the ball, meaning that there’s going to be a lot of pressure on them in midfield to be patient in possession, waiting for spaces to open up.
If they can do that, Canada will cruise, and based on what we saw against Curaçao, they’ve certainly got the ability to make that happen, and will look to make that a reality in this game.
“You'll see tomorrow,” Osorio said with a laugh when asked what to expect from the trio on Tuesday. “But no, we're looking forward to the challenge, we want to control the game, and we take that responsibility, the three of us in the midfield, so we’re very excited to help the team on both sides of the ball and hopefully put in a dominant performance.”