The CanMNT earns favourable group stage draw at 2023 Gold Cup, but dangerous knockout stage path looms
The path has been laid out.
Following the official draw for the 2023 Gold Cup on Friday, the Canadian Men’s National Team now knows what to expect when they tackle Concacaf’s marquee tournament later this summer, as they get set to begin their hunt to lift their second-ever Gold Cup crown, which they famously won back in 2000.
Drawn in Group D with Guatemala, Cuba and one of Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana, Guadeloupe or Grenada, it’s a very good group for Canada, too, as they ultimately got one of the best-case scenarios from the draw.
The 2023 Gold Cup draw is complete. The #CanMNT is in Group D, and their group is as follows:— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) April 14, 2023
Winner of preliminary 7 (T&T🇹🇹, Guadeloupe🇬🇵, Guyana🇬🇾 or Grenada🇬🇩)
Very solid draw for Canada. They should win this group, although their QF could be hard
By privilege of being ranked as a Pot 1 team for the draw, by virtue of their strong performances in Concacaf lately, that proved to be a big boost for Canada, as this is the first time since 2002 that they won’t have to face either Mexico, the United States or Costa Rica in the group stages, given that those three were also Pot 1 teams.
Plus, they seemed to get a lot of the best-case scenario matchups from the other pots, too, with fortune proving to smile down upon them a little bit.
This group still presents some challenges, as Guatemala and Cuba did win their respective Nations League groups in League B, doing so off the back of some strong defensive play, but Canada will take playing them as their Pot 2 and Pot 3 teams, given that they avoided the likes of League A sides Panama and Jamaica out of Pot 2, as well as El Salvador and Honduras in Pot 3.
Not only that, but they also did well with their Pot 4 draw, as they could’ve either gotten World Cup participants Qatar, or preliminary groups that included competitive League A sides Curaçao and Suriname, but instead, they will likely get a Grenada side that flamed out of League A, or a Trinidad & Tobago side in transition that finished second in their League B group.
Safe to say, looking at all of this, Canada will be expected to win their Gold Cup group, something that they haven’t done since 2009. Especially given that they’ll have at least one game at home at Toronto’s BMO Field, there’s a lot that will be playing in their favour to do well here.
At the same time, it wasn't all gravy for Canada during this draw, however.
Due to their draw, that meant that a lot of the other groups were quite stacked, which means that even if Canada wins their group, they could play a team like Jamaica in the quarter-finals if the Gold Cup uses the same format as 2021. Then, from there, a potential path could include Mexico in the semi-finals and then the US in the final, assuming those teams finish first in their groups and win their games, which would be a tough path to the crown.
Group Stage ✅ pic.twitter.com/tLECqzO72W— Gold Cup (@GoldCup) April 14, 2023
Of course, that’s not a bad thing, as you have to beat the best in order to be the best, but playing three knockout games against opponents of that calibre would be gruelling, as Canada saw last Gold Cup where they had to play Costa Rica in the quarter-finals and then Mexico in the semi-finals as they finished second in their group due to a loss to the US in their last game. Due to that path, suspensions and injuries quickly caught up to them by the Mexico game, where they were severely shorthanded, although they did manage to push Mexico to the brink despite that.
Either way, however, John Herdman’s side will look to approach this in the best way possible. The nice thing about a draw like this is that the games will slowly build up in importance and level, allowing Canada to ease their way into the tournament. Given that they’ll be coming off playing in the Nations League finals a week earlier, that is a nice benefit, as they’ll be hoping to bring as many regulars as possible to both tournaments.
Speaking of which, though, keep an eye on some new faces for this tournament, because while Canada will want to bring all of their regulars, that probably won’t be feasible given when the Gold Cup is played, which does overlap with some key dates in the European calendar if you make it to the knockout stages.
Because of that, players who will have either played a lot of minutes in 22-23, made a new transfer or are heading into a crucial preseason might choose to focus on that, opening up spaces for some new faces. Especially with a Copa América on the horizon next summer, should Canada qualify for that, there will be no need for Canada to push some players this summer knowing what’s around the corner, which could lead to some key absences for this Gold Cup.
And that’s exciting. Of course, you’d want Canada to have a full-strength squad, but it’s worth noting that Canada missing regulars at the 2021 Gold Cup allowed the likes of Maxime Crépeau, Richie Laryea, Alistair Johnston, Stephen Eustáquio and Tajon Buchanan to step into bigger roles, which ended up helping Canada in their run to the World Cup.
Looking at Canada’s overall player pool, there are certainly players who could benefit from that sort of opportunity, too, such as Dayne St.Clair, Charles-Andreas Brym, Liam Millar, Kyle Hiebert, Victor Loturi, Mo Farsi, Ali Ahmed and Luca Petrasso, just to name a few among many who could be keen to either earn their first caps or to carve out a bigger role for themselves within the team.
Therefore, it shows why there’s a lot to be excited about at this tournament for Canada, especially after this draw. While the Nations League finals will be a chance for them to flex their talent in a best-on-best setting, the Gold Cup will be a good chance for them to turn to the future, while chasing a trophy that has a lot more historical prestige, as they’ll know from how it felt they became the only team (to date) not named the US or Mexico to win this tournament back in 2000.