Canada and El Salvador could have played for hours and hours without producing the resolution they sought. There were enough opportunities created and presented to decided this peculiar, poor and oddly engaging game. Every single one of them — and, most glaringly, the golden chance involving Cyle Larin and an open net in the first half — went begging in the end as the Group B opener for both teams ended 0-0.
It proved a fitting result in the end as both teams flailed in their attempts to muster any semblance of precision in the critical moments. The draw proved more satisfying for El Salvador given its edge in the run of play and its previous futility against North American opponents in this competition (0-8-0 entering this match), while the outcome left Canada to lament the absences of influential midfielders Julian de Guzman, Atiba Hutchinson and Will Johnson and wonder how exactly they failed to fire as expected.
The opening stages unfolded in fits and starts with the early injury to Nelson Bonilla sopping up precious minutes. Irvin Herrera eventually replaced him inside the opening quarter of an hour and threw himself about earnestly in a bid to make his influence. He found pliable opposition in the disorganized Canadian defense and presented a couple of issues from sharp angles. Canadian goalkeeper Kenny Stamatopoulos produced two sharp saves to repel those half chances and allow his team to push out a bit more.
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Canada found enough of the ball, but failed to do much with it. The absence of Hutchinson — ruled out for the group stage with a groin injury — stripped away the primary creative figure, while Johnson’s industry would have linked the play a bit better. Instead of building on those sequences, the Canadians often bypassed the middle third and tried to play Larin in behind the Salvadoran defense.
Those tactics should have created the opening goal 10 minutes before halftime after Larin beat the broken Salvadoran trap and raced in behind the defense. Larin collected deftly and neatly maneuvered around the onrushing Derby Carrillo on the edge of the penalty area. His momentum carried him into a position to slot into the empty net, but it also threw off his balance. The resulting effort — a flailing shot high and wide of goal — squandered a gilt-edged chance to the shock of everyone watching at the StubHub Center.
El Salvador attempted to match that staggering level of wastefulness in a chaotic sequence before halftime. Richard Menjivar caused all sorts of consternation with his jinking run into the penalty area, but the Canadian defense eventually snuffed out the chance. Stamatopoulos nearly created his own demise with a couple of dodgy subsequent punches, but the Salvadorans somehow failed to convert when presented with the opportunity to do so.
The thrust and parry continued after the break as the game stretched and both teams struggled to keep any semblance of a coherent shape. Stamatopoulos repelled Arturo Alvarez’s left-footed drive from the edge of the penalty area, while Carrillo turned aside Marcel de Jong’s shot from a sharp angle.
Both coaches turned to their benches in a bid to alter the dynamic. Canada substitute Marcus Haber threatened occasionally, though his weak header from six yards did not cause Carrillo nearly enough trouble given his position. Russell Teibert lashed willingly toward goal as well after Benito Floro belatedly addressed his issues in the center of the park.
All of the huffing and puffing inevitably led to precious little before the referee mercifully blew his whistle. Both teams departed this match with a point, but they offered very little reason for Costa Rica and Jamaica to worry in the process. Barring substantial improvement over the next two matches, these two teams will find themselves facing a potentially truncated trip through this Gold Cup.