Canada wins penalty shootout against Venezuela, faces rematch with Argentina in Copa America semifinal

An American is headed to the Copa America semifinal, but he doesn’t play for the U.S. men’s national team. He coaches Canada.

In what was one of the games of the tournament thus far, Canada and Venezuela battled through 90 minutes and penalties for the privilege of advancing in the Copa America. In the end, Jesse Marsch’s Canadian side came out victorious.

Canada struck first with a goal in the first half, but Venezuela’s veteran captain Salomon Rondon took advantage of goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau standing outside the 18-yard box and chipped in a long-range shot to equalize in the 64th minute.

The two sides traded shots throughout the match, resulting in penalties where Canada were the winners after six rounds thanks to a final strike from Ismaël Koné. The prize? A trip to New Jersey on Tuesday for a semifinal rematch against reigning champion Argentina, who looked fallible in a penalty kick shootout win of its own.

Josh Kloke, Melanie Anzidei and Jeff Rueter take you through how it happened..

How did Canada win in penalties?

When found in nature, few things are as dazzling as perfect symmetry. Its presence ranges from being oddly satisfying or a genuine marvel. Unfortunately, few things in the sport of soccer are less natural than a penalty shootout. A game often decided by moments of transition is instead turned into a series of stand-alone events.

Despite this, Venezuela and Canada treated us to an oddly symmetrical shootout. Each team’s first kicker made their shot. Their second members both missed the target. The third kicker was back on target, before the fourth were unfortunate to have their on-frame attempts saved by the goalkeeper. As the fifth kickers found the upper corner, it was a balance that even Wes Anderson would admire.

Of course, all bets are off once the players who aren’t among a team’s first five choices are forced to step to the spot. Both teams opted for a late-game substitute to take their sixth option — a rare chance for each coach to directly impact the game mid-stride. While Wilker Angel had his shot saved by a redeemed Crépeau, Ismaël Koné slotted his shot home to send Canada to a Copa América semi-final.

Mere months ago, Canada looked at risk of losing all the momentum harnessed in that magical 2022 World Cup cycle. The team didn’t have a head coach, and players were frustrated at the stagnation. Now, Jesse Marsch has evoked not just the dogged determination that characterized the John Herdmann era, but more consistent chance creation and a more defined team shape that could, in time, yield a more dependable threat to contend.

Jeff Rueter

Who stood out for Canada?

As expected, the man for Canada’s big moment was patrolling their left flank. It just wasn’t Alphonso Davies.

Jesse Marsch has opted to deploy the 23-year-old face of the program at left back, the same role he’s owned for years since moving to FC Bayern Münich. This doesn’t just ease the pressure on Davies — it brings more of the program’s best players (that is, the wide attackers) into the lineup to offer a more proactive approach.

Little has come easy in Jacob Shaffelburg’s career. The man lovingly known as the ‘Maritime Messi’ came up in Nova Scotia and later through Toronto FC’s academy. While most clubs would relish a homegrown attacking option and want them to stick around, Toronto’s commitment to lavish spending in attacking roles made Shaffelburg expendable – traded within MLS’s Eastern Conference to Nashville SC.

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Strong form for an otherwise struggling Nashville side helped him land a spot on this tournament’s roster. So, too, did a crucial goal in Copa América qualifying against Trinidad & Tobago, suggesting a player known for his hustle had a bit of big-game finishing about him. That came in handy again on Friday, as Shaffelburg was the only Canadian player to cash in on a bounty of chances in the first half.

Shaffelburg operates in a sweet spot for Marsch’s still-nascent system. Right-sided defenders will still fear Davies’ every involvement more than Shaffelburg’s, while back-line anchors will stay central to neutralize Jonathan David and Cyle Larin rather than shift focus to the greasy mullet cutting into the half-space. A cool first-touch finish was a just reward for one of North America’s most industrious players.

Jeff Rueter

How did Venezuela find the equalizer?

Venezuela came out in the second half knowing it needed to be more aggressive in its attack if it wanted to stand a chance at defeating a strong Canadian side that is known for its backline. Yeferson Soteldo and Jose Martinez dominated the flanks for Venezuela, persistently penetrating Canada’s defensive end, and the pressure mounted.

But it was Venezuela’s captain Salomon Rondon who gave his team the much-needed relief in the 64th minute. With goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau off his line, Rondon took full advantage and floated a ball over the keeper’s head into the back of an open net. The equalizer was a key moment for Venezuela, bringing the mostly Venezuelan crowd on their feet. The stadium roared. La Vinotinto was back in this game, and their historic run continued.

Venezuela kept up with this pace, dominating on their attacking third, but just like the rest of this match, this was a mostly even-sided battle between two countries with everything to prove. As the game clock dwindled, a frantic Fernando Batista directed his players as Canada slowly regained its composure.

Melanie Anzidei

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Jacob Shaffelburg celebrates scoring his team’s first goal, honoring Tajon Buchanan. (Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU, Getty Images)

What happened to Tajon Buchanan and how did Canada honor him?

In a training session on Tuesday, Canada suffered the kind of blow that would derail many teams: star winger Tajon Buchanan, Canada’s best player at the 2022 World Cup and a new signing for Inter Milan, broke his tibia. Canada cancelled the session after the incident as Buchanan made his way to the hospital.

As the extent of the injury was revealed and it became clear Buchanan would not only miss the rest of the tournament but 4-6 months, the mood changed for Canada. Instead of feeling sorry for themselves, the Canadian team clearly rallied around their teammate.

They visited him at the hospital after his surgery. They gathered outside the team hotel to welcome him back with applause. And when Shaffelburg scored Canada’s opener, the soccer world learned just how much he resonated within the team. Shaffelburg ran to the Canada bench and held up a Buchanan jersey for the 51080 in attendance to see.

There were questions about how Canada would do without one of their better attacking players in Buchanan. But the intangible emotions his loss has stirred up seem to be propelling Canada.

What does the result mean for Canada?

For years, this Canadian team has been one of promise. Their players were young but ridiculously talented. They played in Europe and seemed capable of greatness outside of the region. Wins in World Cup qualifying over Mexico and the United States gave hope, but in seemingly every crucial tournament game, knockout round or group stage, Canada faltered. They never learned how to manage the moment.

Yet against an overwhelmingly pro-Venezuela crowd and a team that won their own group, Canada now have a signature win.

Winning a knockout round game in a major tournament shows this core is capable of considering themselves among the next echelon of teams. They managed emotions, locked down the game defensively and showed their quality when they needed to. Even if Venezuela didn’t make the most of their chances, Canada didn’t beat themselves either.

With the win Canada have, quite simply, become the kind of team they’ve long aspired to be.

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(Top photo: Getty Images)

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