Netherlands 4 Canada 0: A game of two halves in Jesse Marsch’s debut as head coach

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Since their resurgence as a national team, Canada has wanted to play some of the world’s best teams more regularly. In Jesse Marsch’s first match as newly-appointed Canada head coach, they were reminded to be careful what they wished for.

A 4-0 loss to the Netherlands, the seventh-ranked team in the world according to FIFA, did provide plenty of room for optimism for the team despite the loss. Canada looked organized and disciplined under their new manager in the first half, applying an intense press and jumping onto loose balls with renewed energy. They owned more of the possession than perhaps originally expected given the quality throughout the Netherlands squad.

Yet, Marsch’s demand for Canada to continue his pressing style and showcase runs caught up with the visitors. Cliche as it might be, this was truly a tale of two halves for Canada.

The Netherlands picked Canada’s press apart with smart through passes as Canada’s newfound athleticism and work rate waned.

Canada looked, and played, far too tired by the final whistle.

Their path doesn’t get any easier as they play France in a friendly on June 9 before opening Copa America against defending World Cup champions Argentina on June 20.

What were the first impressions of Marsch?

If it was high energy and intensity that Marsch asked of his players, they responded remarkably well early on.

Marsch deployed a 4-2-2-2 shape with Tajon Buchanan and Liam Millar coming inside from their typical positions on the wing and serving in double no. 10 roles. Though, notably, Buchanan and Jonathan David looked interchangeable in their roles as David himself dropped into a creative midfield role as well.

Marsch started a new center back duo of Moise Bombito and Derek Cornelius. If we’re looking for positives from Canada, those two players provided it with consistency against the Netherlands. It’s hard to see this duo changing in Copa America.

Davies started as left back, a position he has barely played for Canada since the World Cup.

Dayne St. Clair usurped the expected starting goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau. But with St. Clair in better club form, even with Crepeau’s experience, Marsch showed just how important recent club play is to his selections.

Just two minutes in as the Netherlands maintained possession in their half, Cyle Larin began shouting at nearby teammates to press, a reminder that Canada’s tactical approach is new. Sure enough, David forced a Netherlands turnover. Some quick passing between David and Stephen Eustaquio led to an early and optimistic run from David into the Netherlands box.

Equally as notable as Marsch’s attacking players’ willingness to press was how his defenders utilized their pace to recover quickly. Derek Cornelius cleared a Netherlands chance off the line that seemed to stifle the growing momentum of the home side.

The question that Marsch will have to answer as he continues his first month managing Canada, though, is how he will be able to get his players to maintain their energetic approach for 90 minutes. Because as dynamic and organized as Canada looked for most of the first half, their speed started to die down as the minutes added up.

To Marsch’s credit, he struck a patient and instructive figure throughout the game, never showing an ounce of frustration. He has a long road ahead of him to transform this team and undoubtedly knows it.

What hurt Canada?

Marsch has challenged his players to run more sprints in training than they ever have this week. It was an effort to get his players up to speed (literally) with his demands for heightened athleticism.

And yet despite a pacey and organized start, in the second half, Canada slowed rather dramatically. Marsch’s need for a more aggressive style of play is a work in progress for Canada, as the Netherlands started picking apart a sluggish-looking Canadian side easily enough in that second half.

In the opposition half, old habits came back to bite Canada. The same forwards who severely underperformed their expected goals total in the World Cup struggled to make the most of their chances. Canada’s best chance came with Larin uncontested in front of goal in the 45th minute before he sent his shot wide of goal.

They had just two shots on target through the entire game, with one of them coming from distance when the game was all but done. It might be time to head back to target practice throughout this international window.

Finally, Alistair Johnston was beat multiple times and failed to get in front of Memphis Depay on the Netherlands’ forward’s 50th-minute goal. Johnston’s place in the starting lineup isn’t in doubt, but he’ll need to show more continued athleticism and better marking moving forward. The Dutch began targeting Johnston’s right side more as the match went on. He left the match in the 56th minute with an apparent injury.

How did Alphonso Davies look as Canada captain for the first time?

In his 46th appearance for his country, Canada’s best player wore the armband for the first time. To memorialize the 60th anniversary of D-Day and Canada’s role in liberating the Netherlands, every Canadian also wore armbands decorated with poppies.

Davies looked to be instructive and vocal on the pitch. Davies has long been thought of as a player more comfortable staying behind the scenes and not utilizing his voice both for club and country.

“I’m usually not the one that does the team speeches. I just say, ‘Let’s go boys,’ but in that way, he is getting me out of my comfort zone for sure,” Davies said about Marsch.

And yet brief as it may have been, Davies’ teammates have seen a change from him in this international window.

“He is definitely putting more weight on his shoulders, which is always tough,” Canada winger Jacob Shaffelburg told The Athletic. “But, it’s cool to see that he’s taking on a lot for us because he’s a great player and he’s a great person.”

Is Dayne St. Clair Canada’s new starter?

For years, Crepeau established himself as a stellar MLS regular starting goalkeeper and Canada’s starting goalkeeper-in-waiting as longtime captain Milan Borjan anchored the team.

It was expected, then, that Crepeau would take over starting duties with Borjan’s time in the national team having seemingly ended in 2023. But Marsch’s most notable call in his first starting lineup was starting Dayne St. Clair, in the middle of a strong season for Minnesota United.

St. Clair is probably a better pure shot stopper than Crepeau, with a lightning-quick save on a Frimpong shot just outside the six-yard box in the 42nd minute followed by another stop when Brian Bobbey was alone in front of goal on a counterattack that seemed to back up Marsch’s choice. We’re talking about the kind of quick thinking we haven’t seen from a Canada goalkeeper in years.

Yet St. Clair bobbling a Georginio Wijnaldum shot before the Netherlands’ third goal also leads to a bigger question: How much does St. Clair have to learn, in a short amount of time, to claim the starting spot in Copa America?

What next for Netherlands?

Monday, June 10: Iceland (H), Friendly, 7.45pm BST, 2.45pm ET

Netherlands end their Euro 2024 preparations at home to Iceland. A good result will provide Koeman’s side with momentum and confidence ahead of their opening game of the tournament against Poland on June 16.

What next for Canada?

Sunday, June 9: France (A), Friendly, 8.15pm BST, 3.15pm ET

What way for Canada to prepare for World Cup winners Argentina in their Copa America group than to face the side that took them all the way to penalties in the 2022 final, France. Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele — the list of stellar starts at their disposal can go on and on. It will provide a stern test for Marsch and his side.

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(Top photo: Alex Gottschalk/Getty Images)

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