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USA vs. Canada, Concacaf Nations League: Final Score 4-1 as Yanks Avenge October Loss in Toronto

Gyasi Zardes notched a brace and Jordan Morris had a goal and an assist to lead the USMNT to a 3-0-0 record at Exploria Stadium.

Soccer: CONCACAF Nations League Soccer-Canada at USA Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The United States Men’s National Team scored three goals in the first half and went on to beat Canada 4-1 in front of a modest 13,103 fans at Exploria Stadium in Concacaf Nations League play. The U.S. got a pair of goals from Gyasi Zardes, a goal and an assist from Jordan Morris, and a goal from Aaron Long to more than offset a header by Steven Vitoria.

With the win, the Yanks can still capture Group A with a win over Cuba in the final group match next week. Canada still leads the group on nine points but the Yanks have one game left and can take the group with a win on goal differential.

“You need to show the type of effort and the type of tenacity that the group showed today,” Head Coach Gregg Berhalter said after the match. “I know there was some real big criticism on the group. It was a perceived lack of effort, lack of heart (in the October match). You couldn’t mention that today at all.”

“In my mind, when I look at the performance, the difference is they were bloody clinical tonight,” said Canada Head Coach John Herdman. “You could see that intent. They really contested in the midfield. I thought they put a hell of a battle up there. Their attacking transition, they were lethal.”

Without Jozy Altidore, Berhalter started Zardes at forward. Zardes was flanked by Paul Arriola and Morris in front of a midfield of Weston McKennie, Jackson Yueill, and Sebastian Lletget. Tim Ream and Sergino Dest lined up outside of John Brooks and Long on the back line in front of goalkeeper Brad Guzan.

Former Orlando City midfielder Richie Laryea started at fullback for Canada but Lions’ defender Kamal Miller was on the substitute’s bench.

The Yanks grabbed the early lead off a corner kick in the second minute. The ball was played to Dest at the top of the area and the newly cap-tied fullback sent the ball toward the net but it skipped across the area where Morris swept it home to make it 1-0 to the USMNT.

“As soon as the first whistle blew we wanted to pounce on them immediately and it was a great goal by Jordan that set the tone,” Zardes said.

“I think it kind of took the pressure off a little bit,” Morris said of scoring early. “We were confident coming into this game. It was all about intensity for us and what we could do to improve on that. I think that was the biggest disappointment that we had in Toronto is we kind of got out-competed. And so today our whole focus was on being more intense and to get that early goal was important.”

The next half chance came in the 10th minute when Lletget sent a good cross into the box for Zardes but Doneil Henry cleared it out just before the forward could make contact.

Canada finally got a decent chance on a free kick in the 17th minute. A turnover in the midfield just about forced Brooks to foul Lucas Cavallini about 30 yards out. Scott Arfield stepped up and smashed a low shot on frame but Guzan went down, made the save, and left no rebound.

Six minutes later the USMNT doubled its lead. A long ball from Arriola on the counter attack found Morris out on the left side. The Seattle Sounders star sent in a gorgeous cross, handing Zardes a sitter and the Crew forward nodded home to make it 2-0 in the 23rd minute.

“Jordan is an incredible player and if you get him running, he’s unstoppable. He’s very fast,” Zardes said.

Berhalter and his players said that playing directly and scoring goals like the second one was part of the USMNT tactical approach coming into the rematch against Canada.

“The game plan was just to get Canada facing their own goal,” Zardes said. “As much as possible we wanted to play behind their back line.”

Canada tried to pull that goal right back. After Zardes was dispossessed about 30 yards out in front of his own goal, the ball cycled out to Laryea on the right. The former OCSC man cut in and fired a shot that was deflected out for a corner.

The United States made it 3-0 in the 34th minute. After Lletget won a free kick just left of the penalty area, Ream stepped up and sent in a curling out-swinger. Left completely unmarked, Long simply jumped up and headed it home.

The USMNT nearly got a fourth before halftime. A counter attack set up the Yanks in good position with Zardes out on the left. Just as he sent a cross in front of goal, Arriola went down under contact in the box. But instead of a penalty for a takedown of Arriola, Alphonso Davies juggled the ball to his head intentionally and knocked it back to goalkeeper Milan Borjan, who was then whistled for handling an intentional pass and referee Cesar Ramos awarded the U.S. an indirect free kick in the area. The kick ended up on McKennie’s foot and it was blocked in front accidentally by one of his own teammates and the U.S. went to the break leading 3-0.

The Yanks out-shot the Canadians 8-3 in the first half (4-1 on target), while the visitors held more possession (62%) and passed more accurately (85%-73%).

Lletget should have made it 4-0 just 10 minutes after the restart. Zardes got into the box on a broken play and went to ground and the ball popped over to a wide open Lletget. The Galaxy attacker fired a shot wide of target from just a few yards out.

The Canadians pulled a goal back in the 72nd minute. Second-half sub Junior Hoilett, who was lucky not to be sent off moments earlier after a nasty challenge on Yueill, fired a shot that Guzan deflected out for a corner. The ensuing cross was flicked on in the box and found Steven Vitoria, who headed home to make it 3-1. It was the first goal conceded in Exploria Stadium by the USMNT.

Canada pressed hard for a goal but it was the U.S. that finished the scoring. McKennie tried a flying scissor kick on a cross by sub DeAndre Yedlin but whiffed on the shot. Zardes picked up the loose ball and smashed it into the far corner to make it 4-1 in the 89th minute to seal the win.

The United States finished with more shots (12-11) and shots on goal (5-3), but the Canadians held more possession (64%) and held the passing advantage (82%-69%).

The USMNT improved to 3-0-0 at Exploria Stadium and to 15-9-11 in the all-time series (12-1-9 on home soil).

“To me, the difference is that we were ready to overcome anything,” Berhalter said. “The guys were focused and ready to overcome. You saw that right from the start of the game. An early goal really helped with that.”

The USMNT will close Concacaf Nations group play on Tuesday against Cuba in the Cayman Islands at 7:30 p.m.