Before the Canadian men’s national soccer team faced Costa Rica last Friday, coach John Herdman passed on some wisdom he’d received earlier in the week from NBA coaching legend Phil Jackson — “play the game, not the occasion.”
Striker Jonathan David had a game-breaking moment, and it made for a memorable occasion. His 57th-minute goal lifted Canada to a 1-0 win over Costa Rica in a World Cup qualifier in front of 48,806 fans at Commonwealth Stadium.
The goal came after Costa Rican goalkeeper Leonel Moreira fumbled a cross into the penalty area, leaving David to score the winner. Canada remained in third place in CONCACAF’s Octagonal with 13 points from seven matches — three wins, zero losses and four draws — while Costa Rica fell to 1-3-3. Mexico and the United States top the table with 14 points each.
The top three teams in the standings will earn berths for next year’s World Cup in Qatar. The fourth-place team will take part in an intercontinental playoff.
“We’re one point out of first, and we know what our ambitions are,” said fullback Sam Adekugbe, the Calgarian who Herdman identified as the man of the match.
Moreira started for Costa Rica because of an injury to regular starter Keylor Navas, who plays his club football with Paris St-Germain.
The goal came minutes after a leaping bicycle kick by Canadian winger Tajon Buchanan froze Moreira in his tracks, but the ball hit the bar — the second time the Canadians found the woodwork in the game.
The first close call came in the 15th minute. A corner kick from hometown hero Alphonso Davies that went into a scrum of Costa Rican defenders and ricocheted off the crossbar.
Seconds later, Salas was in the mix again. The majority of fans in attendance bayed for U.S. referee Ismail Elfath to award a penalty after Salas brought down David in the box, but Elfath waved off the appeals. David was played in by a great through ball from Adekubge.
“We are a brotherhood here,” said Adekugbe. “We sacrifice ourselves for the shirt.”
Twice in the first half, the teams came together in scrums after fouls, adding a bit of heat to the encounter in the chilly 1 C weather.
The first came after Canadian defender Richie Laryea earned a yellow card for kicking out at Costa Rican attacker Jewison Bennette. Then in the 23rd minute, Bennette returned the favour, getting a yellow after another altercation with Laryea.
Canadian defender Steven Vitoria also saw yellow in the first half. Ricardo Blanco got a yellow in the 70th minute for a foul on Buchanan.
Ike Ugbo made his debut in a Canada jersey, coming in as an 82nd-minute substitute. Ugbo, a former England youth international, declared his intent to play for Canada last week.