John Herdman expects to face a different Curaçao side in CONCACAF Nations League play Saturday night than the one Canada dispatched with ease last June in Vancouver.
The Canadian men, currently ranked 53rd in the world, blanked No. 86 Curacao 4-0 at B.C. Place Stadium.
Former Whitecap Alphonso Davies, playing his first game in Vancouver since October 2018, scored twice that day. Steven Victoria and Lucas Cavallini also scored for the Canadians, who held a 22-5 edge in shots (9-0 in shots on target).
Herdman says Curaçao had added to its roster with players from the top league in the Netherlands as well as talent from the Turkish league.
"The big difference as well is that game we played them in Vancouver they were coming off the back of two games — a bit of a heavy travel schedule," he said. "This will be a pretty fresh, motivated, intense Curacao team, which will be great."
Saturday's game is the first for the Canadian men since they wrapped up play at the World Cup in Qatar in a 2-1 loss to No. 11 Morocco on Dec. 1.
Herdman's medical staff has been working on winger Tajon Buchanan, who Herdman says arrived in camp "with a little bit of a tweak" from Belgium's Club Brugge. He said the team is also "managing some players who haven't had a massive amount of game rhythm like (40-year-old captain) Atiba Hutchinson.
"There's a few things we're managing behind the scenes but nothing too serious at this stage," Herdman added.
Both teams will be dealing with warm, humid conditions as well as a less-than-perfect pitch at the Ergilio Hato Stadium in Willemstad.
"I think both teams are going to make errors. So it's who capitalizes on them the most," said Herdman. "It's a pitch where you can play football but it's certainly going to be with some risk."
After the game, the Canadians return to Toronto to host No. 81 Honduras on Tuesday at BMO Field.
Herdman will be no stranger to the manager standing in front of the Curacao bench.
Dutch-born Remko Bicentini, in his second stint as Curaco coach, spent six months with the Canadian team as a technical assistant in 2021 before taking charge of Curacao again last August.
He served as an assistant coach of Curacao beginning in 2007 before taking over as head coach from 2016 to 2020.
Herdman, however, will be watching from elsewhere, after being red-carded in a raucous ending to a game in Honduras last June.
Under Bicentini, Curaçao won its first-ever Caribbean Cup title (in June 2017), which qualified it for its first-ever CONCACAF Gold Cup that same summer. Two years later, in its second Gold Cup appearance, Curacao defeated Honduras 1-0 for its first Gold Cup victory and made it to the quarterfinal where it lost 1-0 to the U.S.
Two big-name coaches took over Curacao after Bicentini's first stint in charge, first Guus Hiddink and then Patrick Kluivert.
Canada won the only other meeting with Curacao, a 2-1 decision in Montreal.
The CONCACAF Nations League features 41 teams from the Confederation split into three tiers: League A (12 teams), B (16) and C (13).
Canada (1-0-1) stands second in the Group C standings in League A after defeating Curacao and losing 2-1 to Honduras in San Pedro Sula last June. Those matches came amid turmoil in the Canada camp, with players refusing to take part in a planned friendly against Panama over ongoing labour talks.
Honduras (2-1-0) tops the group while Curacao (1-2-0) is third.
The Canadian men have an 8-12-7 career record against Honduras, including a 2-8-3 mark on Honduran soil.
There is promotion and relegation in the Nations League, with teams that finish bottom of their groups in Leagues A and B relegated and replaced by countries that win their groups in Leagues B and C.
The four League A group winners from will meet in June in a knockout format, featuring semifinals, third-place match and final in Las Vegas.
The top two teams from each of League A's groups automatically qualify for the 2023 Gold Cup, as do the four group winners from League B. The remaining four Cup berths will be decided in a playoff.
The Canadian men will secure Gold Cup qualification with a draw or win Saturday. That would eliminate Curacao and relegate it to League B while setting up a Canada-Honduras clash for top honours Tuesday.
Canada missed out on the final four in the inaugural 2019-20 edition of the tournament, finishing runner-up to the eventual champion U.S. in its group on goal difference.
Herdman is also looking to improve his team's ranking, which will come into play in the 2023-24 edition of the Nations League, which is set to start in September and will determine CONCACAF's six entries in the 2024 Copa America.
The top four teams in the region, based on the CONCACA rankings after the March games, will qualify directly to the 2023-24 Nations League quarterfinals with the four quarterfinal winners securing a Copa America berth.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 24, 2023.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press