Toronto FC

Canada ease past Panama, eye first international trophy since 2000 in Concacaf Nations League Final

Canada booked their spot in the Concacaf Nations League Final on Thursday night with a 2-0 win over Panama in Paradise, Nevada.

Richie Laryea started the match and played all 90 minutes for Les Rouges, with Jonathan Osorio coming off the bench in the 62nd minute to help secure the win.

Jonathan David opened the scoring 25th minute, poking a centimetre-perfect through-ball from Kamal Miller past the Panamanian goalkeeper, and Alphonso Davies sealed the result in the 70th minute with a tight-angled blast into the roof of the net.

It was a physical affair. The referee let both teams play. Both had their chances, but in the big moments the quality of Canada’s superstars, David and Davies, shone through.

“They’re bloody good players. They’re next level and they made a difference tonight,” said John Herdman post-match. “We’ve got big moment players. When those moments came, they needed to step up.”

“The first goal was the really nice one as a coach. It was off the training ground in terms of the timing and the way that they were able to break that line. And then Phonzie,” he paused with a laugh. “He just does his thing.”

“You're proud as a coach when you see that type of talent, but then also the effort,” Herdman continued. “The effort tonight was fantastic. When you’re behind the scenes and you see what goes into trying to get the team ready. Young [Ismaël] Koné has been training at his old club, kicking around a few 11 vs. 11s and then coming out against a Panamanian team that were really hungry tonight.”

“That's the match we wanted. You need a match like that, where it's going to test you mentally, emotionally, physically. There were moments there where Panama were taking us into some deep water. There was some tough moments for us. They were really physical,” he highlighted. “That performance there was about resilience, it was about just shaking off some rust, and getting this team back together, but also showing our quality.”

The United States beat Mexico 3-0 in the other semifinal, a rowdy, almost ugly contest, to set up the Final on Sunday night between the Canadians and the Americans at Allegiant Stadium at 8:30 pm.

It will be Canada’s first appearance in a final since the 2000 Gold Cup: a long 23 years.

“It feels amazing,” said Miller. “It's everything we speak about, everything we work for. We want to be a team that's always in the final and always competing for a trophy.”

Whoever Canada met, they would have been facing a large partisan crowd.

“It's going to take every man on the roster, all staff members, we have to be together,” stressed the defender, speaking before the opponent was known. “We know we're going to be the underdogs. We know there's going to be a lot of USA or Mexico fans and we're going to be up against it.”

“But I feel like that's when we're stronger, in those hostile environments. It's going to be a great game and you can't ask for more in a final,” added Miller. “It's going to be tough, but to be champions you’ve always got to win a tough final.”

Canada have been waiting for this chance. Many lessons have been learned along the way.

“It's a trophy. It's that feeling of some silverware in our hands. It's that explosion on the pitch at the end of the game that the fans are waiting for,” listed Herdman of the opportunity ahead. “It's a step.”

“We've got our eyes on 2026 and winning big matches there. We’ve got to take some steps to keep building that trust and confidence in our own ability to win matches. I'm not putting any pressure on them to win the game with 700 passes and 27 shots. We did that against Belgium and we came away with nothing,” he reminded. “This is: if we have to win ugly, we’ll win ugly. It's just trying to find that wherewithal to win.”

“Tonight there was a collective mentality: we scored first, that's critical in football, and then we protected what we had,” Herdman underlined. “We knew they'd be vulnerable on the transition and we knew we had something a bit special coming in in the 60th  minute.”

One good step deserves another.

“It feels great. It feels good to get to our first final,” explained David. “But for me it's not really a big achievement until you win. The priority is to rest and to prepare.”

Echoed Herdman: “It's just one step. We took a step tonight, but it means nothing unless you win it.”

“We got to a semifinal of a Gold Cup and I remember that disappointment in the 90th minute: we played like six games to get there and, yeah, it hurt,”  he continued, recalling the 2021 Gold Cup where a 99th minute strike from Héctor Herrera dashed Canada’s hopes for a final. “So we've got that little bit of desire in us.”

“It's excitement, but we've got some work to do,” he closed. “We've got two days to get this team recovered. They're pretty beat up, so it's going to be a hell of a ride.”