Canada-U.S. scrimmage called off following COVID-19 scare

The Canadian men see their first action in more than a year Saturday when they take on the U.S. in a soccer scrimmage in Bradenton, Fla.

Part of learning says coach Herdman as team 'adapts on fly to new COVID reality'

A planed scrimmage against the U.S. in Florida was called off on Saturday, following four inconclusive tests among Canada's players and staff. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press )

A COVID-19 scare caused Canada's planned scrimmage with the U.S. to be called off Saturday in Bradenton, Fla.

The Canadian men had been scheduled to play two 70-minute soccer scrimmages against the Americans. Both teams are in camp, in separate bubbles, at the IMG Center.

But four inconclusive tests from players/staff in the Canadian camp Friday caused the teams to cancel the match as a precaution. With both camps coming to an end on the weekend, there was no opportunity to reschedule.

"This is part of the learning we were hoping to be exposed to when we're down here, to understand how to adapt on the fly to a new COVID reality," Canada coach John Herdman said in an interview. "And, again, right at the core of everyone's decision are the health and safety of players. It's difficult times but we have to experience it to know how to adapt and then come out of it stronger."

The inconclusive Canadian tests eventually came back negative and the Canadians played an intrasquad game instead.

The match was billed as Red versus White with more veteran players at the core of the Red team. The youngsters won 1-0, however, with Vancouver Whitecaps defender Derek Cornelius knocking in a rebound.

Tough tests ahead

"It's unfortunate the timing," Herdman said of the cancelled U.S. scrimmage. "But at the end of the day we got out of today what we hoped, which was another opportunity to assess all the players and get a sense of how our young players are tracking for the men's national team or the Olympic squad. And there were some real good learnings today."

World Cup and CONCACAF Olympic qualifying are scheduled to begin in March. The Gold Cup follows in July.

Herdman called the replacement intrasquad contest "an intense match."

"These players when they compete against each other they tend to ramp it up another level," he said.

"It was a close game and a tough match for both teams," he added.

Growing the squad

The youngsters also won the first intrasquad scrimmage last Sunday, with Whitecaps forward Theo Bair scoring the lone goal after Toronto FC winger Jacob Shaffelburg was taken down by CF Montreal defender Kama Miller. Vancouver 'keeper Maxime Crepeau saved Pacific FC's Marco Bustos' penalty but Bair headed the rebound in.

The Canada camp did not fall in a FIFA international window so top players like Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich). Jonathan David (Lille), Scott Arfield (Rangers), Junior Hoilett (Cardiff City), Milan Borjan (Red Star Belgrade) and Atba Hutchinson and Cyle Larin (both Besiktas) were not called in.

But Herdman likes what he saw from those on hand, knowing depth could be crucial in a busy 2021. Because of COVID, a sore throat or case of the sniffles carry different implications and consequences these days, he noted.

"We're going to have to take bigger squads into our environments," Herdman said. "That's going to create a lot more opportunities.

"And I think a lot of these young players, particularly the guys that have broken through in MLS [last] year — Tajon Buchanan [New England], Alistair Johnston [Nashville SC], Ralph Priso [Toronto FC], Derek Cornelius [Vancouver]— there was a lot of the younger core players that showed that they could potentially push into that MNT [men's national team] environment."

Herdman said with the uncertainty over the start of the 2021 MLS season, he may try for another camp for the North American players in advance of March.

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