TORONTO — Canada's youth was front and centre Tuesday night, putting on a show in a convincing 5-0 win over outmatched Dominica.
Coach John Herdman used six teenagers in the CONCACAF Nations League qualifying game, starting Alphonso Davies (17), Alessandro Busti and Jonathan David (both 18) and Liam Millar (19). Ballou Tabla and Zachary Brault-Guillard (both 19) made their senior debuts off the bench, sealing their allegiance to Canada.
Herdman, who took over the team in January, said he had been taken by Davies' showing at the last Gold Cup, calling it a "game-changer."
"All across the team I wanted to add that youth. I wanted to add that spirit, that fearlessness," he said.
Tabla, a highly touted talent who left the Montreal Impact for FC Barcelona's B team in January, came on in a flurry of stepovers and soon was making in-roads down the left side with Davies in a mouth-watering combination.
"It's exciting, it's just exciting," said Herdman, who is 3-0-0 as coach and his team has yet to concede a goal.
"It's a different breed of player. It's a different type of player, the type that the fans want to see," he added.
Canada is ranked 79th in the world, compared to No. 177 for Dominica. And the gap in class between the two sides was plain to see from the get-go as the Canadians showed plenty of flair and even a few party tricks with flicks and backheels.
At times, the Canadians swarmed the Dominica penalty box as they piled on the pressure before 10,523 on a cool night at BMO Field.
David, Junior Hoilett, Lucas Cavallini (with a cheeky chip from the penalty spot) and Cyle Larin scored for Canada, which had seven corners and 11 shots in the first half alone. Dominica contributed an own goal.
And there could have been more goals if the finishing had been a little sharper.
Hoilett, who plays for Cardiff City in the English Premier League, was a danger-man all night moving the ball around like a world champion snooker player. Davies served as playmaker, providing good movement and distribution from his left fullback role.
The first-half goals came in the third, 14th and 18th minutes. In the second half, the scoreboard ticked over in the 47th and 82nd minutes.
The five goals tied Canada's record at home, last achieved in a 5-2 win over China in Victoria 1992.
David, who plays for KAA Gent in Belgium, opened the scoring with a powerful shot off a sweet Davies feed. The Canadian Soccer Association said it was the second-fastest goal in Canadian men's history.
Dominica, whose backline included 44-year-old Euclid Bertrand, did not help its cause with some clown-like defending that led to a Malcolm Joseph own goal in the 47th minute.
Herdman and captain Atiba Hutchinson were complimentary towards the visitors, calling them physical and well-organized.
The sides are worlds apart, however.
Cavallini said the BMO Field pitch, which is regularly dumped on by the Toronto FC players who call it home, was "not that good." Dominica coach Rajesh Latchoo saw things differently.
"We don't have fields like this in Dominica," he said.
Latchoo's side featured one full-time pro in Briel Thomas (W-Connection FC in Trinidad and Tobago) while Glenson Prince, Julian Wade and Chad Bertrand play semi-pro.
The rest have day jobs.
"We train in the evening after work and we try to cheat the light because we don't have lights at nights after the hurricane because the hurricane destroyed many fields," said Latchoo. "So we only have three fields that we practise on."
Latchoo then pointed to the floor in the Tunnel Club at BMO Field near the home side's dressing room.
"This floor is better than (our) playing surface," he said with a smile.
Located about halfway between Puerto Rico and Trinidad and Tobago, Dominica has a population of some 74,000, about the same as Prince George, B.C.
It was Canada's first game at home since a 2-0 win over Jamaica in September 2017 at BMO Field.
"It's a new era for Canada soccer," said midfielder Russell Teibert. "I'm extremely proud and honoured and happy to be a part of it.
"You see the team and how it's changed over the course of a couple of years and all the exciting talent that we have. I play with one of them day-in day-out in Alphonso Davies and he's just the tip of the iceberg."
A happy Herdman echoed that view.
"There's still more to come," he said of the youth pipeline. "More young players to come over these next four years."
With Scott Arfield nursing a hamstring, the 35-year-old Hutchinson captained Canada. It was his 79th cap, compared to the total of 103 for the other 10 starters — 62 of which belonged to Jonathan Osorio, Teibert and Hoilett.
Prince had a busy night in the Dominica goal. The captain was a standout when Canada dispatched Dominica 6-0 on aggregate in a 2015 World Cup qualifying series.
The Canadians thumped the No. 201 U.S. Virgin Islands 8-0 last month in their first CONCACAF Nations League qualifying play. Dominica tied No. 153 Suriname 0-0.
Canada plays at No. 134 St. Kitts and Nevis in November before wrapping up qualifying play in March at home to French Guiana, which is unranked because it is not a FIFA member.
Results from the qualifying games will be used to seed Canada and the other contestants into three tiers for the inaugural edition of the full CONCACAF Nations League in 2019.
Tuesday's win moved Canada into second place in the qualifying standings behind Curacao on goal difference.
The top 10 nations qualify for the CONCACAF Gold Cup while the top six also qualify for CONCACAF Nations League Group A.
Canada beat New Zealand 1-0 in a friendly in Murcia, Spain, in March in Herdman's debut as men's coach.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press