Coach Andi Herzog’s team enjoyed a dream start, Jordan Morris heading home a Jerome Kiesewetter cross 35 seconds after kickoff. Morris also scored the second and the USA looked to cruise to a comfortable win until the 81st minute when the U.S. defense neglected to mark Michael Petrasso on a Canada corner kick and let him nod the ball into the net.
Luis Gil buried a stoppage-time penalty kick following a foul on Kiesewetter to end the game with a scoreline that fairly reflected the play.
Here are three takeaways from the game.
1. Goal-poacher Morris continues to impress
College boy Jordan Morris, the kid Jurgen Klinsmann discovered when the USA scrimmaged Stanford during 2014 World Cup preparations, scored in his full national team start in a 2-0 friendly win over Mexico last April in San Antonio. The 20-year-old entered Thursday’s game with four goals in six games for the U.S. U-23s. He put the USA up 1-0 against the Canadians within a minute on a close-range header -- the kind of goal that strikers who know how to be in the right place at the right time score.
In the second half, with the USA playing less impressively than in the first, Morris jetted through the Canadian backline onto a Wil Trapp pass and calmly stroked the ball past Canadian goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau.
Morris’ speed kept the Canadian defense on edge all night. But it’s his scoring knack that truly impresses.
2. U-20s rise to the occasion
Herzog started five players from the Tab Ramos-coached squad who in June reached the quarterfinals at the U-20 World Cup in June -- losing on PKs to eventual champ Serbia.
Zack Steffen started in goal. Cameron Carter-Vickers and Matt Miazga paired up in the central defense. Emerson Hyndman and Gedion Zelalem combined in the midfield.
The 18-year-old Zelalem and 17-year-old Carter-Vickers are even eligible for the 2017 U-20 World Cup -- and the 2020 Olympics as U-23s.
When the USA was ousted from 2012 Olympic qualifying -- they fell to the Canadians, 2-0 -- it came after the U-20s failed to qualify for their 2011 World Cup. That denied Coach Caleb Porter a group of players with big tournament experience. Herzog was smart to build a team around a core of players accustomed to playing together.
3. This midfield has great potential
It wasn’t exactly a well-oiled machine, this U.S. midfield, which didn’t find the rhythm to dominate with sustained possession. But there were definitely signs of brilliance.
Zelalem is always exciting when he gets the ball, which he’s able to glue on his foot when he makes his quick turns to shed a marker. Hyndman, also secure on the ball, can hit excellent mid-range passes, twice sending through-balls to Kiesewetter for a golden chances. Trapp, a veteran of Ramos’ 2013 U-20 World Cup team, superbly set up the second goal. Fatai Alashe played wide right and perhaps was too focused on defensive duties to provide more flank attack. (Right back Matt Polster needed the help.) The 21-year-old Gil, only a sub in this game, has more than 100 MLS games under his belt.
Herzog fielded an attack-minded midfield and for a tournament opener could be satisfied with the performance. One imagines, with a crucial win under their belts, this midfield will only improve.
TRIVIA: The USA is aiming to return to the Olympics for the first time since the 2008 Beijing Games. Despite hosting the qualifying tournament it missed the 2012 London Games because of a 2-0 loss to Canada and a 3-3 tie with El Salvador after a 6-0 win over Cuba, the USA’s opponent on Saturday.
Oct. 1 in Kansas City, Kansas
USA 3 Canada 1. Goals: Morris 1, 73, Gil pen. 90+3; Petrasso 81.
USA -- Steffen, Polster, Miazga, Carter-Vickers, Serna, Hyndman (Gil, 72), Trapp, Alashe (Okwuonu, 88), Zelalem (Pelosi, 57), Kiesewetter, Morris.
Canada -- Crepeau, Grant, Thomas, Gasparotto, Mannella (Babouli 88), Antunes (Chapman 66), Gagnon, Piette, Clarke (Boakai 81), Petrasso, Jackson-Hamel.