KANSAS CITY — U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter summed up his team's game as an amazing start followed by "a lot of suffering."
But the pain was all Canada's when the final whistle blew Sunday, beaten 1-0 by their North American rival after conceding a goal 20 seconds in its final preliminary-round game at the Gold Cup.
The Canadian men found their way back into the game after Shaq Moore's opening goal but were unable to breach the U.S. defence despite having the edge in play as the match wore on. Canada outshot the Americans 14-6 (3-1 in shots on target) and had 54.5 per cent of the possession.
"We asked them a lot of questions," said Canada coach John Herdman.
"While I'm pissed with the result today, you'll go in and be pretty happy with some elements of that performance that we can set ourselves up for the quarterfinals," he added.
With both teams already qualified for the knockout round, the game at a soldout, steamy Children's Mercy Park decided first place in Group B. The North American rivals came into the game with the same goal difference but 70th-ranked Canada had scored one more goal, meaning the 20th-ranked Americans had to win to finish first while the Canadians only needed a draw.
As the Group B winner, the U.S. faces the runner-up in Group C in the quarterfinals next weekend. That means taking on either No. 45 Jamaica or No. 50 Costa Rica, who meet Tuesday to decide the group.
Canada will play the Group C winner next Sunday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. And it ends up in the bottom half of the draw, which features No. 11 Mexico. The Mexicans won Group A by beating No. 69 El Salvador 1-0 later Sunday on a 26th-minute goal by Luis Rodriguez.
Canada came into the match 8-0-0 in 2021, outscoring mainly lesser opposition 39-3, with its last loss coming in January 2020, a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Iceland. But the U.S. represented a significant increase in the degree of difficulty.
It was a dream start for the Americans.
Canada failed to win several duels in its own end and Sebastian Lletget, given plenty of space on the left flank, sent in a low cross that eluded goalkeeper Max Crepeau and set up Moore for a tap-in at the far post. It was his first goal in his eight senior U.S. appearances.
Moore, who plays for Tenerife in Spain, was the lone non-MLS starter for the U.S.
U.S. Soccer said it was the fastest goal in U.S. men's national team history, at least back to 1989 when "consistent time records" started to be kept.
"The first minute of the game we fell asleep and that's just something that collectively we all have to do better in," said Canadian midfielder Liam Fraser.
"But for the (last) 75 minutes we had them on the ropes," he added. "I think if a couple of calls go our way, definitely things change. But I also think we do have to be more clinical in the (penalty) box and finish the chances that we do create … All in all I really believe we deserved to come out of there with three points and top the group."
Canada appealed unsuccessfully for a penalty in the ninth minute when Richie Laryea and Walker Zimmerman tangled in the penalty box as Laryea tried to round the U.S. captain, who lost his balance as the two players tried to fend each other off.
"How is that not a penalty … not even a free kick," tweeted injured Canadian star Alphonso Davies.
Mexican referee Adonai Escobedo saw it differently, perhaps dismissing it because both players had been grabbing each other as they headed towards the penalty box.
Laryea said it was "100 per cent" a penalty.
Despite body language that told a different story at the time, Herdman was diplomatic after the game when asked about the non-penalty, saying he did not have a good view.
"Whenever a defender falls across an attacker like that, you always wonder, you always feel it's going to go your way," he added. "I thought it was going to go our way."
Canadian midfielder Tajon Buchanan, whose star has been rising at the tournament, didn't mince words.
"Personally I didn't think the ref was good today, to be honest" he said.
Zimmerman was injured on the play and was replaced by Donovan Pines in the 15th minute.
Canada, meanwhile, lost Ayo Akinola in the 24th minute and fellow forward Cyle Larin in the 53rd, both to injury.
Akinola, making his first start and second appearance for Canada since switching allegiance from the U.S., could not continue after his knee appeared to twist in a challenge with James Sands. Larin, who had scored five goals in his four previous matches, exited in the 53rd after going down.
Herdman thought Larin may just have a dead leg after absorbing an enemy knee. But he said Akinola's injury might be more problematic.
"He just felt a little twist in the knee as the player came across him," he said. "Sometimes they look worse than they are. We're fingers crossed there."
Herdman's disappointment was mostly centred on the fact that his team had a chance for a rare win over the Americans.
The U.S. holds a 16-9-11 advantage in the all-time series, which dates back to a 1-0 Canadian win in Montreal in June 1925. But Canada has only won once since 1985.
The lone Canadian victory in recent times came October 2019, a 2-0 triumph in Toronto in CONCACAF Nations League play. The Americans won the rematch the next month 4-1 in Orlando.
Lletget and Gyasi Zardes were the only two U.S. starters from that Orlando win to feature in Saturday's starting 11. Steven Vitoria, Samuel Piette and Richie Laryea started in both matches for Canada.
Canada is 1-13-9 in matches against the U.S. on American soil, with the lone win coming in July 1957, a 3-2 victory in St. Louis in a World Cup qualifying match.
Sunday's match was a precursor to a Nashville meeting on Sept. 5 in the final round of World Cup qualifying in the region that covers North and Central America and the Caribbean. Canada will host the Americans on Jan. 30 as the so-called Octagonal continues.
Both teams brought young squads to the Gold Cup, with many of their star players away with their clubs or injured.
The Canadian starting 11 totalled 195 caps going into the match, with Samuel Piette (55), Larin (39) and Junior Hoilett (33) accounting for 127 of those. The U.S. starters had a combined cap count of 160.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 18, 2021
The Canadian Press