BRADENTON, Fla. — Early in the second half Monday, a ball went out near John Herdman and the Canadian coach instantly scooped it up and flipped it to one of his players to restart play — pronto.
Canada was leading the Cayman Islands 6-0 at the time. And Herdman wanted more.
He got it as a young Canada side ran up a record goal total, crushing the Cayman Islands part-timers 11-0 in World Cup qualifying play.
"The players showed they wanted to make a statement tonight," said Herdman.
Canada is ranked 73rd in the world, 120 places above the Caymans. And the first-ever meeting between the two at the senior level quickly turned into a rout. For long stretches, it looked like a training game contested in the Caymans' end.
Ruthless was the Canadian keyword.
"We had a couple of words on the board that we were really focusing on going into the game. Ruthlessness was the main one," said fullback Alistair Johnson, who scored his first for Canada. "And I think this group really showed that.
"We wanted to make history out there. We wanted really to send a message to the rest of CONCACAF that we mean business. And I think we did that tonight."
Johnston pointed to the lack of goal celebrations — although hat-trick hero Lucas Cavallini didn't hold back when he banged heads with two-goal man Alphonso Davies after one score — as the Canadian players wanted to restart play as quickly as possible.
"It was 'Hey, let's get another one, let's get another one,'" said Johnston. "I think that's the mindset of a big team, a team that wants to do some things. … I think it's really exciting times for all of us Canadian footballers and for Canadian football fans right now."
The Canadian men's previous scoring record was 8-0 over the U.S. Virgin Islands in September 2018 in CONCACAF Nations League qualifying play. The previous high in World Cup qualifying was a 7-0 victory in St. Lucia in October 2011.
Eighteen games remain for the Canadian team if it is to make it to Qatar 2022. But midway though the first round of CONCACAF qualifying, it has set itself up for success in advancing to the next stage.
Whether Canada can find the consistency it needs against the big teams in the region remains to be seen.
"These young men are going to learn on the job," Herdman said.
Mark-Anthony Kaye also scored twice while Johnston, Frank Sturing, Cyle Larin and David Wotherspoon added singles for Canada, which led 4-0 after 27 minutes.
Sturing's goal came five minutes into his Canadian debut. Wotherspoon and Kaye also opened their Canadian scoring accounts.
Cavallini, who could have had a hat trick last time out against Bermuda but had no luck in front of goal, upped his Canadian total to 14 with goals in the 68th, 74th and 76th minutes.
The Canadians showed no mercy at the IMG Academy, knowing that No. 141 Suriname had won its two first qualifying games with a plus-nine goal differential in CONCACAF's Group B.
Canada (2-0-0) upped its goal difference to plus-15.
Canada opened its qualifying campaign with a 5-1 win over No. 169 Bermuda in Orlando last Thursday. The Caymans lost 3-0 Wednesday at Suriname, which improved to 2-0-0 with a 6-0 thumping of No. 200 Aruba on Saturday in Bradenton.
Next up for Canada is a June 5 match at Aruba and a June 8 home game against Suriname. Whether the team can play at home in June depends on whether the pandemic-related border restrictions are eased.
Monday's beatdown means Canada can likely go into the final group match against Suriname, knowing a draw will suffice given the goal difference. Suriname only managed a 3-0 win over the Caymans.
Thirty CONCACAF countries have been split into six groups in the first round of qualifying in the region that covers North and Central America and the Caribbean. There is little room for error given only the six groups winners will advance.
Herdman, employing the kind of "Art of War" metaphor coaches favour, calls it a "death ground."
Monday's game was slated to be played Sunday but was pushed back so the Caymans delegation could undergo the PCR tests required by FIFA rather than rapid antigen tests originally taken.
Alfredo Whittaker, president of the Cayman Islands Football Association, said the testing problem occurred because of travel delays that disrupted the necessary COVID-19 protocols.
Herdman, rotating his squad against the CONCACAF minnow, made nine changes to the starting lineup that dispatched Bermuda.
Only Larin and Davies retained their starting spots. Midfielder Samuel Piette wore the captain's armband for the first time, taking over for Atiba Hutchinson, who has returned to Turkey to rejoin club team Besiktas.
Maxime Crepeau started in goal, with Milan Borjan returning to Red Star Belgrade. He could have taken a cup of coffee and newspaper out on the field because he had nothing to do.
At the other end, Canada fired 44 shots, including 16 on target.
Canada's starting 11 had a combined cap count of just 144, with 118 of those coming from Piette (51) Larin (33), Davies (19) and Kaye (15). Six of the seven other starters have single-digit caps.
Ricardo Ferreira and Sturing started at centre back, earning their first Canadian caps in the process. Winger Theo Corbeanu and Johnston made their first starts — and second appearances — for Canada.
Davies, who had started further up front against Bermuda, returned to the fullback role he fills at Bayern Munich but moved up the pitch later in the game.
The Caymans' defensive block was breached quickly with 21-year-old Caymans goaltender Albertini Holness finding himself in a shooting gallery.
Canada's first-half goals came in the fifth, 13th, 25th, 27th, 32nd and 43rd minutes. The 27th minute goal came from the penalty spot via Davies.
Cameron Gray gave the Caymans something to celebrate when he nutmegged Davies early in the second half. And the Caymans managed to slow the Canadian attack to open the second half, holding them off the scoreboard for the first 18 minutes.
But the scoring spree resumed with goals in the 63rd, 68th, 73rd, 74th and 76th.
Monday's game was officially a home game for the Caymans. But the three-island group with a population of some 63,000 has the same 14-day quarantine as Canada so opted to shift the site to Bradenton where the Canadian men had held a camp in January.
The Caymans have enjoyed some success under 31-year-old English coach Ben Pugh, a former academy coach at Ipswich Town. They won four of six League C matches in the CONCACAF Nations League in 2019, including a 3-2 victory over No. 162 Barbados.
Whittaker said the Caymans roster included a number of "key players" from its youth sides and "a handful of players that we called experienced players that are 24, 25, 26."
"You can only play what's in front of you," said Herdman.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 29, 2021
The Canadian Press