GC Daily: Tinker, tailor, Paraguay

All the latest news, thoughts, poems, analysis and quotes from the W Gold Cup.

GC Daily: Tinker, tailor, Paraguay
Courtesy of Paraguay Football Association, Albirroja Feminina

Note: Welcome to Gold Cup Daily. A quick snapshot of the tournament's action from the day before (beginning), some extra words on the day's main talking point (middle), and key details of the next matches (at the end).

Wednesday's Group C results:
Costa Rica 0-1 Paraguay
Canada 6-0 El Salvador

Group tables

NOTE: Mexico and Puerto Rico currently will advance to the Quarterfinals as the two best third-placed teams, the latter due to a superior discipline record to Costa Rica.

Livy Smith got her first goal and assist for Canada | Courtesy of Concacaf

The Snapshot

A silky night in Houston, Paraguay calmly palmed aside Cost Rica while Canada made mince-meat of everyone's favourite El Salvadorian underdogs.

The big takeaway from Canada's not-so-friendly dismantling of La Selecta was the tremendous play from their wingers.

Arsenal's Cloe LaCasse was in unstoppable form, twisting her opponents in and out, linking up brilliantly with quick passes to teammates Andrea Leon, Jordyn Huitema, and substitute Livy Smith. LaCassse played the full 90, and notched three assists and one goal.

Smith, who was a half-time replacement for wing-back Gabby Carle, was almost as radiant on just her fifth appearance for the senior national team. The 19-year-old got her first goal and assist for her country, while also whipping in several dangerous set-pieces on her trusty right-foot/magic wand.

Bev Priestman decided to mix things up and switch to a 3-4-3 with wing-backs, ahead of the Olympic qualifiers with Jamaica and she hasn't looked back since. And fair play to her, the new system is working and allowing many players to shine.

Coaches' decisions don't always link up with players' preferred concepts of themselves. But sometimes you trust the process. Smith and LaCasse are not wing-backs by trade, but appeared to thrive in the role in Houston.

"Those two players [Smith and LaCasse] – if you ask any forward they would prefer to play in the forward line. But their attitude to commit to the team was outstanding. They both had a massive contribution...we have another level in us," said Priestman.

"I'm the one who uses the hammer"

For El Salvador this was rather disastrous. The six goals conceded makes their path to the Quarterfinals more difficult because of goal-difference.

Head coach Eric Acuna blamed himself for the result, recounting the metaphor of a craftsman using hammer in doing so. "I'm the one who uses the hammer, if I hit my finger it's my fault. It's not the Hammer's fault," he said.

However, the El Salvador head coach did believe that "fear" and a lack of "mental strength" got the better of his side. Especially in those opening 28 minutes, when Canada scored three goals.

Frankly speaking, there was a lot of space. La Selecta players got drawn into contesting balls they probably shouldn't have contested. Pressing players they didn't need to press. This resulted in a 4-4-2 that had broken lines and massive gaps.

More than anything, the athletic ability, fitness, and size of Canada felt like a big mismatch for El Salvador.

Some of this is understandable. There's not a lot they can do about Canada's speed, conditioning, and size. But as we saw from Puerto Rico and even the Dominican Republic to some extent, being more disciplined in the opening stages of a match can significantly increase your chances against better opposition who will try to run you over.

El Salvador's Priscilla Ortiz fouls Canada's Jordyn Huitema | CBS

In a rarely seen move, Acuna made two quick substitutes in the opening 30 minutes and removed the entire left side of El Salvador's team, Danielle Fuentes and Juana Plata. On came like-for-like replacements and the Central Americans retreated into a 5-3-1-1/6-3-1.

"I think Juana [Plata] and Daniel [Fuentes] were overwhelmed by the very fast game, in fact they scored the first two three goals from that wing without any type of strength or growth. I think that they were overwhelmed and I think that rather I think that the correction was very accepted," said Acuna.

While you can't really blame Acuna for wanting to put the handbrake on to such an intense degree; removing players so early on in a match never feels good for a player. It's a delicate balance to strike.

Now, getting morale back up for this La Selecta squad over the next few days will be vital if they are to fulfill their promise.

"I think the goal of reaching the quarterfinals is intact and we will continue fighting for that, but if there is someone to blame, it is me," a stoic Acuna stated.

Tinker, tailor, Paraguay

While Las Albirrojas nicking a goal from a set-piece and narrowly besting Las Ticas isn't necessarily shocking upset, it was not what this intrepid writer would've predicted.

On paper, Costa Rica has the more talented squad. And, with more players in North and Central America, naively I thought that would translate well to feeling prepared and grounded to play in Houston, Texas, in a Concacaf tournament.

While some may point to the fact that the last time these two nations met, in October 2023, at the Pan-American Games in Chile, Paraguay ran away 3-1 winners, that Costa Rica side was missing many of its first-team that play their football top leagues.

Just five days ago, Paraguay lost a friendly 2-0 to Panama, in Panama. On that same day, Costa Rica lost a friendly 2-0 to the Houston Dash in Texas, where Las Ticas held a week-long training camp. Again, perhaps naivety to trust friendlies as a measuring stick.

What this match came down to was changes. Paraguay head coach Carlos Bona started the match with this team in a defensive 5-3-2. It was too deep and allowed Costa Rica too much ball and territory.

"It [5-3-2] gave them an advantage in half the field," Bona explained post-match. early on. "We wanted some more doubt on the Costa Rica line further up."

Costa Rica had their best chances of the match in the opening 21 minutes, wracking up six shots, four blocked, one saved, and one off the bar, for 1.14 xG (per Wyscout).

In the 35th minute, Bona adjusted to a 5-4-1, with an extra midfielder to press Costa Rica who were finding joy in advancing the ball and getting it wide to Pricilla Chinchilla on their left wing. Las Ticas had just one more shot, which was blocked, in the final 10 minutes of the half.

Bona gets even bolder in the second half by making a double substitution and coming out with a 4-4-2 shape. This matches Costa Rica player for player and resulted in Paraguay having more outlets further up the pitch to get touches and win duels.

"You got a better defence, but it didn't attack. It wasn't working, the ball was very far away, so I took a central defender off and replaced them with a forward. We managed to achieve more of the ball," said Bona about the second-half changes.

Even after Lice Chamorro tapped in the match-winning free-kick in the 56th minute, the 4-4-2 matched Costa Rica adequately with strict lines and player-to-player marking.

It wasn't until the 93rd minute, from a free kick in the right channel, that Costa Rica had another truly significant chance in the second half. And even that effort from defender Mariana Benavides was mis-controlled and blazed wide from eight yards.

For all their possession, 59%, Las Ticas struggled to unpick Paraguay from open play. Chinchilla and Scott started the match with some verve, but once Bona made adjustments it felt like Costa Rica were too predictable and too slow. They needed a higher tempo and more outlets.

A special shoutout to Albirrojas goalkeeper Alicia Bobadilla who was wonderfully gobby throughout the match. Highly up for it. I certrainly enjoyed it when she celebrated Costa Rica shots flying wide of goal, no save to make. That was something that felt very welcome in this Gold Cup. Relish the competition. Enjoy that winning feeling.

NEXT: Fri. 23 Feb. Group A fixtures:
Mexico v Dominican Republic | 6:15 p.m. ET
USA v Argentina | 9:00 p.m. ET