The 2-0 loss the U.S. men’s national team suffered at the hands of Canada a month ago in the CONCACAF Nations League was about as bad a result can be recalled by U.S. supporters in recent times. Well, except the loss to Trinidad & Tobago that kept them from the 2018 World Cup, the 1-0 loss to Mexico in the Gold Cup final this summer or the consecutive losses to Jamaica and Venezuela back in the spring, but you get the point.
Indeed, times have been tough for the USMNT in recent years and the loss to Canada—ending a 17-game, 34-year undefeated streak against our neighbors to the north—was yet another low.
Low enough, in fact, to potentially put head coach Gregg Berhalter’s job under pressure. There’s fear that Berhalter’s squad may fail to advance to the final round of the Nations League from a group that includes Canada and Cuba and, even worse, this poor form will carry over into World Cup Qualifying next year. Earnie Stewart has handed Berhalter a vote of confidence, but that might not hold up well if the poor results continue.
So what’s the next task for Berhalter and the USMNT? Play Canada again. The continental rivals face off in another CONCACAF Nations League match Friday night in Orlando (7 pm ET; ESPN2, UniMás, TUDN). And with pressure growing on Berhalter with each passing bad result, a second consecutive loss to Canada could edge him closer to the exit door.
The trouble is, despite the decades it had been since Canada defeated the U.S., last time didn’t seem like a fluke. It seemed like a natural progression. The U.S. was completely outclassed by Canada in that loss, which makes sense when you look at the states of the two programs.
Under Berhalter, the U.S. has regressed, certainly from how we’ve seen the team perform over the last decade and perhaps even from the time late-Jurgen Klinsmann/Bruce Arena era. Berhalter’s insistence on using his preferred tactical style at the cost of hampering some of the U.S.’s best players has been a consistent problem. On the other side, Canada is going through something of a soccer renaissance under manager John Herdman and is in the midst of something of a “golden generation” talent-wise, led by 19-year-old Bayern Munich winger Alphonso Davies, who scored the opener against the USMNT in the 2-0 upset.
Because of where the U.S. and Canada find themselves at this moment—at relative nadirs and peaks, respectively—the two sides are closer than ever. So despite it taking more than three decades to happen, a Canada win over the U.S. shouldn’t be that surprising at this point in time, and it wouldn’t be that surprising to see it happen again.
There will be a few things that should play into the USMNT’s favor this time, though. Chiefly, the match will be played on American soil, in Florida, about as far from Canada as you can get in the continental U.S. On top of that, the U.S. should be plenty motivated to get the win, both to keep pace in the Nations League and to get revenge for the loss last time out.
However, there are some less intangible, and likely more important, factors that will play in Canada’s favor. USMNT talisman Christian Pulisic isn’t in the squad. Neither is Tyler Adams, Timothy Weah, Zack Steffen, Michael Bradley or Matt Miazga. That’s a healthy chunk of the U.S.’s top talent—as well as some of its most creative players—missing. The absence of Pulisic alone has to make the Canadians feel a bit more confident heading into this one considering his blistering form for Chelsea at the moment.
Canada will also have its own motivations, not least of which would be getting another win over a hated rival. A win would not only see Canada continue to hold its position atop its Nations League group, but it could be useful for World Cup Qualifying as well. FIFA rankings are used to determine the eight teams that will play in the Hexagonal round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying. At the moment, Canada is in sixth among CONCACAF teams in FIFA rankings, with El Salvador, Curacao and Panama hot on its tail. Another win over the U.S. could pay off big time when the Hex is solidified in June 2020.
“The USA have their motivations for this match, but for us it is another cup final, another game that could decide our fate for qualification to the Hex, so we will give absolutely everything we have to move this country one step closer to achieving that goal,” Herdman said.