The U.S. men’s national team and Canadian men’s national team share two things in common as they prepare to face off on Sunday in Nashville in World Cup qualifying. They both boast collections of talented widely regarded as the best their nations have ever possessed, and both teams enter Sunday coming off disappointing World Cup qualifying performances.
That will make their clash at LP Field in World Cup qualifying even more important for both after the Americans and Canadians were both forced to settle for draws in their Concacaf Octagonal openers on Thursday.
The Americans left El Salvador with a point after Thursday’s 0-0 draw, while Canada scraped by for a 1-1 draw in Toronto against Honduras, two results that fell short of the expectations of the talent-laden North American teams.
“We do have similar groups, and when you look at the experience level in World Cup qualifying, it’s pretty equal,” USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter said. “I don’t know exactly how they’re gonna approach the game. I do know that they’re well coached, I know that they have a good squad, and I’m sure there’ll be prepared.
“Now it’s up to us to do the same, and for us to show the right mentality in the game, which we’ve been demonstrating for the last months, and now it’s a home game we get to play in front of our fans,” Berhalter added. “You know, these are the moments that we’ve been waiting for.”
The Americans have become very familiar with Canada in recent years, having faced their neighbors to the north in multiple competitions over the past two years. The most recent meeting took place in the Concacaf Gold Cup group stage, which saw the USMNT earn a hard-fight and tightly-contested 1-0 victory.
That match wasn’t a true representation of how the two programs stack up given the fact the Americans were missing all of their European-based stars, and Canada was without its two best players in Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David.
The most recent meeting that saw the sides at close to full strength came in November of 2019, when the Americans rolled to a 4-1 win in Concacaf Nations League in a home match in Orlando.
“I think we did everything that the coach said would lead us to win the game,” USMNT defender John Brooks said of the November 2019 win. “And what was the score again? 4-1? Yeah, that’s all I have to say.”
That victory provided some revenge for a USMNT side that had suffered a 2-0 defeat at the hands of the Canadians a month prior in Toronto, marking their first loss to Canada since 1985.
The November 2019 featured many of the same players expected to play on Sunday, but with almost two years having passed, and new talents having emerged since then, Sunday’s meeting will very much be the first true litmus test for how the two emerging programs measure up against each other.
The Americans won’t be at completely full strength though. Starting goalkeeper Zack Steffen is out with back spasms, while Gio Reyna is a doubt for the match after missing training on Saturday. Christian Pulisic’s availability remains a question mark, but he is expected to take part in some capacity, even if it isn’t as a starter.
The Canadians boast a dangerous attack led by Bayern Munich standout Alphonso Davies and Lille striker Jonathan David. They, along with emerging New England Revolution speedster Tajon Buchanan and Besiktas striker Cyle Larin give the Canadians an attacking quartet that will provide a significantly tougher test than the one presented by El Salvador on Thursday.
The good news for the Americans is John Brooks will start on Sunday, after being rested against El Salvador. Brooks should partner with Miles Robinson in a centerback pairing that should measure up well against a David-Larin strike force.
The real battle to determine Sunday’s winner should come on the flanks, where Davies and Buchanan will be a handful for projected USMNT fullbacks Sergiño Dest and Antonee Robinson. Dest outplayed Davies when they were matched up against each other in November of 2019, but Davies has blossomed in the years since that meeting, turning into one of the best young players in the world.
How the American wingers challenge Canada’s fullbacks will be another storyline to follow, especially considering the uncertain status of starters Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna. Pulisic missed the El Salvador qualifier on Thursday as he continued to recover from a recent bout with COVID-19, but he trained on Saturday and is expected to play. Reyna, on the other hand, was absent from training, leaving his availability for Sunday in doubt.
Berhalter has some wing options to choose from in Konrad De La Fuente and Brenden Aaronson, though both struggled to make their mark as starters against El Salvador.
Whatever lineup Berhalter ultimately settles on will be expected to take all three points at home in front of a packed stadium in Nashville, and the USMNT will be facing the pressure of knowing that anything short of a win will leave the Americans heading to Wednesday’s trip to Honduras in desperate need of a win.
Canada will be in the same boat though, and will head into Sunday showdown facing the same pressure as the Americans in the latest installment of what is shaping up to be a budding rivalry between two blossoming progams.
“They’re one of the most improved teams in Concacaf, good young player pool, similar to ours. The game’s going to be tight,” Berhalter said. “We played them last month in the Gold Cup, we talked about it being a tight game and it will be a tight game (Sunday) as well.”