Tuesday night in Toronto, the Canadian men's soccer team defeated the United States 2-0 in a CONCACAF Nations League match. This is the first time in 34 years that Canada beat the U.S. in men's soccer. No one on the current team was even born the last time this happened. Here's what else you should know about the win:
Does this matter? Yes. The 34 years is a bit misleading because Canada and the U.S. met only 17 times during that span. But anytime you snap a three-decade-plus losing streak, that's something to celebrate. And it's always sweet to beat the Americans in a sport they're better at. The U.S. is ranked 21st in the world. Canada is 75th, and has never been taken seriously in men's soccer. The women's national team is stronger, but even they haven't beaten the U.S. since 2001. So this is a pretty big upset.
Video: Canada Shock U.S.! What Went Wrong for the U.S?
Canadian mens soccer team ends 34-year winless run against U.S.
Does this really matter? Maybe. The CONCACAF Nations League is a brand-new, season-long regional tournament that doesn't carry much prestige yet. But the matches count toward the world rankings, which matter in the World Cup qualifying process. In the most recent rankings, Canada was seventh among the CONCACAF countries, which cover North and Central America and the Caribbean. Soccer Canada says that Tuesday night's win moved the team, unofficially, into sixth. That's key because the top six after the June window of international matches get into what's called the Hexagonal (or "Hex" for short) — the final round of World Cup qualifying for the CONCACAF region. It's not the only way to qualify for the World Cup, but it's the best way. The top three finishers in the Hex get direct spots in the 2022 World Cup, and the fourth-place team gets a second chance. It plays the winner of a tournament between the CONCACAF teams that didn't qualify for the Hex, and the winner of that matchup faces a bubble team from another region for a spot in the World Cup. The Hex was first played in 1997 (ahead of the 1998 World Cup), and that's the only time Canada made it that far. So getting back would be a big step.
Canadian mens soccer coach says win over U.S. promises bright future
So should we start getting excited about this Canadian team? That would not be unreasonable. This team has the potential to do good things in part because of some (very) young building blocks. Eighteen-year-old Alphonso Davies, who scored one of the goals last night, is the guy everyone's really excited about. He's a rising star who plays for Bayern Munich — one of the best teams in one of the best soccer leagues (the German Bundesliga) in the world. Bayern paid $22 million US to buy Davies from the Vancouver Whitecaps — a record transfer fee for an MLS player. That shows his potential is sky-high. Nineteen-year-old Jonathan David, who plays in the Belgian First Division, has 11 goals in 11 matches with the national team. He didn't score last night, but he had chances and he combined with Davies to put a lot of pressure on the American defenders. Canada also seems to have a strong head coach in John Herdman. He switched over last year after guiding the Canadian women's team to back-to-back Olympic bronze medals.
When will we find out if this Canadian team is for real? A good test will come on Nov. 15, when Canada plays the U.S. in Orlando. That's the back end of their Nations League home-and home, and also Canada's final match of the group stage. Canada heads into it with a 3-0 record (it also beat Cuba twice). So all it needs is a draw with the U.S. to win the three-team group, which you have to do in order to advance to the four-team final round in June. But you know the Americans will come out swinging on home turf after last night's loss. In their post-match comments, both teams mentioned how Canada out-hustled the U.S. all night. It's fair to wonder whether the Americans went all out — they fielded a strong team, but two of their best players either missed the game or played at less than 100 per cent: Jozy Altidore sat out with an injury and Christian Pulisic was subbed out in the 60th minute after playing through what the U.S. coach called "flu-like symptoms."
So what's the big takeaway here? Taken out of context, the win itself may not be a huge deal because the Nations League doesn't mean a lot and Canada could end up falling back down the rankings (and out of the Hex picture) after the Nov. 15 U.S. rematch and/or the next time they face a tough away contest in one of those countries where the fans throw bags of urine at you. But the bigger picture is that ending the losing streak is great for team spirit, and it shows that this fresh-feeling version of the Canadian team may actually have enough juice to make its 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign interesting. Maybe more importantly, it raises hopes that the national team can put in a strong showing in 2026 when Canada co-hosts the World Cup. If those things play out, we might look back on last night's win as the start of something big.
The Canadians made it tough on the U.S. to match their intensity, as they swarmed every loose ball and closed down quickly when the American players had possession. It led to some sloppy play by the visitors, who at times resembled a streetball team more than a highly-talented collection of professional soccer players.
That's the Washington Nationals to most people. They scored seven runs in the first inning last night and held on for a 7-4 win that completed a sweep of St. Louis in the National League Championship Series.
This will be the first World Series appearance in the history of the franchise, which began in 1969 in Montreal and moved to Washington after the 2004 season. Its only previous NLCS experience came in 1981, when the Expos lost a deciding game to the Dodgers that was dubbed "Blue Monday" — both for the day of the week it happened on, and the fact that Rick Monday hit the go-ahead homer for L.A. in the top of the ninth inning.
That was the only post-season appearance of the team's 36-year stint in Montreal. Another one should have happened in 1994, when the Expos had the best record in baseball two-thirds of the way through season. But the players' union went on strike and the rest of the season and the playoffs were eventually cancelled.
Twenty-five years later, the Nationals will be an underdog in the World Series against either Houston or the New York Yankees. The Astros lead the AL Championship series 2-1 after last night's 4-1 win. Game 4 was supposed to be tonight, but it's a very rainy day in New York City, so it was postponed until tomorrow night.
According to Canada Soccer, the win moved the Canadian men past El Salvador into sixth spot among CONCACAF countries. Canada, which ranked seventh in the region in the most recent rankings, is looking to crack the top six in the region after the June international window so as to qualify for the six-team Hex, the most direct World Cup qualifying route out of CONCACAF.
The Winnipeg Jets' sellout streak is over. The team had sold out its first 332 home games in the regular season and playoffs since the NHL returned to Winnipeg in 2011. But last night's game against Arizona drew "only" 98 per cent capacity at the Jets' 15,004-seat arena. That's still pretty good for a Tuesday-night game in October against the Coyotes, but it may reflect a larger trend. As Ken Campbell of The Hockey News pointed out, four of the five Canadian teams playing at home last night didn't sell out. Given today's ticket prices and the relative meaninglessness of regular-season hockey, maybe this shouldn't be all that surprising.
The NBA/China controversy is washing onto Canadian shores. There's an exhibition game in Vancouver tomorrow night, and a pro-Hong Kong group is planning to protest against human rights abuses by the ruling Chinese government in the semi-autonomous city-state. An organizer said the group wants to "test" the NBA on whether it "really stands for freedom of speech." The league claimed to be doing that by not punishing Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey for his tweet supporting Hong Kong protestors that angered the Chinese government — even though it bent over backwards to distance itself from what Morey said. LeBron James joined the fray earlier this week by criticizing Morey for not weighing the "ramifications" of his tweet — which include potentially costing superstars like LeBron a lot of money because they have massive endorsement deals with shoe companies that do business in China. Read more here about the various Vancouver protests, which will also include people trying to convince the NBA to bring the Grizzlies back.
Correction (plus a bonus Wayne Gretzky fun fact): In yesterday's newsletter, I wrote that the No. 2 scorer in NHL history, Jaromir Jagr, has 936 points. What I meant to write, were I not a moron, is that Jagr is 936 points behind Gretzky. Jagr has 1,921 points. Gretzky notched 1,963 assists alone. So if Gretzky hadn't scored a single goal — and he scored 894 of them, which is 91 more than anyone else ever — he'd still be the all-time points leader (hat tip to CBC Sports editor Pat Grier for pointing that out).
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Canada midfielder Alphonso Davies looks at forward Lucas Cavallini as they celebrate Cavallinis goal during the second half against the United States, in Toronto. (Cole Burston/CP)
TORONTO — As far as I could tell, the country didnt stop Tuesday night. Too much stuff on right now: serious, political stuff. Hockey. Life as it is in this country in the early days of Fall.
But for once it seems as if that day may not be far off for the Canadian mens soccer team. Canada beat the United States 2-0 at BMO Field Tuesday night in a CONCACAF Nations League game and its been 34 years since Canadas men have beaten their arch-rivals. Thats 17 matches. Rivals? This thing has been so one-sided that the rivalry itself has become one-way. Typically, Canada has been a nuisance at best for the U.S.
But this… well, this is a different Canada under John Herdman, who said last week in an interview that among the steps toward qualifying for World Cups and winning Gold Cups and the like, he wanted his team to provide a moment that would stop the country.
Today I saw a different Canada — a different generation, said Canadian striker Lucas Cavallini, who came on as a substitute in the 66th minute and scored the insurance goal one minute into added time in front of a crowd of just 17,196. Added goalkeeper Milan Borjan, the 31-year-old who emigrated to Hamilton from the former Yugoslavia as a 12-year-old, kept a clean sheet in his 49th appearance for his country and fittingly sat alongside Herdman at the post-match news conference:
We have to take this forward now and I think the next step for this country is to go and do it again. But on U.S. soil, which will be in three weeks time to qualify for the final four of CONCACAF Nations League, where we'll play, hopefully, Mexico and Costa Rica. And then keep pushing to qualify for this World Cup.
Unbelievable. First I want to say thanks to all the fans that came out tonight. We need more support than this. We showed that we have a young team thats going to bring new football to Canada and this man sitting right beside me … He brought new football to Canada.
“And I just want to say to him right now, in front of all of you: Thank you for bringing the spirit and belief and the energy to these guys. This is a big win for us and this one goes to this man right here.
We all believe we can make this country feel proud of our football team and get all of the fans behind us. We need a few more results like this and nights like that. And I think we can really galvanize our men's team and men's soccer in this country.
Borjan fell to his knees and raised his fists in the air as the whistle ended the match and set off celebration among Canadian players and fans, who had witnessed not just a victory over the U.S. and three crucial points in Nations League but something almost rarer: a match in which the score flattered a big-time Canadian opponent. This wasnt Cuba, this was the U.S., who until Alphonso Davies scored in the 63rd minute had never even trailed Canada in a match since 1993. This loss will send shockwaves through the teetering U.S. program — the game was televised back to the U.S. on ESPN 2 and commentators Ian Darke and Taylor Twellman were scathing in their analysis. Could be 4-0, maybe 5-0 right now, Darke said at one point.
U.S. head coach Gregg Berhalter said his team couldnt match Canadas desire. Nor could he match Herdman tactically. He spoke afterwards about Canada playing a diamond midfield. Herdmans eyes widened when he was asked about that strategic wrinkle, saying: Actually, we played a box. He also vowed to have something else up our sleeve when the teams meet again in Orlando next month.
Heres hoping its more of Davies, the soon to be 19-year-old from Ghana who was raised in Edmonton and plies his trade with German giants Bayern Munich — although seldom, it must be noted, in games. And Jonathan David, the 19-year-old who plays for Gent in the Belgian First Division. They were going concerns against the U.S., with Davies scoring Canadas long-sought after goal when he charged in to take a Scott Arfield pass and rammed the ball past U.S. keeper Zack Steffen. The goal summed up the miserable U.S. night: former captain Michael Bradley getting stripped of the ball, current captain Tim Ream pooching a clearance, and DeAndre Yedlin falling asleep and failing to cover the far post.
An injury in the fifth minute to midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye forced Herdman into an early substitution. Liam Fraser of Toronto FC came on, but it was another more subtle move made by Herdmans that tilted the match largely Canadas way. Already playing with a make-shift back line, Herdman urged Davies to move into an even more central role up front, as opposed to the wing. Canada has never had this much offensive skill, let alone flair, and this was the night in which Herdman gave them the keys.
Davies speed left Ream over-matched and the Bayern Munich player had the game’s first chance — a left-footed shot — after being denied a chance on an offside call that was 50-50 with Ream caught in-between. David had two chances after a Cristian Roldan giveaway but keeper Zack Steffen, familiar to MLS fans from his stellar work with the Columbus Crew until a move to Fortuna Dusseldorf of the Bundesliga, made himself big and stopped Davids initial shot, then looked on as David skimmed a ball wide of the net.
As It Happens host Carol Off spoke to the team's head coach John Herdman about the historic win and why he hopes it signals a new era for the sport in Canada. Here is part of their conversation.
Canada deserved better than a scoreless draw at the half. The U.S. was terrible. Target man Josh Sargent of Werder Bremen had as many touches as Kay did, despite Kay being out of the game in the fifth minute. Christian Pulisic, who has had difficulty breaking into Chelsea FCs lineup but is considered the U.S.s best young player, had three turnovers in the first 45 minutes. He was taken out in the 60th minute, tearing up as he dumped himself on the U.S. bench. Pulisic, who according to Berhalter had been battling flu-like symptoms, completed just 11 passes, his fewest ever for the national team.
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In comparison, Davies flourished until he and David were subbed out for Cavallini and another veteran, Junior Hoilett, but Herdman cautioned against turning Davies into the face of the program.
He doesnt need to be that yet, Herdman said. He just needs to be a kid and enjoy it. Let him (Borjan) take all the pressure, him and Scotty (Arfield, the Canadian captain) and Atiba Hutchinson. Lets just let Fonzie enjoy his football.
Just go out and play, son, Herdman continued. Just go out and do your thing. I want him to play free and not be thinking where he has to be in a structure. He was free tonight. And it was lovely to see.
You love to see it! Alphonso Davies gets onto a ball sent across the box from Scott Arfield. And just like that, it is 1:0.
This was a signature win for the Canadian team and Herdman, who left the successful Canadian womens program to join what at times has been a dysfunctional and usually massively disappointing Canadian mens team — masters of the false spring and the early, cold, depressing winter, as was the case in this summer’s Gold Cup, where it suffered a shocking 3-2 loss to Haiti in the quarterfinals.
The Canadians are coming off two wins over Cuba in the opening matches of the Nations League Group A action, while the U.S. topped the Cuban side 7-0 on Friday leaving the two North American teams to battle it out for the top seed.
Truth is, Tuesdays turnout was disappointing considering the goodwill that surrounded this program when Herdman took over. But Herdman all but forecast that last week in an interview on Sportsnet 590 The Fan.
If wed won the Gold Cup, we would have had 27,000 people in Toronto, Herdman said, noting the womens team sold out stadiums within two hours after winning its bronze medal at London 2012.
Until we win things and show were serious, people wont get behind us, he said. We felt that negativity after the Gold Cup. It was good to feel that. You can sort of say the futures going to be bright but youve actually got to feel it. Jonathan and Alphonso need to feel it. When they failed in the quarterfinal in 2017 there was none of that. Everybody said: Well done! You got beat 2-0 by Jamaica … well done guys!’
“But this time it was the biggest catastrophe in Canadian history to lose 3-2 to Haiti. We have to embrace that loss. Wear it like a medal.
Canada sits atop Group A of the CONCACAF Nations League this morning with nine points. Canada has greatly increased its chances of advancing to the regional World Cup qualifying event — know as the Hex — but even a draw over the U.S. in the return match in Orlando would clinch first place in the group and see Canada advance to the Nations League final. In the complex stew of mathematics and rankings that determine a countrys fate in international soccer, this result was massive.
We were on-task at the half, he said. We were on-plan, it was a calm dressing room — there has always been a belief in this group. It was just nice and calm, and we looked at some clips where the U.S. was starting to break us down … but theres been a belief right from the onset.
Im not naive enough to think its my ideas and my passion. Its just trying to draw out the passion thats already there.
Theyve been hurting for a long time, Herdman said, looking at Borjan. And theyve wanted a night like this for a long time.
We all have. Herdman didnt manage to get the country to stop in its tracks last night. But he did get everybodys attention, again.