The Canadian men’s national team will try to finish 2019 on a high when they face the United States in Concacaf Nations League on Friday in Orlando.
Canada only needs a point to seal top spot in Group A and book its place in the Nations League semifinals. Most importantly, a draw or win could seal a spot in the hexagonal phase of Concacaf World Cup qualifying.
Then theres Jonathan David, Davies strike partner in last months U.S. tilt. The 19-year-old scored in back-to-back league matches (season total of eight) for KAA Gent before joining the Canada squad in Florida. David has played every minute of the Belgian sides group-topping Europa League performance this year, potting two goals.
Considering who is missing for the U.S., Canada has a strong chance of repeating its heroics from October. However, it’ll take another 90 minutes of mental focus and near-perfect tactical execution, just like the win at BMO Field.
Derek Cornelius, Kamal Miller and Samuel Piette all started against the U.S. last month but have not played a competitive match since. Mark-Anthony Kaye logged about 45 minutes in LAFC’s loss to the Seattle Sounders on Oct. 29, while centre-back Doneil Henry has been inactive as well.
“We’ve worked behind the scenes with the MLS clubs, our sports scientists,” said head coach John Herdman when asked about players who are lacking match fitness. “Dr. Cesar Meylan has been working with some individuals closely on the grass with them to ensure their physical status and that they have been engaging in some matches with semi-pro university teams.”
Herdman, as expected, kept his cards close to his chest about his team selection, but here is a stab at a potential 11.
Keeping an unchanged lineup from the first matchup in October allows Herdman to switch tactics throughout the game. Canada would have numerical advantages across the pitch with the more conservative Miller at left-back, Piette in the heart of the midfield and Kaye’s ability to cover ground. Jonathan Osorio and Scott Arfield also like drifting to their respective flanks when necessary, further protecting the wings if the U.S. has possession.
Last month, Canada earned a historic 2-0 decision over the U.S. in Toronto, the teams first victory over the Americans in 34 years. Canada is top of the group with nine points, six ahead of the U.S. (three points) and out of reach from pointless Cuba.
“[This squad] gives us options to bunker down and play a deep block like we did against Mexico at the Gold Cup or it gives us the options to get on the front foot like we did at home,” Herdman said.
A back five might even be in play here, as was seen at the Gold Cup against Mexico. Either way, Herdman has the tactical flexibility.
Christian Pulisic, Michael Bradley and Zack Steffen are injured, so there will be some changes to the U.S. lineup.
Ajax full-back Sergino Dest should become cap-tied to the Americans following his commitment to the team. However, he can be exploited when deployed as an inverted left-back. More on that later.
Not to damper expectations, of course, but its an advantage worth noting for the U.S. – and a road win is a rare feat for Concacaf nations against the Americans.
Cristian Roldan started the MLS Cup final on Sunday so he could be rested in favour of a more creative midfielder in Sebastian Lletget. Alfredo Morales has more match fitness compared to Wil Trapp, so coach Gregg Berhalter may go for Morales here.
The U.S. is 14-1-3 in competitive games at home since the last “Hex” rolled around in 2019; two losses to Mexico, and one to Costa Rica.
Up front, Jordan Morris has a chance to move to the left wing with Paul Arriola starting on the right.
Some tactical tweaks should be expected at the very least, especially in the humidity of Orlando. It’s much easier to press with that level of intensity in the milder conditions of Toronto in October. Plus, there will be some players who will be participating in their first competitive match since that historic night at BMO Field. Managing their fitness levels will be vital.
It’s important that Canada’s defensive shape is compact. There were occasions last month when the U.S. bypassed the Canadian midfield and progressed the ball into Zone 14. Canada didn’t concede a dangerous chance but they may not be so lucky in Orlando.
If this Canadian team has taught us anything it’s that the kids are good. Not just alright. Better than that.
This occurred in the first half at BMO Field whenever Samuel Piette and Liam Fraser both pushed up at the same time.
Is Canada the favourite going into Fridays CONCACAF Nations League League match versus the U.S. in Orlando?
Fraser replaced the injured Kaye and the latter will probably start on Friday. This may not be an issue with Kaye on the pitch. Still, Piette tends to roam from his position in order to recover possession. Canada can’t get dragged around if it wants to keep the U.S. at bay.
Even though the high press might not be as heavily utilized, there will surely be moments when Canada ramps up the intensity, like during American goal kicks or when the U.S. sticks to one side of the pitch when it has possession.
As for Canada’s attack, it has to favour the right flank. Sergino Dest is naturally a right-back but is practically guaranteed to play on the left against the Canadians. Dest is strong going forward, but he’s a liability when he defends one-on-one.
There is a reason why Mexico targeted the USA’s left side – it’s because El Tri continually benefitted from isolating Dest.
The U.S. was very static for the majority of October’s game. There was very little off-the-ball movement, so within a few passes, the Americans lost possession. Canada was the polar opposite and that is why they created high-quality chances, according to expected goals (xG) metrics.
This meant the attack was ineffective, especially striker Josh Sargent. He only received two passes in the Canadian box in October so that has to change.
There are two tweaks Berhalter can make. The first is having the right-back – perhaps Reggie Cannon – test Canada’s left-back (Miller?) more often. Miller is more conservatively positioned so that wing will be open for the U.S. to attack.
The other change could involve the U.S. forwards pressing Canada goalkeeper Milan Borjan and his defenders. They have to be wary of the counter, but the odd time an American rushed Canada’s defence, it was discomforted.
Canada might play more direct anyways but Borjan and the defenders can’t afford to hesitate on the ball in this game.
That's the question looming over Canada's men's soccer team as the squad gets set for their rematch Friday night against the Americans in Orlando.
There's reason for optimism. It was one month ago the Canadians were celebrating their historic win over the United States — a 2-0 victory in front of a boisterous home crowd at BMO Field in Toronto, perhaps signaling new hope. It was, after all, the program's first victory over their southern neighbours since 1985.
But now it's about consistency, and until the team strings together a number of strong performances, the program will continue to be questioned. Head coach John Herdman knows it too.
He has two feet firmly planted on the pitch knowing that his 69th world-ranked team is going to need many more of these international victories strung together before they're taken seriously.
"Now it's about consistency," Herdman said. "There's clarity though. We're getting better, getting better every time we come in and that will take us to a place we all want to be, that we know can change our country forever."
The goals are lofty but Herdman doesn't shy away from them. He took the Canadian women's team to a different soccer stratosphere — back-to-back Olympic bronze medals. Not since 1986 have the Canadian men played in a World Cup.
Now that "country-changing" moment he so badly seeks for the men's side is starting to take shape. Qualifying for the 2022 World Cup is his obsessive focus as he talks about it at every turn.
"Our motivation is to qualify for the World Cup," Herdman said during a conference call leading into Friday's match.
That place? Another pressure-packed, pivotal game against the Americans that, should the team draw or win, catapults them closer to the spot they want to be. A loss, in a lot of ways, undoes all the greatness realized that October night in Toronto.
The Canadians' victory over the U.S. put them in first place atop the Group A standings in the CONCACAF Nations League — while comfortable for the moment, the margin for error is slim.
A win or draw Friday night against the Americans would place the Canadians into the Nations League final four and also earn them valuable points in the FIFA world rankings, all with the goal of getting to Qatar 2022 as the ultimate end stop.
Canada is now in the top six among CONCACAF teams after its win over the United States — that's where they need to be by the time next June rolls around to ensure a spot in the Hexagonal (the Hex) for World Cup qualifying. The Hex is the most direct path for World Cup qualifying in the CONCACAF region.
Herdman says it'll be incumbent upon his team to continue to play at a high level to signal to the rest of the competing nations Canada belongs in the conversation.
"It comes down to will. That's what will we will be working on and building consistency," he said.
"Mindset wise it's the same as every time we play — Keep improving as a group to be better than we were and to just keep bringing that same will and intensity."
Gone are the days a men's Canadian soccer squad is scrambling to put together a competitive roster heading into an important international match.
Herdman spent much of the conference call talking about his roster and having a good problem in deciding what talent will be on the pitch come game time.
"The player's blood is always boiling for games like this and they want to be on the field," Herdman said. "That's where we wanted to get Canada at."
Eighteen-year-old FC Bayern Munich product Alphonso Davies is back on the roster for the upcoming return leg in Orlando. He's the star fanning the flames of excitement around this team and also had a game-winning goal against the Americans last month.
Lucas Cavallini has been sensational for Canada and is also returning for the game Friday night. He was the second goal scorer against the United States. Add 19-year-old Jonathan David, who plays for the Belgian First Division side K.A.A. Gent to the mix and the scoring power by the Canadian squad is more threatening than it's been in a long time — David has 11 goals in 11 matches with the national team.
"We know the U.S. will add a certain level to their performance being at home so then for us we have to not only bring a level of consistency but improvement to performance as well," Herdman said.
Devin Heroux reports for CBC News and Sports. He is now based in Toronto, after working first for the CBC in Calgary and Saskatoon.
To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.
It is a priority for CBC to create a website that is accessible to all Canadians including people with visual, hearing, motor and cognitive challenges.