VAN DIEST: Still plenty at stake for Canada in rematch with United States

USA

United States defender Aaron Long and Canada forward Junior Hoilett vie for the ball during second half of CONCACAF Nations League soccer action in Toronto, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019. Cole Burston / CP

The Canadian men’s national soccer team still has a lot of heavy lifting to do for a top-six spot in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.

Yet, an impressive 2-0 victory against the United States in Nations League Group A play just over three weeks ago at BMO Field in Toronto, has the team in a confident mood heading into the rematch on Nov. 15 in Orlando, Fla.

A draw would be good enough to get Canada into the semifinals of the inaugural continental tournament, and more importantly, would earn them valuable FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking points in the quest to get into the main group (Hex) in qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

“We have bigger motivations than anything that can be said down south,” said Canada coach John Herdman in a conference call Friday, following the announcement of the roster for the game. “Our motivation is to win the Nations League Group A with one reason in mind; to qualify for the Hex which will take us to the World Cup.”

The win against the United States vaulted Canada into the top six in the latest world rankings. However, it’s a precarious position as Canada are just three points ahead of El Salvador, 16 up on Curacao and 29 in front of Panama.

The top six ranked teams prior to the start of World Cup qualifying next year will face each other for three guaranteed CONCACAF spots in Qatar. The rest of the teams in the confederation will vie against each other for the half spot awarded to the CONCACAF to be contested against another region.

Qualification for Qatar from outside the top of six would be extremely difficult, so Canada’s best chance to play in a World Cup prior to likely receiving an automatic berth as co-hosts in 2026 would be to qualify for the Hex.

For the Americans, a spot in the Hex is already guaranteed as the second-highest ranked team in the region behind Mexico. They need a win in Orlando to move on to the Nations League semifinal and restore some pride.

The United States took the loss to Canada hard as it was the first time in 34 years they had fallen to its northern neighbours. The American men’s team is in a bit of a transition period, having failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia and sustaining some surprising losses this year.

“I think whatever is happening south of the border is their business it’s for them to deal with,” Herdman said. “I’ve been pretty clear internally here with the players we have.

“We want to be driven by internal things like getting better every camp we come in, and that getting better takes us all to a place we want to be that we know can change our country forever, which is that qualification in the Hex and hopefully into the World Cup.”

Herdman may have the most talented crop of male players Canada has ever produced at his disposal.

Along with budding superstar Alphonso Davies, the Canadian team also features talented players such as Jonathan David, Lucas Cavallini, Junior Hoilett, Scott Arfield, Stephen Eustaquio, Jonathan Osorio, Doneil Henry, Steven Vitoria and Derek Cornelius.

The win against the United States helped erase bad memories of the 3-2 loss to Haiti at the Gold Cup this past summer and also earned them a spot into the 2021 edition of the tournament.

Herdman and his staff got the formula right in the first game against the United States and they want to keep the momentum building.

Interest in the game has peaked as the men’s program has become popular after years of discontent not being able to qualify for a World Cup since Canada’s only appearance in 1986.

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“I think we have to keep it at a high level,” Herdman said. “I think going into a game like this the margins are tight and that’s probably up to the U.S. to figure out how Canada might approach this game. Mindset-wise, it’s the same every time we come into camp, to keep improving as a group to be better than we were in the last camp and to keep bringing that same will and intensity.

“Whether we play one way or another, with one formation or another, it comes down to will and that’s what we’ll be working on to build that consistency against that type of opposition.”

There won’t be any lack of motivation for Canada going into the game against the United States, knowing what is at stake for the men’s program. But having finally gotten over the hurdle and won a competitive match against the Americans for the first time since 1985, Canada’s confidence should be at an all-time high.

“We know the U.S. will add a certain level to the performance being at home, so for us we not only have to bring a certain level of consistency but improvement on that last performance as well,” Herdman said. “Speaking to the leadership group, they’re very clear; these four or five days and the short window we get together the work we do is going to be critical to push for another result.”

Email: dvandiest@postmedia.com

On Twitter: @DerekVanDiest

Canada Roster

GK- Milan Borjan | SRB / FK Crvena zvezda (Red Star Belgrade)
GK- Maxime Crépeau | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
GK- Jayson Leutwiler | ENG / Blackburn Rovers
CB- Derek Cornelius | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
CB- Amer Didić | CAN / FC Edmonton
CB- Doneil Henry | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
CB- Steven Vitória | POR / Moreirense FC
FB- Samuel Adekugbe | NOR / Vålerenga Fotball
FB- Richie Laryea | CAN / Toronto FC
FB- Kamal Miller | USA / Orlando City SC
FB- Dominick Zator | CAN / Cavalry FC
M- Scott Arfield | SCO / Glasgow Rangers FC
M- Stephen Eustáquio | MEX / Cruz Azul FC
M- Liam Fraser | CAN / Toronto FC
M- Mark-Anthony Kaye | USA / Los Angeles FC
M- Jonathan Osorio | CAN / Toronto FC
M- Samuel Piette | CAN / Impact de Montréal
M- David Wotherspoon | SCO / St. Johnstone FC
F- Lucas Cavallini | MEX / Puebla FC
F- Jonathan David | BEL / KAA Gent
F- Alphonso Davies | GER / FC Bayern München
F- David Junior Hoilett | WAL / Cardiff City FC
F- Liam Millar | SCO / Kilmarnock FC

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