FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Qualifiers Canada vs. United States of America January 30, 2022 at 3:00 pm ET Tim Hortons Field, Hamilton, Ontario Watch live on OneSoccer, TELUS Ch. 980, and Sportsnet
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MATCH PREVIEWTen minutes down the road from Tim Hortons Field there stands a monument in a park. On that spot, 208 years ago, an invading American army did battle with a force of British-Canadians and lost. The stakes of a football match are far more trivial than those of a real battlefield, but as a very different American force rolls into Hamilton this weekend, perhaps John Herdman and the Canadian men's national team can find inspiration in the Battle of Stoney Creek. This being Canada's only home game of this three-match World Cup Qualifying window, Les Rouges have been eagerly anticipating this opportunity to lock horns with their archrival the United States. Canada still sits atop the standings of the Octagon in this final round of Concacaf qualifying, now with just five games yet to be played for each team. The top three spots grant a guaranteed ticket to Qatar 2022, and the Canadians now have a five-point cushion on fourth-place Panama after results on Thursday night. Now, though, is not the time for Canada to rest on their laurels. Sunday's game is one they've had circled on the calendar for a while, now -- especially after they came so close to beating the Americans away from home in September. While the stars haven't aligned quite the way Canada wanted them, with Alphonso Davies unavailable and a capacity restriction in Ontario putting a slight damper on the atmosphere at Tim Hortons Field, this could nonetheless be a big moment for the Canadians. They've been left frustrated after two matches against the U.S. in 2021 (the 1-0 loss at the Gold Cup and the aforementioned 1-1 draw in Nashville) but now they've finally got another crack -- and this time, at home.
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Both teams will enter this match brimming with confidence. Canada, just a few nights ago, exorcised their demons in San Pedro Sula with a gutsy 2-0 win over Honduras. The U.S., meanwhile, kept pace by knocking off El Salvador, 1-0, at home. The two sides are achingly close to booking flights to Doha, but there's still work to be done. For the visiting U.S., this is a chance to re-assert their dominance over the northern neighbours. For Canada, it's an opportunity to flip the script after trailing behind for so many years. Canada have proven that they can beat the United States; they did so at BMO Field in October 2019. Still, it's been 41 years since they did it in a World Cup Qualifying game. There's a long way for Canada to go before they can claim an upper hand in this matchup. The U.S. -- reigning champions of the Gold Cup and Concacaf Nations League, both of which they won in 2021 -- have been strong in the Octagon so far, currently sitting in second place (one point back of Canada) with five wins, three draws, and one loss in Panama. Back in November, they beat Mexico 2-0 just days before El Tri met Canada in Edmonton. Gregg Berhalter's side, like Herdman's, is packed with young talent as a new generation of players begins to mature. The hosts, meanwhile, will be eager to increase their grip on first place in the table, which they would do with three points on Sunday. Unfortunately, neither team will quite be at full strength for this match. Canada -- already missing its star in Davies, who remains out while he's treated for myocarditis, might also be without some key midfielders. Stephen Eustáquio is still a doubt after not travelling to join the team prior to the Honduras game, and Mark-Anthony Kaye was mysteriously absent from the matchday squad in San Pedro Sula too. Plus, Samuel Piette left the game on Thursday with an injury, so it's unclear whether nor not he might be fit to play. "They still have some great players," U.S. coach Berhalter said of his opponent on Saturday. "When you think about the speed of Tajon Buchanan, he can do that. When you think about Jonathan David, he's got the quality. He's one of Europe's top strikers right now. Cyle Larin's always been a very good player. They have weapons. I think it was surprising the way they approached that game (vs. Honduras), but when I look at how they create chances a lot of them are from counter attacks, Honduras was no different. They may take a different posture at home, but who knows. We're preparing for everything and we'll be prepared either way." The major loss for the United States heading into Hamilton is Lille winger Timothy Weah, who hasn't travelled with the team to Canada due to an issue with his vaccination status. To the 12,000 fans attending on Sunday: bundle up. The forecast for Sunday afternoon is only -4 degrees Celsius (balmy compared to the temperatures of past few days), but the wind that blows through Tim Hortons Field is sure to bite. With the frigid cold and the sticky turf pitch in Hamilton, there may be an adjustment period in the early stages of this game. The U.S. may actually be slightly more acclimated to the conditions, having played their first match in Columbus, Ohio rather than sweltering Honduras, but nonetheless the playing field should be quite even. The age-old rivalry between Canada and the United States has been played out on many a stage. At last, though, it's arriving in men's soccer. It's time for Canada to defend home soil once again.
3 THINGS TO WATCH
What threat does the United States pose?This generation of the U.S. men's national team is chock-full of players who go up against some of the world's best on a weekly basis in Europe. Chelsea winger Christian Pulisic is the centrepiece of the attack, with his ability to engineer attacks and cut in from the left flank, and the American midfield trio of Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig), Weston McKennie (Juventus), and Yunus Musah (Valencia) is good at controlling the pace of a game. The news that Weah will be unavailable is probably a major boost for Canada, considering the Lille man's ability to stretch the pitch and run onto direct passes -- much like Alberth Elis did for Honduras on Thursday. Since Gregg Berhalter took over as coach, the U.S. has typically liked to press in a 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 diamond formation, looking to get up the pitch into the opposing half even without the ball. Fullbacks Sergiño Dest (Barcelona) and Antonee Robinson (Fulham) both like to get forward as well, so Canada will need to be wary of them -- although Herdman may also look to exploit them with the pace of players like Tajon Buchanan and Richie Laryea, both of whom can beat fullbacks on the dribble quite consistently. Berhalter's U.S. team has a lot of attacking depth in the squad, even without Weah. It's difficult to guess who might get picked in the front three, though Ricardo Pepi seems the likely option at centre-forward, after Jesús Ferreira was the choice on Thursday against El Salvador (a choice that came as a surprise to many). Brenden Aaronson, who scored against Canada in Nashville, is also a candidate to get the start on the wing, given the verticality he can provide in Weah's stead. Defensively, Canada will look to stay organized, as they did against Honduras, and they'll want to isolate Pulisic and prevent him from finding lanes for incisive passes. He was ineffective against El Salvador, giving the ball away with about half of his touches, so it's certainly possible to neutralize him.
Shorthanded midfield must be strongSquad selection is going to be a real headache for John Herdman when it comes to the midfield. Stephen Eustáquio is unlikely to play, and Sam Piette's ankle is a concern. Plus, it's unclear why Mark-Anthony Kaye missed out completely in Honduras. At least two, if not all three, of those players would probably start this game in an ideal world, but Canada will have to adapt without them. Jonathan Osorio thus feels like a lock to play a role in Hamilton, even though the creative Toronto FC midfielder has been out of season for about two months. He got some minutes in the second half of the Honduras game to bring him up to speed somewhat, so Herdman will be hoping he's sharp enough for the task on Sunday. Atiba Hutchinson, meanwhile, may be called upon again; the Besiktas man went 90 minutes in San Pedro Sula, and at nearly 39 years old it might be asking a lot to expect another full shift just three days later. Does Liam Fraser, perhaps, get the nod? He was the man Herdman turned to off the bench when Piette went down on Thursday, and he did very well -- providing the spectacular assist for Jonathan David's goal. A shorthanded midfield is really the last thing Canada would want against the United States, whose greatest strength is arguably the Adams-McKennie-Musah trio in the middle. They're very good at winning and establishing possession before playing into space for wingers, and they typically form a very strong central shape for shorter passing. It's a tough prospect even for a full-strength Canadian midfield to handle, let alone one without Eustáquio, but it can be done. One option for Canada may be trying to bypass midfield as much as possible, sticking to the wide areas and lofting balls over the top to attacking players, but even so, whoever does line up centrally will have their work cut out for them.
Punish slow ball movement with counter-attacksOne element that wasn't so good about the U.S.'s win over El Salvador was a tendency for attacking players other than Weah to be a little sluggish in possession. Pulisic, in particular, took a lot of time on the ball which led to him being dispossessed a team-high nine times. That's something Canada can definitely exploit going into Sunday; if the U.S. players are holding on to the ball too long and looking to dribble more often than pass forward, there are sure to be opportunities for Canadian counter-attacks. In the September game against the U.S., Herdman deployed his most conservative lineup of this qualification cycle, arranging his team in a 5-4-1 with a low block, conceding 72% of possession. It was a wildly different strategy to what we've seen from Canada in any other game in the past year, but it was very effective at frustrating the Americans and limiting their ability to attack with speed. On home turf, it's hard to imagine Herdman will want to bunker down as much as he did in Nashville, but a quick strike in transition is still definitely something he would like to see from this game. Tajon Buchanan and Richie Laryea will be critical to that with their pace, particularly against the U.S.'s slower defenders. Canada will have their moments in possession, of course, but the game could very well be won or lost by a quick counter-attack to punish an opponent that can occasionally be prone to ball-watching.
Canada wins: 9 || United States wins: 17 || Draws: 11
September 5, 2021 — United States 1-1 Canada
September 5, 2021 — United States 1-1 Canada
KEY QUOTES"A game against Canada, there's gonna be a heightened intensity because of the nature of the opponent. It's natural for players to raise their game just a tad." -- United States coach Gregg Berhalter "I think there's been a shift in (Canada's) mentality. They play with a chip on their shoulder, they play with something to prove, and they play with an intensity that is very high. They're a confident group, so whenever you go out there you know that they're gonna compete, and you have to match that level of intensity and desire." -- United States defender Walker Zimmerman