World Cup

CanMNT & USMNT differences laid bare in Sunday's World Cup qualifier

Chris Smith
Canada sent out a strong statement on Sunday.
Canada sent out a strong statement on Sunday. / Vaughn Ridley/GettyImages

When they took their respective jobs in 2018, both John Herdman and Gregg Berhalter were tasked with changing the footballing perceptions of two nations.

At the time of writing, Canada and the United States occupy first and second place in the Concacaf World Cup qualifying table, clear of regional giants Mexico in third, as well as the likes of 2018 qualifiers Costa Rica and Panama.

There is talk abound of how far the USMNT can go in the next two World Cups after missing out on Russia 2018. As for the CanMNT, the wider soccer sphere is finally starting to take notice after decades in the shadows.

But Sunday's clash between the two sides shone an unforgiving light on where these two nations are at on their respective road maps.

The United States had lost just once to Canada since 1985 and on paper, are the most talented team in North America. Their starting line-up fielded players turning out for the likes of Juventus, Chelsea, RB Leipzig, and Valencia.

Canada, meanwhile, went into the match without star man Alphonso Davies and influential midfielder Stephan Eustaquio, making an already difficult task that much harder.

Unsurprisingly, the USMNT dominated proceedings, with 64% possession and 438 passes to Canada's 210. But this is where the contrast between the two teams was laid bare.

For all their possession and nice passing sequences in the middle third, the United States completely lacked cutting edge, routinely breaking down in the attacking half. Weston McKennie's header from a corner just before half-time forced a superb save from Milan Borjan but in truth, that was the only meaningful intervention the Red Star Belgrade goalkeeper had to make.

On the other side, Canada were well-drilled and disciplined, rarely allowing space between the lines. They kept the United States at arm's length and funnelled the ball into areas where they couldn't be hurt. And when the moments came, they pounced with ferocious speed.

Though he didn't score, Jonathan David was the undoubted star of the match, pulling the USMNT out of shape with his movement, driving the ball forward at speed, and playing with the sort of swagger that should have been visible in the Stars and Stripes.

David provided the assist for Cyle Larin's opener after just seven minutes, playing a quick interchange with the Besiktas striker after Canada picked up the ball from a questionable Matt Turner goal-kick and even worse positioning from the US outfield players.

As the clock ticked, the USMNT became more and more desperate, forgetting their quality and resorting to long, hopeful balls. As they lost their shape, Canada only became more dangerous and Sam Adekugbe's 95th-minute breakaway clincher was the most predictable moment of the match.

From start to finish, it was utterly a performance to forget for the United States, which makes Berhalter's post-match comments all the more puzzling.

“I think it was an entire team effort that was outstanding," he said.

"We asked them to be dominant, we asked them to embrace the conditions, embrace the physicality of the opponent, and I think we did that and more. And it's hard for me to remember a performance away from home this dominant without getting a result. So the result hurts, the performance doesn't hurt. I'm proud of the guys, proud of the way they competed.”

Berhalter added: "They couldn't handle our physicality. That's plain and simple. We were running them all over the pitch and when you look at duels won, when you look at our pressing -- they had a very, very hard time dealing with what we were giving them."

'Dominance' is a fluid word in soccer. Is it defined purely by having more possession despite managing just three shots on target? Or is it having the bravery to concede the ball, knowing you can keep your opponent at arm's length and strike clinically when the moment arrives?

On Berhalter's latter point, Canada won 70 duels to the United States' 69.

“Before it was like, you play US, and they're like, ‘Oh, we play Canada, it’s easy, yeah, blah, blah, blah’ and this and that. But now when they come to us, or we go there, they're scared. They're scared. Last four or five matches, they've been scared against us. Because we have an amazing team,” Canadian goalkeeper Borjan said after the match.

“This is new Canada. This is new soccer Canada, and we’re just going to keep pushing and fighting for the future generations. And we will change the football here in Canada.”

The USMNT's final match of this trio of qualifiers on Wednesday now takes on even more significance. They're at home against a winless Honduras team. Berhalter's popularity among supporters is at an all-time low and only a convincing win full of the attacking flair this group of players promises will do. Even that may not be enough to restore any goodwill.

As for Canada? Their place at Qatar 2022 is all but assured and they can now focus on remaining Concacaf's only unbeaten side throughout the rest of the series. Make no mistake, they're the best team in the region right now and Herdman is fulfilling his destiny.

“Qualifying for a World Cup can change a country…It’s all I think about every day," he said back in 2018. "Every time I speak to the players, every meeting I make sure that’s referenced – everything I’m doing is preparing for when we’re playing our opening match of the World Cup.”