WASHINGTON — Most if not all of the U.S. Men’s National Team refrained on Friday from explicitly saying that Cuba was a weak opponent, but no one hesitated to say that Canada was going to be a much tougher test.
Especially since this match vs. the fired up northern neighbor will be the first away from home.
It was surely a fun exercise for the USMNT to put up seven goals in last week’s lopsided Concacaf Nations League affair against Cuba, but a much stiffer test awaits in Toronto on Tuesday night. The Americans know it, too, as Canada currently boasts a young crop of players that is filled with a similar kind of energy and promise.
Throw in the facts that this crucial Group A game will be played at BMO Field and that the Canadians have made their disdain for the USMNT very clear in the lead-up to this showdown, and it is clear the Americans are in store for a much bigger challenge.
“I think for us, these are the games that are going to help our team grow and we’re really looking forward to a game like this because we’re going to learn a lot about our group,” USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter said. “It’s going to be a potentially difficult environment to play in and it’s going to be a very motivated opponent. This will be our first game together playing away from home, so everything lines up for us to really test ourselves against Canada.
“I’ve said before, I think it’s a well-coached team, I think they have good players from the back to the front, and we’re excited at the opportunity.”
While the Americans may be eager to test themselves against stiffer competition, there is also some pressure going into this one. A win for the Canadians would mean they move six points clear of the USMNT in the group, and that would leave Berhalter’s side in need of having to win the remaining two matches — one of which is vs. Canada — while making up any goal differential in order to take the group.
Canada might just have the weapons this time around to end a winless run against the USMNT that stretches all the way back to April 1985. Not only do the Canadians have speedy and dynamic wide player Alphonso Davies of Bayern Munich, but also an exciting goal-scorer in Jonathan David that is off to a strong start both with his Canada National Team career and in his respective European season with KAA Gent in Belgium.
“They have a lot of good young players,” said USMNT midfielder Michael Bradley, who plays for Toronto FC. “They have guys who have started to make real headway at good clubs in Europe and they have guys that play key roles for very good MLS teams. I think it’s all come together in a way where they feel like this is the best team they have had in a while and they are motivated and they have a little bit of a chip on their shoulder.
“It’s a team that on their day can cause anybody trouble.”
The USMNT might be aware of how dangerous this hungry Canada side might be playing at home, but the idea going into this one is not to defend and counter. Berhalter has had the Americans attempting to play a more aggressive, proactive, and attacking style, though results during his first year in charge have been largely mixed at the very least.
Still, do not expect the USMNT to steer away from that game plan. While it is unclear if Josh Sargent or Gyasi Zardes will start up top, Berhalter is likely to have one of them and Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, and Jordan Morris all very involved in the American attack, with an emphasis being put on executing the specific movements worked on in training and creating numerical advantages when in possession.
“Obviously first and foremost, I think we’re trying to change the view of American soccer,” USMNT centerback Matt Miazga said. “I think a lot of people look at us now and see that we’re still a relatively young country in terms of football, but obviously we want to impose our will and compete with the big nations.
“…You see the talent that we have playing in Europe, good players playing in MLS, and now it’s about cultivating everybody together and make sure we get these things right. Also playing attacking football, building out from the back and playing in between lines and creating a lot of goal-scoring opportunities. That’s what we want to continue to do and hopefully against Canada we can do that as well.”
Accomplishing that will probably not be easy, and nowhere close to the level that it was vs. Cuba on Friday night. Nonetheless, the USMNT is gunning for three more points, a strong showing on the road, and continued progress in Berhalter’s system.
Yes, the Canadians may be champing at the bit to end a 34-year winless run against their big brother from the south and will have their supporters fully behind them. The USMNT, however, believes it has what it takes to keep the streak going and move one step closer to winning the Nations League group.
“They’re dynamic and they’ve got some talented young guys and we’re going to have to be ready,” USMNT goalkeeper Zack Steffen told SBI. “I think they’re going to press us. We’re going to have to keep the ball, we’re going to have to make them run, we’re going to have keep our eyes up, and just be aware for 90 minutes.”