The United States Men’s National Team opened World Cup Qualifying with a scoreless draw against El Salvador. The second of three matches in this international window sees Gregg Berhalter and company face off with Canada at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee. This is only the second round out of 14, but building up on points early can help weather bad stretches or unexpected results.
This is the 37th all-time meeting between the two nations, with the USMNT holding a 16-9-11 advantage. Canada is rapidly becoming stronger, rolling through 2022 World Cup qualifying and reaching the semifinals of the recent Gold Cup. In the opening Octagonal match against Honduras, Les Rouges drew at home, 1-1, perhaps lucky to escape with a point.
Canada is managed by John Herdman, appointed to the role in January of 2019. The 46-year-old Englishman previously worked with the women’s program, claiming the bronze medal at the 2016 Olympic Games. The men have thrived under his leadership, running to a 21-6-1 record, which is partially due to a sharp talent increase in the player pool.
“I think they’ve been together [and] they’ve been through it,” said Herdman. “In previous times, some guys had said it just never felt like we would connect around a deeper purpose... When you put all of this together, there’s been a core group of men that have experienced that together and it’s that togetherness that is a foundation of their success.”
Herdman named a 23-player squad for qualifying. This is a better group than was at the Gold Cup with the addition of Jonathan David and Alphonso Davies, both of whom were struggling with injuries. Veteran Atiba Hutchinson, at the age of 38, received a call-up and is chasing his country’s appearance record.
GOALKEEPERS (3): Milan Borjan (Red Star Belgrade), Maxime Crépeau (Vancouver Whitecaps FC), James Pantemis (CF Montréal)
DEFENDERS (8): Doneil Henry (Suwon Samsung Bluewings), Scott Kennedy (SSV Jahn Regensburg), Kamal Miller (CF Montréal), Steven Vitória (Moreirense FC), Samuel Adekugbe (Hatayspor FC), Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich), Alistair Johnston (Nashville SC), Richie Laryea (Toronto FC)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Stephen Eustáquio (FC Paços de Ferreira), Liam Fraser (Toronto FC), Atiba Hutchinson (Beşiktaş JK), Mark-Anthony Kaye (Colorado Rapids), Jonathan Osorio (Toronto FC), Samuel Piette (CF Montréal), David Wotherspoon (St. Johnstone FC)
FORWARDS (5): Tajon Buchanan (New England Revolution), Lucas Cavallini (Vancouver Whitecaps FC), Jonathan David (Lille), David Junior Hoilett (Reading), Cyle Larin (Beşiktaş JK)
After alternating between a 4-3-3 and 3-4-3, Herdman has been utilizing a 3-5-2 formation, looking to capitalize on the roster’s strengths at the striker and winger positions. According to Between the Sticks, this provides Canada “the sort of balance they needed at the defensive end, while also allowing their offensive big guns to run rampant.” The team attempts to hold quickly-moving possession before finding a wide player, who then dribbles forward or plays a long ball.
With this match coming between two other fixtures, Herman should opt to rotate the squad. He played a strong lineup against Honduras, although a few notable players did not see the field. Against the USMNT, expect the stars to feature again, with Atiba Hutchinson, Richie Laryea, and Alistair Johnston heading to the bench.
The starting goalkeeper position still belongs to Milan Borjan, despite his absence from the Gold Cup due to Champions League qualifying with Red Star Belgrade. The 33-year-old has earned 54 caps for Canada since debuting in 2011. At 6’5”, he is able to get to most shots and can be difficult to beat from close range or on breakaways.
Canada has a few different options for the center backs, at times choosing to play with multiple hybrid fullbacks. Steven Vitória is an imposing presence on both sides of the ball, serving as a target on set pieces. Suwon Bluewings defender Doneil Henry is a regular for the national team, now a veteran at 28 years old. He is a heavy tackler and will be expected to win aerial duels, ideally preventing counter attacks. On the left side is Kamal Miller of CF Montréal, who has brought some real dynamism to the team. The 24-year-old emerged as a favorite of the manager, constantly disrupting the opponent and staying involved on the attack.
Let's watch that Alphonso Davies assist again, shall we? pic.twitter.com/ilMqbS3NwO— Goal (@goal) August 18, 2020
With several Bundesliga championships, a Champions League, Super Cup, and Club World Cup under his belt, Bayern Munich winger Alphonso Davies is on pace to become one of the most decorated players in the history of CONCACAF. He is a handful when running at defenders, constantly starting the attack with his long runs and distribution. Now there is another threat on the other side of the field drawing attention, with Tajon Buchanan enjoying a breakout year at the club and international levels. The 22-year-old is similarly pacey and is perhaps more dangerous in the final third, finding himself on the end of crosses.
At the base of the midfield is Stephen Eustáquio of Paços de Ferreira, one of the most under-the-radar talents in CONCACAF. He is an aggressive ball-winner, constantly working to cover the entire field. Mark-Anthony Kaye plays more of a box-to-box role, pushing the tempo with solo dribbling runs and progressive passes. The trio should be completed by Toronto FC’s Jonathan Osorio, who has a tendency to float to the wings in the build-up. The Toronto native also thrives on the edge of the box and can be a scoring threat. If Herdman desires a more attacking presence, Junior Hoilett could also slot into the top of the triangle, although the 31-year-old is better served as a second striker in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Jonathan David looks like he is going to be a ⭐pic.twitter.com/4DLnxAsIEb— Goal (@goal) August 12, 2020
The World Cup dream likely hinges on the forwards maintaining production against a higher level of opponent, something the group failed to do against Honduras. Striker Jonathan David is coming off a Ligue 1 title with Lille, contributing 13 goals last season. Despite regularly scoring with Canada, he contributes even more with his defensive work rate, off-ball movement, and natural feel for the game. His ideal tactical pairing could be Cyle Larin of Beşiktaş. The 26-year-old target man can move into the free space opened up by his partner’s runs and finish incoming crosses.
Canada is an ascendant team, possessing more attacking weapons than in past years, although consistency is an issue. This group is incredibly dangerous on the counter and has several players that will punish defensive mistakes. However, the program’s growth is directly overlapping with an American golden generation, unfortunate timing in the last cycle before the expansion of the World Cup field. Expect the USMNT to grab a victory, but a loss or draw would not be outside the realm of possibility.
The match is scheduled for Sunday, September 5th at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, 5:00 p.m. Pacific. Viewing options include Fox Sports 1, TUDN USA, UniMás, and FUBO TV (free trial).