The United States Men’s National Team opened the international window with a 1-0 win against El Salvador, the lone goal provided by Antonee Robinson. The second of three matches is a battle against the renewed rival, Canada, at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton, Ontario in front of a reduced-capacity crowd. Both nations are at the top of the table, making this fixture a true six-pointer with potentially far-reaching consequences.
After playing to a 1-1 draw last September, this is the 38th meeting between the two teams, with the USMNT holding a 16-9-12 advantage. Canada currently leads the qualifying table with 19 points points from nine matches. In the last window, the Canucks reeled off impressive wins against Costa Rica, 1-0, and Mexico, 2-1. The most recent fixture resulted in a 2-0 victory over Honduras to preserve an unbeaten record.
Canada is managed by John Herdman, appointed to the role in January of 2019. He was previously in charge of the women’s program, claiming the bronze medal at the 2016 Olympic Games. The 46-year-old Englishmen has compiled an impressive 26-6-4 record, steering a golden generation of talent to the next level.
Herdman named a 25-player squad for the international window. Call-ups hail from 11 different countries. Bayern Munich star Alphonso Davies is missing while “he recovers from a mild case of myocarditis.”
GOALKEEPERS (3): Milan Borjan (Red Star Belgrade), Maxime Crépeau (Los Angeles FC), Jayson Leutwiler (Oldham Athletic)
DEFENDERS (9): Doneil Henry (Unattached), Steven Vitória (Moreirense), Sam Adekugbe (Hatayspor), Richie Laryea (Nottingham Forest), Alistair Johnston (CF Montréal), Kamal Miller (CF Montréal), Derek Cornelius (Panetolikos), Scott Kennedy (Jahn Regensburg), Cristián Gutiérrez (Vancouver Whitecaps FC)
FORWARDS (7): Cyle Larin (Beşiktaş), Junior Hoilett (Reading), Lucas Cavallini (Vancouver Whitecaps FC), Jonathan David (Lille), Tajon Buchanan (Club Brugge), Liam Millar (Basel), Iké Ugbo (Genk)
Herdman has alternated between the 3-5-2/3-4-3, 4-4-2, and 4-2-3-1 formations, but there is a certain level of fluidity beyond standard roles, with the shape constantly changing. Despite Davies’ absence, the strength of this roster is at the wide and striker positions, filled by athletes that chase long passes for 90 minutes. Canada plays through the wings with fast and direct counter-attacks, looking to cycle the ball outside when forced to slow down. Pressing players forward can leave the back-line exposed, particularly against teams that also push the tempo in transition.
Milan Borjan remains the number one for Canada, although his status at Red Star Belgrade is reportedly in flux. The 34-year-old is a towering presence at 6’5”, controlling his box and covering the entire net with ease. Unlike most goalkeepers at his size, he possesses surprising speed when coming off his line to meet fast-breaking attackers. If a back-up is needed, Maxime Crépeau has proven to be serviceable and plays within himself.
Moreirense defender Steven Vitória continues to hold a place on the back line, an immense ball-winner who is dangerous on set pieces. The 35-year-old provides a veteran presence in the center of the field. The left side is covered by Kamal Miller, a dynamic inside/outside player taking on an important role in the build-up. He is constantly looking to push forward, whether with a bruising dribbling run or advancing pass. Doneil Henry could also feature in the match but has served as a rotational starter.
After debuting last year, Alistair Johnston of CF Montréal became a key cog almost instantly and has started in every match during the Octagonal. The Vancouver native is a stable, hardworking presence that stays home, while possessing the speed to track down opposing attackers. Fullback Richie Laryea recently moved to Nottingham Forest in the English Championship. He presses into the final third and can serve as an extra attacker, capable of scoring from well outside of the box.
Mark-Anthony Kaye is a ball-moving shuttler that works hard to link the entire formation. He enjoys a more independent role and can cause problems in the final third. The big mystery is the potential presence of Porto midfielder Stephen Eustáquio. His status is “day-by-day,” but the 25-year-old would provide a necessary aggression in the high-stakes qualifier. Without him, the defensive responsibility falls to Samuel Piette of CF Montréal, an experienced professional with 61 international appearances. The Québec native is a solid replacement with a high passing accuracy and smart movement. If his injury sustained against Honduras is serious, then Liam Fraser – an interception and clearance specialist with “an incredible work ethic” – should fill the spot.
The stepovers from Tajon Buchanan.— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) January 28, 2022
Canada start the match in style. pic.twitter.com/iSORHJdnIc
With Davies out, the “x-factor” responsibility lands on the shoulders of Tajon Buchanan, a speedy and tricky winger that beats defenders off the dribble with ease. The 22-year-old contributed nine goals and six assists last season in Major League Soccer before moving to Club Brugge. In addition to his attacking prowess, he aids in the defensive effort. When deciding between Junior Hoilett and Liam Millar, Herdman has lately opted for the latter player, a 22-year-old who has seven goals and four assists this season with FC Basel. His straight-line speed and finishing can be dangerous, cutting inside and shooting from an angle.
If this is the first-choice Canada lineup, then Jonathan David will lead the formation. The Lille striker is drawing transfer interest from the world’s top clubs, coming off a Ligue 1 title and 16 goals this season, a barrage of impressive finishes from breakaways to headers. He pushes into the open space, leads counter-attacks, possesses a deft touch in the box, and has that magnetic attraction to the ball shared by top scorers.
Depending on the formation, Herdman may choose to play with an attacking midfielder or another forward, the latter to support David’s second-striker abilities. Jonathan Osorio has played a high-volume role for Toronto FC and is considered a “secret weapon.” He is an unselfish, intelligent operator with a natural understanding of where to move and find open space for teammates. The other option is Cyle Larin, who already has four goals in five Octagonal matches, including a brace in the recent 2-1 victory over Mexico. The 6’2” Beşiktaş target man gets on the end of crosses and presses defenders with physicality, capitalizing on mistakes.
There has been some discussion as to the effects of Tim Hortons Field. “Canadians have grown up on plastic pitches, many of them in cold conditions,” the manager said after defeating Honduras. “These boys, they expect that now. It’s part of our DNA. It’s part of this story, the journey. I just feel like that Hamilton stadium, it’s going to feel tight and compact... I played England there with the women’s team... It felt tight, and we want the U.S. to feel that. Regardless of the pitch, this game against the U.S. is a battle.”
In the midst of a 36-year drought, Canada is hurtling toward a berth in the 2022 World Cup, buoyed by the current group of players that hopes to earn qualification before automatically hosting the next edition. This should be another high-intensity battle between two of the region’s titans, with the potential for fireworks before and after the whistle. Both teams are missing a few key names but possess the depth to withstand any absences. Expect the USMNT to pull out a victory based on the strength of the central midfielders and the absence of Davies. If there is a weakness, the home team’s pressing and quick-strike attacking may cause some problems against Gregg Berhalter’s possession tactics.
The match is scheduled for Sunday, January 30th at 3:05 p.m. Eastern, 12:05 p.m. Pacific. Viewing options include Paramount+, UNIVERSO, Telemundo, and FUBO TV (free trial).