The United States Men’s National Team has reached the final step of the 2023 CONCACAF Nations League, earning the opportunity to defend the title after defeating Mexico, 3-0, in the semifinal round, a potentially pyrrhic victory after picking up two red cards. The only remaining hurdle is Canada, which is looking to cement status as one of the region’s dominant powers. Another battle is set to be waged in what is quickly becoming a fierce rivalry that should continue to intensify for the remainder of the decade. The match is scheduled for Allegiant Stadium in Paradise, Nevada, a 61,000-seat venue that opened in July of 2020.
This is the 39th all-time meeting between the two nations, with the USMNT holding a 16-10-12 advantage. Currently ranked 41st internationally by FIFA, Canada qualified for the Nations League Finals by finishing atop League A Group C with a 3-1-0 record, splitting results against Honduras (1-2 and 4-1) and defeating Curaçao twice (4-0 and 2-0). In the semifinal round, Les Rouges (The Reds) dispatched Panama in a 2-0 victory, reaching the program’s “first men’s international final in 23 years” since the 2000 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
John Herdman was appointed to the manager role in January of 2018 following nearly a decade in charge of the women’s team, a tenure that included two bronze medals at the Olympics. The 47-year-old Englishman, described as a “mad genius” by The Athletic, has compiled an impressive 35-13-5 record and led the program back to the World Cup for the first time since 1986, although the winless performance in Qatar was a disappointment for the trendy dark-horse selection. Despite noting “several offers,” including a report of being hired by New Zealand, he opted to stay in his current position and is “under contract” through the summer of 2026.
Herdman named a 23-player roster for the Nations League Finals. Five of the call-ups are based in Major League Soccer, while the rest are on the books at European clubs. Notable past inclusions such as Samuel Piette, Doneil Henry, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Liam Fraser, Maxime Crépeau, and Liam Millar were left out of the group for various reasons.
GOALKEEPERS (3): Dayne St. Clair (Minnesota United), Tom McGill (Brighton & Hove Albion), Milan Borjan (Red Star Belgrade)
DEFENDERS (8): Alistair Johnston (Celtic), Sam Adekugbe (Galatasaray), Kamal Miller (Inter Miami), Steven Vitória (Chaves), Dominick Zator (Korona Kielce), Moïse Bombito (Colorado Rapids), Richie Laryea (Toronto FC), Scott Kennedy (Jahn Regensburg)
MIDFIELDERS (6): Stephen Eustáquio (Porto), David Wotherspoon (St Johnstone), Victor Loturi (Ross County), Atiba Hutchinson (Beşiktaş), Ismaël Koné (Watford), Jonathan Osorio (Toronto FC)
FORWARDS (6): Lucas Cavallini (Tijuana), Junior Hoilett (Reading), Tajon Buchanan (Club Brugge), Cyle Larin (Valladolid), Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich), Jonathan David (Lille)
Herdman has alternated between 4-4-2, 3-4-3, and 3-5-2 formations and insisted that “squad rotation is critical” with the quick turnaround between matches. According to Total Football Analysis, his “well-drilled, disciplined, and hardworking” teams never engage in an “all-out-of-attack approach because keeping the defense is important,” utilizing a simple counter-press while conceding little space. Much of the attack is generated through the wing-backs, looking to quickly break out before centering to the strikers.
At some point, Canada will be forced to move on from Milan Borjan, but the 35-year-old Red Star Belgrade goalkeeper remains the number one and faithfully accepts call-ups. He made 44 total appearances this past season for Црвено-бели (The Red-Whites), claiming a sixth consecutive Serbian SuperLiga title. His 6’5” frame allows him to easily reach most shots, nigh unbeatable from long distances with a surprising agility for his size. Far from a traditional shot-stopper glued to line, there is a willingness to collect crosses and charge out to combat onrushing attackers.
Canada’s back-three tends to be mobile and capable of spreading the width of the field to accommodate the wing-backs’ attacking tendencies. After missing the previous Nations League fixtures with an injury, Kamal Miller returned to his hybrid inside-outside role on the left side of the line, playing key passes to advance possession. The Inter Miami defender has a “broad range of abilities,” launching himself into challenges and using his speed to make heroic last-ditch tackles. The central spot could be filled by Steven Vitória, the 36-year-old competing with Chaves in the Portuguese Primeira Liga. As expected from a 6’5” player, he hoovers up any available headers in the area and is a dangerous figure on set pieces with an impressive range on his aerial finishes. Celtic’s Alistair Johnston should complete the trio, taking on more stay-at-home responsibilities at the international level. His intelligent movement and physical nature allow him to contend with both opposing wingers and strikers.
With all of the fanfare surrounding his lauded teammates, Stephen Eustáquio, now with Porto, may be the most important member of the squad. He is an unrelenting ball-winner with a non-stop motor but also possesses the technique to break down packed boxes. Ismaël Koné, the reigning Canada Young Soccer Player of the Year, has come on strong since making his senior international debut in 2022, appearing in all three World Cup matches and becoming a starter for Watford in the English Championship. The 22-year-old is noted for his chance creation and dribbling prowess, displaying “great off-the-ball movement and close control which make him a danger in and around the edge of the penalty box.” As one of the squad’s veterans, Jonathan Osorio can fill a variety of roles, often stationed in the advanced spot at the top of the midfield triangle. While Toronto FC is enduring a dismal season, his passing and pressing statistics are among the best in MLS, paired with a respectable one goal and three assists despite missing roughly over a month with a “lower body injury.”
On the right day, the explosive Alphonso Davies is the most impactful player in the CONCACAF region, bringing a devastating combination of speed, technique, and crossing that can merely be delayed and not stopped. Whether pressing, leading the counter-attack, or chasing down opponents, he is capable of changing the course of proceedings. Completing what could be the world’s best wing-back duo, Tajon Buchanan recently concluded his second season with Club Brugge in Belgium and reportedly attracted the interest of Champions League finalists Inter Milan. The 24-year-old is a “dynamic dribbler” who is “adept at getting back into position” and “often forces errors” with “impressive dueling.”
Kamal Miller serves it up. Jonathan David finishes it.— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) June 15, 2023
Canada take the lead in Vegas. pic.twitter.com/UZdcFo4DRX
Jonathan David wrapped another phenomenal season for Lille, finding the back of the net 24 times in 38 appearances. He is an all-around talent who can create, run behind the back line, operate out of tight spaces, and find the right spots in which to receive the ball, while also scoring in bunches. With Herdman opting for two-striker formations of late, Cyle Larin should feature in the formation, having completed a respectable half-season in Spain with Valladolid. The 28-year-old is the typical target player, locking horns with the centre-backs and getting on the end of crosses.
Two aggressive, dynamic squads featuring hungry young talent are set to produce fireworks. After a disappointing 31st-place finish at the World Cup, Canada is looking to reach a new level of success, which would include staking a claim as the top program in CONCACAF. While lacking the depth of Mexico and the USMNT, the roster’s best players are a true cream of the crop and would contribute for most if not all international sides. However, matches are not won on paper: the Canucks’ golden generation needs to claim a trophy or two in order to validate the billing.
The match is scheduled for Sunday, June 18th at 8:30 p.m. Eastern, 5:30 p.m. Pacific. Viewing options include Paramount+, TUDN USA, Univision, and FUBO TV (free trial).