When they took up their respective roles in 2018, John Herdman and Gregg Berhalter were tasked with changing perceptions of two nations’ football.
At the time of this writing, Canada and USA sit first and second in the Concacaf World Cup qualifying table, ahead of regional giants Mexico in third, as well as the 2018 qualifiers. , Costa Rica and Panama.
There is plenty of talk about how far the USMNT can go in the next two World Cups after missing out on Russia 2018. As for the CanMNT, the wider sphere of football is finally starting to take notice after decades in the shadows.
But Sunday’s clash between the two sides cast a stark light on where these two nations stand on their respective roadmaps.
The United States had only lost to Canada once since 1985 and on paper they are the most talented team in North America. Their starting line-up featured the likes of Juventus, Chelsea, RB Leipzig and Valencia.
Canada, meanwhile, entered the game without star man Alphonso Davies and influential midfielder Stephan Eustaquio, making an already difficult task even more difficult.
Unsurprisingly, the USMNT topped the proceedings, with 64% possession and 438 assists to Canada’s 210. But this is where the contrast between the two teams was laid bare.
Despite all their possession and fine passing streaks in the middle third, the United States were completely lacking in edge, regularly collapsing in the attacking half. Weston McKennie’s header from a corner just before half-time forced Milan Borjan into a superb save, but in truth it was the only meaningful intervention the Red Star Belgrade keeper had to make.
On the other side, Canada were well trained and disciplined, rarely leaving space between the lines. They kept the United States at bay and funneled the ball into areas where they couldn’t be hurt. And when the moments came, they leapt with ferocious speed.
Although he didn’t score, Jonathan David was the undisputed star of the game, warping the USMNT with his movement, driving the ball forward at high speed and playing with the kind of swagger that should have been visible in the Stars and Grooves.
David provided the assist for Cyle Larin’s opener after just seven minutes, playing a quick rally with the Besiktas striker after Canada won the ball from a questionable Matt Turner goal kick and positioning even worse from American outfielders.
Over time, the USMNT grew increasingly desperate, forgetting its quality and resorting to long hope balls. Losing form Canada only became more dangerous and Sam Adekugbe’s decisive breakaway in the 95th minute was the game’s most predictable moment.
From start to finish, it was a performance to forget for the United States, which makes Berhalter’s post-match comments all the more puzzling.
“I think it was a team effort that was outstanding,” he said.
“We asked them to be dominant, we asked them to embrace the conditions, to embrace the physique of the opponent, and I think we did that and more. And it’s hard for me to remembering such a dominant away performance without getting a result.” So the result hurts, the performance doesn’t hurt. I’m proud of the guys, proud of how they competed. “
Berhalter added: “They couldn’t handle our physicality. It’s plain and simple. We were running them all over the pitch and when you look at the duels won, when you look at our pressing – they struggled a lot to handle with what we gave them.”
“Dominance” is a fluid word in football. Is it defined solely by having more possession despite managing only three shots on target? Or is it having the courage to concede the ball, knowing you can keep your opponent at arm’s length and strike clinically when the time comes?
On Berhalter’s last point, Canada won 70 games against 69 for the United States.
“Before, it was like you were playing in the United States and they were like, ‘Oh, we’re playing in Canada, it’s easy, yeah, blah, blah, blah’ and this and that. But now when they come towards us, or that we go there, they are scared. They are scared. Last four or five games, they have been scared against us. Because we have an incredible team, “said Canadian goalkeeper Borjan after the game.
“This is the new Canada. This is the new soccer Canada, and we will continue to push and fight for future generations. And we are going to change football here in Canada.
The final USMNT game of this trio of qualifiers on Wednesday now takes on even more significance. They are at home against a winless team from Honduras. Berhalter’s popularity among the supporters is at an all-time low and only a convincing victory full of the attacking flair promised by this group of players will suffice. Even that may not be enough to restore goodwill.
As for Canada? Their place at Qatar 2022 is all but assured and they can now focus on remaining Concacaf’s only undefeated team throughout the series. Make no mistake, this is the best team in the region right now and Herdman is fulfilling his destiny.
“Qualifying for a World Cup can change a country… That’s all I think about every day,” he said in 2018. for when we play our opening game of the World Cup World.