Who: USMNT vs Canada
When: Friday, November 15th @ 7:00pm ET
Line: USMNT -182 | Draw +290 | Canada +580
The USMNT plays Canada on Friday night at 7pm ET in the CONCACAF Nations League. This mid-November showdown in a newly created competition against a country we’ve historically dominated is a must win match for the Americans. So is the state of US soccer.
When these two teams played last month, well, you know what happened. Canada out-played the US in every aspect of the game. They were the better side. It was perhaps the lowest moment for the US program since October 2017 when they failed to qualify for the World Cup after losing to Trinadad & Tobago.
After that stinging loss, the US program wasted a year in a sham search for a new coach. By punting on a crucial year of squad development which would’ve helped form a more cohesive unit has clearly cost the team in terms of results and performance. It’s mismanagement all around.
None of this should be surprising.
As you may have read, all aspects of US Soccer are in various states of disarray. Straight down from the Chicago headquarters where employees are bitterly unhappy, this lack of vision has manifested itself to the end product on the field. The USMNT is in its worst shape since the 1980s. It’s not necessarily on the players either. It’s on the organization as a whole and specifically on Gregg Berhalter, the coach who should’ve never been hired.
USMNT vs Canada preview
With that bit of joy out of the way, on to the match!
The last time these teams met in Canada just a month ago, the Canucks were the better side. They were more organized and played with more purpose. This wasn’t a lucky or fluky win. Canada deserved the victory.
The Canadians outshot the US 9 (5 on target) to 7 (3 on target). They made the most of their big chances. The US did not.
So, are there areas that could improve this match for the US and yield a better result? Absolutely. Reasons for optimism!
Well, the defense can’t be much worse
As noted, the US couldn’t finish a sentence in their first match-up. That luck could and should improve, even without Christian Pulisic (more on him shortly). It’s the untidy defense though that almost by default will get better. I mean, just look at this:
MAKE IT TWO.
Lucas Cavallini with the STATEMENT FINISH to put @CanadaSoccerEN up by two. Thanks very much 👍
— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) October 16, 2019
That simply can’t happen again. Canada has enough attacking talent to punish those mistakes.
The backline should be better though. Sergino Dest will almost surely get the starting nod. DeAndre Yedlin has rounded into fine form at Newcastle and is playing with confidence. Despite the defensive lapse above, Aaron Long was generally among the stronger players against Canada last month.
Not having Zack Steffen though is a killer, especially for a team looking for solid distribution in building from the back.
Regardless, better backline personnel in better form should be a lift.
Offense can’t get much worse…although it might
Part of the problem of deploying a complex, build-from-the-back, progression possession style offense with little training is it requires time and chemistry to gel. The US “attack” vs Canada last month was disjointed. It lacked creativity. The runs were poor. And when there was an actual inspired run, no service came.
Compounding the potential problem on Friday night for the US is there is no Christian Pulisic.
The Chelsea star (we can call him that now) is in the form of his 21 year life. Despite getting pulled off the pitch after 60 minutes last month, Pulisic was the US’s best overall creator.
Can’t say I’m surprised that subbing off the guy who’s created or taken four of your five shots hasn’t quite worked out for the USMNT.
— Ryan O’Hanlon (@rwohan) October 16, 2019
Yes, Pulisic muffed a shot (although it wasn’t a gimme as it was portrayed) that he’d likely bury in current form. It his ability to penetrate into the box and create quality chances that will be missed the most on Friday. The US need a creative spark. Someone who can open up the offense. That’s primarily Pulisic. Much maligned Michael Bradley is missing this match as well. He’s good for a key pass or two per match. Who will unlock the offense? That’ll be something to watch throughout the evening.
And by the way, Canada is pretty good
Given the talent available, the US should win any match against Canada. That’s no disparagement towards our friends up north. Canada does have real talent.
That starts with 19 year-old sensation Alphonso Davies. The Bayern Munich product should be the best player on the pitch Friday. He’s rounding into fine form for the Bundesliga giants. He netted his first goal for Bayern this past week. Davies even earned his first UEFA Champions League start last week vs Olympiakos. In limited minutes, he’s tallied a 7.69 WhoScored in the UCL. More impressively, Davies has earned a 7.41 WhoScored over four Bundesliga appearances, earning a goal and assist along the way.
Canada will lean on Davies offensively. His defensive contribution though will also be key to stifling US attacks, particularly on the counter. Expect Canada to lean heavily on Davies’ vast potential.
LAFC’s Mark-Anthony Kaye should return this match too. He got dinged at the October game and then missed a few weeks of play, coming back for a 45-minute stint in LAFC’s exit vs Seattle. Kaye is a difference maker. A pacy attacker who can unlock an offense, he’s exactly the kind of player the US needs.
The Canadian backline–mostly littered with MLS’ers–will be compact and organized. Especially without Pulisic, they won’t be easy to breakdown.
Canada head coach John Herdman only made 2 roster swaps from October until now. That squad continuity may pay off in a big way.
The pressure will be on the US in a big way
Berhalter is a mediocre manager. Nothing in his history suggests otherwise. His 16-match USMNT coaching record is 9 wins 2 draws 5 losses. Aside from the two shellackings to Mexico, Berhalter has lost to Canada, Venezuela, and Jamaica…all teams the US should handle.
The US is not improving. Their play looks more disjointed and uninspired. There’s not quality building out of the back, connective-ness in the midfield, or finishing up top.
While Earnie Stewart gave Berhalter a vote of confidence, the pressure is on (at least publicly) for a better result. Save running out to midfield and taking a giant literally turd (as opposed to the metaphorical one) during the game, Berhalter is probably safe in his job. When your big brother had a say in your hiring and is everyone else’s boss, that helps on the job security front.
However, a draw or a loss would eliminate the US from the Nations League knockout stage. They must win both remaining games and with a better goal differential than Canada to advance.
While a loss or draw would not eliminate the US from World Cup qualifying — it would be another massive step back.
The US is already spinning for a potential negative result
I appreciate good spin and PR, especially trying to get in front of a bad story. I don’t say that mockingly. It’s the smart thing to do.
In the lead up to the match, US Soccer distributed the following reminder:
While the Concacaf Nations League isn’t exactly World Cup Qualifying, with its timing and similar format, the group stage has essentially replaced Concacaf’s old semifinal round of the qualifying process. As the USMNT continues to build as a group and in its style of play, the relative youth of the squad is important to remember.
Since the formats and timing are similar, age and experience comparisons to previous World Cup Qualifying cycles back up that the current crop of USMNT talent is greener than earlier cycles. For instance, at 24 years, 350 days, the starting XI for last month’s 7-0 win against Cuba was the youngest for the USMNT in a competitive, group-stage match during the modern era. The average of 23 caps was also the second youngest of the modern era.
In the Oct. 15 match at Canada, the starting XI’s average 25 years, 219 days and 25 caps was the youngest for the USMNT in an away, competitive group-stage match where the team hadn’t already advanced to the next round. Additionally, seven of the 14 players who appeared for the USMNT in Canada were playing in their first competitive road match for the USMNT.
Basically, if we don’t get a positive result, remember the youth of the squad, not the ineffectiveness of the coach. Well played, US Soccer. 👏👏👏
Interestingly, public money is pounding the US. In 24 hours the line has moved from -143 US to -182. The Canadians have gone from +325 to +580. That’s sizable.
Regardless, here’s the thinking: the US squad will show up with pride and play hard and go up 1-0. Canada will buckle down. With a manager capable of making solid tactical adjustments, the Canadians will claw one back in the second half. Expect a 1-1 draw that US Soccer will claim as “great progress by our young players.”