The United States enters the field on Sunday with great respect for the Canadian team that awaits them in Hamilton.
For one thing, the second-place Americans (5-1-3, 18 points) are eyeing Canada (5-0-4, 19 points) in the CONCACAF World Cup Final Qualifying Round standings.
“We know they’re going to be excited,” USA coach Gregg Berhalter said. “We know they’re playing in front of their home fans. We know they’re going to be confident and it’s going to be a competitive game. And if we can accept that, it’ll be fine. And it’s a good opportunity to push us up in the standings.”
Both teams are coming off wins on Thursday.
The 40th-ranked Canadians earned their first victory in Honduras since 1985 with a 2-0 decision over the 76th-ranked Hondurans in San Pedro Sula, while the 11th-ranked Americans beat El Salvador 1-0 in Columbus.
Canada closes the international window on Wednesday at the 70th El Salvador. Coach John Herdman’s team has just three games left after that.
The top three teams in March will represent North and Central America and the Caribbean at Qatar 2022, with the fourth-placed country taking on an Oceanian opponent to see who will join them.
Canada leads the way in the region, overtaking traditional CONCACAF heavyweights Mexico and USA
“They have a talented group of players, make no mistake,” said Berhalter, citing Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David, Cyle Larin, Tajon Buchanan and Jonathan Osorio.
“They are a well-trained team. They know how to play. They have a clear philosophy and they deserve to be where they are,” he added. “So for us it’s an opportunity, that’s all, an opportunity to try to be top of the group and that’s where we want to finish.”
USA defender Walker Zimmerman added: “I think there has been a change in their mentality. They play with a chip on their shoulder. They play with something to prove and they play with a very high intensity. is therefore a confident group.
“And so every time you go out there you know they’re going to compete and you have to match that level of intensity and desire. I think that’s something that John brought to this group. And it’s a strength of their own. We’ll have to be up for it.”
The Americans will be without two players at Tim Hortons Field.
Berhalter said defender Brooks Lennon has returned to Atlanta United to be assessed for a “minor” ankle injury while Lille striker Tim Weah was unable to enter Canada due to his vaccination status.
Weah received his first dose of the vaccine, then contracted COVID-19 while awaiting his second vaccine, a combination that meets all vaccination requirements in France but not in Canada, Berhalter explained.
“It was a nuanced technicality that we hoped would pass and unfortunately it didn’t.”
Canada is without Davies, the Bayern Munich star who was sidelined with myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, after testing positive for COVID. The 21-year-old from Edmonton was an enthusiastic observer of the victory in Honduras, however, broadcasting live on Twitch as he watched the game.
Influential midfielder Stephen Eustaquio missed the Honduras game following reports from Portugal that he had tested positive for COVID. Herdman said he still hopes Eustaquio will play a role in the window.
Berhalter and Herdman are colleagues as well as rivals, with Herdman acknowledging in the past that he shared notes with his American counterpart.
“He did a great job with the program. I’ve said it over and over again,” Berhalter said. “I think it’s the talented players that the group has, but it’s also their strong leadership and their vision of where the Canadian program can go. And once you have people who buy into that vision, it’s no surprise that they had the success they had.
“We were able to bounce a few ideas and a few notes off of each other through qualifying. We are leveraging for the Canadian team to qualify, there is no secret about that. It’s only (Sunday) that I want them to lose. And then all the other games, I’m happy they win.”
Sunday’s game originally sold out within hours, with Canada Soccer expecting a crowd of 24,000. But tighter pandemic-related restrictions capped attendance at 12,000, with the first ticket sale cancelled.
Canada and the United States were tied 1-1 when they met Sept. 5 in Nashville in Game 2 of the final qualifying round.
The United States won 1-0 when they faced off at the Gold Cup in July in Kansas City, where the Americans scored in the first minute and then held off a Canadian charge the rest of the way.
While the Americans lead the overall standings between the two North American rivals at 16-9-12, Canada have a 6-4-4 advantage in World Cup qualifying.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on January 29, 2022