VANCOUVER — The rivalry between the U.S. men’s national team and its Canadian counterpart hasn’t been particularly close, with 34 years passing since the last time Canada triumphed over its Concacaf neighbor.
But with the Canadians set to take on the Americans in the new Concacaf Nations League on Oct. 15, coach John Herdman feels confident about the 23-man roster he named Tuesday, which features Canada’s most promising talent.
“I think the player group are very excited for the match,” Herdman told reporters during a conference call Tuesday. “If you’re born in Canada, you understand there is a sporting, cultural rivalry there. The team hasn’t beaten the U.S. since 1985.”
Leading the red-and-white attack on the roster will be teenagers Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David, along with 26-year-old Lucas Cavallini. Junior Hoilett, Scott Arfield, and Will Johnson will look to bring a strong veteran presence in the absence of skipper, Atiba Hutchinson.
The Besiktas midfielder, has not fully recovered from an injury he picked up playing for Canada at the Gold Cup. Hutchinson will look to find his full fitness in time for Canada’s return match against the U.S. on Nov. 15, in Orlando, Florida.
“There were some long conversations that were uncomfortable with Atiba,” said Herdman, a native of England. “He’s committed to play for Canada. He came out of the Gold Cup with an injury. He’s got a pretty big schedule with Besiktas. We sort of came to a decision that he needs this FIFA window for recovery. He would love to be there — he probably came back a little bit too early for his club. He knows the size of the task that’s ahead. He doesn’t feel his body is ready for the travel, match and recovery.”
Vancouver Whitecaps FC’s centerback Doneil Henry was a curious inclusion for Canada. Henry will miss the match against the U.S. due to a red card he picked up against Cuba but the Brampton, Ontario native brings invaluable experience and leadership.
“It’s a one-game window,” Herdman explained. “You’re not relying that much on the depth. When you play these one-game windows, it’s a starting eleven and three subs. When you have that experience and how these things are going to unfold — we’ve got our cover, to have Doneil in there, we’re looking ahead to November. He’s really growing in that leadership role. He’s had a big influence, to not have him in this camp and not have a part of what we’re doing is always a challenge. It’s tough.”
The Canada-U.S. rivalry goes back to 1925 and, in that time, Canada holds an all-time record of 8-11-14 against their neighbors.
Canada’s last win against the U.S. came on Canadian soil — a 2-0 win in Vancouver for an international friendly. Canada are 0-6-9 in their last 15 matches vs U.S. Soccer and they have been outscored 23-3. Canada’s last match against the U.S. ended in a 1-0 defeat on Feb. 5, 2016 outside of Los Angeles.
“That’s the opportunity you have to take — to get a result, it’s a step we need to take,” Herdman said of taking on a longtime rival that Canada has struggled to get past. “It’s part of the process to qualify for The Hex. There’s a lot motivation here for this particular match.”
The 75th world-ranked Canadians are currently 7th in the latest Concacaf rankings. The top six Concacaf teams in June 2020 will qualify for the hexagonal round round of Qatar 2022 World Cup qualifying. Canada will likely have to leapfrog 6th-ranked Concacaf side El Salvador if they want to continue towards a spot in The Hex.
Canada’s lone appearance in The Hex came in 1998. They finished in last place with a 1-3-6 record and 1986 remains the only time Canada has qualified for a men’s FIFA World Cup.
There is optimism north of the border, though. Thanks to 6-0 and 1-0 wins over Cuba, Canada sit atop Concacaf Nations League Group A — but it’s imperative that Canada earn a result against the U.S. at home, because U.S. figure to gain ground when they finally play their matches against Cuba.
Herdman is preparing for a U.S. squad that could have a few surprises when it’s announced on Wednesday. The American coach, Gregg Berhalter, has depth at multiple positions. and the 21st-ranked U.S. team has a variety of options to choose from. The U.S. roster will be released Wednesday.
“It’s an interesting one,” Herdman said of his opponent. “If this was a do-or-die match that they had to win for qualifying, they would know he’s (Berhalter’s) going to put out his best lineup with player A, B, and C. There’s a lot of squad rotation at the minute. It’s hard to assess his best lineup at this stage. We’ll find out tomorrow which players will accept the call. I think it’s not that clear.”
The U.S. team represents a top tier that the Canadians want to reach as they climb up the Concacaf rankings towards The Hex. Even if the history of these two teams is lopsided, there’s always plenty of intensity when these two rivals face off and, in two weeks time, it should be no different.
Canada’s 23-man roster:
GOALKEEPERS: Milan Borjan (Red Star Belgrade), Maxime Crépeau (Vancouver Whitecaps FC), Jayson Leutwiler (Blackburn Rovers)
CENTERBACKS: Derek Cornelius(Vancouver Whitecaps FC), Amer Didić (FC Edmonton), Doneil Henry (Vancouver Whitecaps FC), Steven Vitória (Moreirense FC)
FULLBACKS: Samuel Adekugb (Vålerenga Fotball), Juan Córdova (CD Huachipato), Richie Laryea (Toronto FC), Kamal Miller (Orlando City SC)
MIDFIELDERS: Scott Arfield (Glasgow Rangers FC), Stephen Eustáquio (Cruz Azul FC), Will Johnson (Orlando City SC), Mark-Anthony Kaye (Los Angeles FC), Jonathan Osorio (Toronto FC), Samuel Piette (Impact de Montréal), Russell Teibert (Vancouver Whitecaps FC), Lucas Cavallini (Puebla FC), Jonathan David (KAA Gent)
FORWARDS: Alphonso Davies (FC Bayern München), David Junior Hoilett (Cardiff City FC), Liam Millar (Kilmarnock FC)