For the United States men’s national team, Friday’s match against Canada features buzz words — must-win, rivalry and, most important, revenge.
The game comes a month after the Americans dropped a 2-0 loss to the Canadians in the opening round of the Nations League tournament.
Although geography makes them rivals, Canada and the United States shouldn’t necessarily be in the same league — the United States was ranked 23rd in the world by FIFA before that match, while Canada was 75th. But the Americans entered the game sluggishly, playing on their back heel despite dominating possession to stumble to a loss.
The team and fans alike left the match feeling that the Americans were lacking emotionally, not tactically. To defender Walker Zimmerman, that feeling was worse than losing to superior talent or strategy.
“The overall theme we left that game with is the bite we have to have, the competitiveness we have to have,” Zimmerman said in an exclusive interview with Pro Soccer USA. “We have to show up and be willing to win every duel that we can and at the very least show that we are very difficult to play against.”
The teams will face off at 7 p.m. Friday at Orlando City’s Exploria Stadium. Tickets can be purchased at Ticketmaster.com and the match will air on ESPN2.
For Zimmerman, the game lacked a certain level of communication. The Americans struggled to connect passes, particularly through the midfield. As the team prepares for a rematch on its home soil, he says that the team is looking to hone its focus, especially in one-on-one situations.
The last time the United States faced a rematch in back-to-back games, it was 2012 and World Cup qualifying was on the line. The Americans had fallen 2-1 to Jamaica and only four days later faced a rematch it had to win in order to keep the country’s dreams of making it into the 2014 World Cup alive.
Although the stakes aren’t quite as high, the need for quick improvement remains the same. The United States must beat Canada at home this week to advance in the Nations League tournament, which serves as the final CONCACAF barometer for World Cup qualifying.
For most players, a quick turnaround for a rematch following a loss can be a positive, serving as a powerful motivator.
“You get a fire lit under you and you have a bad taste in your mouth for those days,” goalkeeper Tim Howard, a member of that 2012 team, said in an interview with U.S. Soccer. “The good thing is that you don’t have to wait another year to play them. The next time out, you’re playing the same team again. You learn your tactical lessons, but you also definitely feel like you want revenge.”
For the MLS players who will form the 23-man roster, this game offers a similar opportunity to vent frustration — both from country and from club. Pre-camp began on Nov. 2, only days after most of the team’s MLS players finished their seasons with their clubs.
Zimmerman described this transition as flipping a switch. He took a couple of days of rest after playing in the MLS Cup semifinals with LAFC, then reported to pre-camp, eager to unleash his energy on the field with the United States.
While this game is a rivalry match with plenty on the line, Zimmerman also sees it as a learning opportunity. Including Sergiño Dest and Christian Pulisic, four of the Americans’ nine foreign-based players are under the age of 21.
The last match against Canada offered a swath of young players the opportunity to play their first road match at the international level. The chance to level the tables in this rematch, Zimmerman says, will be an important test for a team still looking to forge its identity.
“The biggest thing for us is it’s experience in a tournament setting,” Zimmerman said. “That’s experience that’s going to be valuable in this cycle. Any chance that we get to play in a competitive game to advance in a semifinal, those are opportunities we have to embrace and use to grow.”