TORONTO – It’s never fun to be on the wrong side of history.
The US men's national team lost a tough one on Tuesday night in Toronto, falling 2-0 to Canada in Concacaf Nations League action, a result that sees the Canadians remain top of Group A ahead of November’s final round and marks their first defeat to their northern neighbors in 34 years.
“The first thing that stands out to me was desire, the desire of Canada,” said USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter post-match. “Give them credit, but the minimum we expect is to match that. We need to compete on every single play in games like this.”
Matching that aspect of a contest is the baseline.
“It’s very disappointing,” said Christian Pulisic. “It’s one thing that we can control.”
Added Berhalter: “I don’t think it was purposeful, but I wasn’t happy with the desire we displayed tonight to win the soccer game. Too many 50-50 balls we lost and that hurt us. Sloppiness with the ball, too many miscontrolled touches, too many missed passes. Too many things we normally make that we weren’t making tonight.”
As the first match played outside of the US under Berhalter, the trip to BMO Field was a new experience for the group.
"I wouldn't make a statement about the program based on this game," he said. "The reason why is that these games are difficult. It was never going to be easy and come here and win the game. There was no way. When you look at their team, when at their quality, when you look at where they are right now, it wasn't going to be an easy game. We have to accept that. I think all of us have to accept that.
"We wanted to win the game, and hopefully we're going to keep improving and hopefully we're going to start winning games on the road, but tonight wasn't the night to do it."
While the US had their chances – most notably Pulisic when Jordan Morris squared to his wide-open teammate deep in the hosts’ penalty box in the second half – from basically the opening whistle the balance gradually tipped in Canada’s favor.
“[Canada] put a lot into that game, treated it like it was a cup final,” said Michael Bradley. “They stepped up harder, reacted quicker to every loose ball. In all the little ways in a game like that, they were on top of things. We can talk about tactics, this, that, the other. On a night like tonight, over the course of 90 minutes you have one team that, play by play, minute by minute, manages to gain the upper hand and has a better grip because of what they put into it.
“We’re disappointed with ourselves,” he concluded. “That we couldn’t do more in terms of better reactions, stepping up harder, coming away with little plays in different parts of the field that make a bigger difference.”
That frustration was most visible when Pulisic was removed in the 60th minute, replaced by Paul Arriola.
“He was struggling with flu-like symptoms, light fever for the last two days,” explained Berhalter of his decision. “He wanted to continue, you could see the disappointment in his face. We wanted to inject some energy into the team.”
Pulisic admitted to being troubled in recent days, but said he was “fine” and thought, as his reaction indicated, that he had more in the tank.
“I still felt like I could help my team,” he said. “No one wants to come out of the game, so I was just frustrated a little bit.”
That it was such a physical contest, much more so than the five yellow cards indicated, sets up the November rematch in Orlando, Florida nicely. Berhalter said he’d expected it would be.
“Desire leads to physical games, leads to them competing on every single play,” he said. “When you saw the emotion that they played with, guys like [Samuel] Piette, [Steven] Vitoria in the back, these guys were playing with emotion and we didn’t match that.
“It carried them into being physical on every play, sometimes on the borderline of being a little bit dirty, but that’s soccer. That’s how the game is played sometimes,” he added. “We have to come to terms with that side of the game.”
The US have two games left in the Nations League next month, first the return fixture against Canada and then an away match against Cuba in the Cayman Islands. To take top spot and move on to the knockout stage of the competition, they will need to win both and score some goals to overcome Canada’s plus-9 goal differential. Until then, they must ruminate on this result and regroup.
“We’re going to lose games, we’re going to win games,” summed up Pulisic. “It’s a tough one tonight, but we’re going to be alright. We’re going to move forward.”