Canada's 2022 World Cup hopes could hinge on victory over United States

Jonathan David - Jonathan Osorio - Canada - high five

TORONTO – Canada’s Concacaf Nations League got off to a strong start on Saturday night, but it was only the first step towards their ultimate goal.

The 6-0 win over Cuba at BMO Field put a disappointing 2019 Gold Cup quarterfinal exit at the feet of Haiti in the past. Up next is another match against the Cubans on Tuesday (7:15 pm ET | in the neutral venue of the Cayman Islands, then come the two matches against the United States in Toronto come October and a yet-to-be-determined location south of the border in November.

“This was a good result,” said Toronto FC’s Richie Laryea after making his international debut. “We even had a few chances we could have put away to put the scoreline to even more. We take it, go into Tuesday wanting the exact same or more.”

With a curveball thrown by the late-stage change in the World Cup qualification process, Canada have two possible pathways to the 2022 World Cup.

The direct one is through the Americans – via a first-place finish in CNL Group A of League A – to the valuable ranking points on offer in the knockout rounds of the competition in order to accumulate enough to be in the Hex and a chance at one of the three full Concacaf spots in Qatar. Meanwhile, the long way involves a gauntlet of another group stage and a seemingly-unending series of two-legged playoffs before earning the right to represent the region in yet another: the intercontinental playoffs.

Results against the US will be decisive. But should the Canadians manage a pair of draws – or split the two matches – goal differential, especially from the games against Cuba, could well be just as vital.

“We tried to score as many goals as possible because we know it is going to come up to the goal difference,” said goalkeeper Milan Borjan. “These two games against Cuba, we’ve got to score a lot.

“When we play the US, you never know what is going to happen, but saying we’re going to win against the US, so the goal difference won’t matter,” he continued. “This team is young, we’ve just got to keep our heads up, continue listening to John [Herdman] and believing. Come out every game, try to win and bring Canada [to] the World Cup.”

Though Herdman talked about the consideration that must be given to goal differential in the build-up, he did not set an explicit target for the side. Instead, he wanted “the clarity of sticking to the process and executing from whistle to whistle.”

“I don’t even want them looking at the scoreboard. Just process, process, process,” explained the coach. “And that is going to get them in a better position for the tougher matches that are coming. We knew we needed goal difference, that was said right at the beginning. But we didn’t want to focus on [that], just enjoying the performance.”

After one game, Canada are +6 in that department.

The aim for the second?

“We’re going to push it to another level,” said Vancouver Whitecaps defender Doneil Henry. “We’re going to look at what we did poorly and control those moments too.”

With a trio of departures from camp – Whitecaps duo Max Crepeau and Russell Teibert, as well as Cardiff City FC’s Junior Hoilett have returned to their clubs – and Montreal Impact goalkeeper James Pantemis the only announced addition, Herdman anticipates some changes in Tuesday’s XI.

“There needs to be, for a number of reasons,” said Herdman. “We were only able to play one-match windows in those Concacaf Nations League qualifiers. Guys have rocked up, been patient and hung in there, so there are a few I want to have a look at. Guys traveling from Europe that haven’t seen the pitch for a few camps.

“I want to see, but we’re competing at the minute as well, there’s an element of trying to create some cohesion in certain partnerships and giving people more experience in our identity,” he added. “I need some questions answered for that US squad, which is going to be a tough one to pick.”