At the very least, a border feud has plenty of potential to develop over October and November. The two sides will cross paths at BMO Field in Toronto the Concacaf Nations League on Tuesday night (7 pm ET | ESPN, TUDN, UniMas, OneSoccer), and then again on November 15 in Orlando, Fla.
Having each taken all points available thus far against Cuba in Group A of League A, progression to the Championship Final stage will likely come down to who gets the better of whom in these two matches. Maybe even more importantly for Canada, the first game at home is a match that could earn them precious FIFA World Rankings points as they attempt to qualify for next year's Concacaf Hexagonal in qualifying.
“We’ve got a mission: to take this country to the World Cup in 2022,” said Canada coach John Herdman. “The US, there is a rivalry there, that’s good, that’s great. But they’re standing in the way.”
Tuesday checks the box of pitting familiar faces — in this case club teammates — against each other. Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley will square off against Reds collaborators Jonathan Osorio, Richie Laryea and Liam Fraser. Montreal Impact midfielder Samuel Piette will face dressing room neighbor and US fullback Daniel Lovitz.
“We talk a lot, and now I’ll have to play against him,” said Piette, who made waves last week by talking of the natural "hate" between Canada and the US. Piette said on a conference call this week. “It’s going to add a certain value to this game. You want to go back to your club after, talk about it and be on the positive side. He’s one of my good friends, but when it comes to game time, he won’t be.”
Then there's the matter of those Canada players who developed at least partially in the US. Like LAFC's Mark-Anthony Kaye, who passed through Louisville City FC in the USL before reaching MLS. Or TFC's Laryea, who played for the University of Akron and was drafted by Orlando City SC, seeing limited action in three seasons before breaking into the national team back home in Toronto.
Then there's the reality that respect has not always been there for Canadian soccer.
“I don’t think people, for many years, have thought very highly of Canada as a [soccer] country," Laryea said. "We’ve come a long way; this national team has come a very long way, so this is a big, very big, game for us; a chance for us to earn some respect.”
To be fair, Canada has not necessarily earned it on the pitch, and it's a reason TFC's Osorio hesitates to use the R-word.
“Rivalry? It’s tough to say that,” he said. “Obviously we want to beat them. We’ve always felt like we’ve always been below them and looked at like that.
“We don’t want to be looked at like that no more. We feel we have a team just as capable as they are,” he continued. “We haven’t played each other in a long time, so if anything it’s only the start. We’ll see how the game goes. It’s early to call it a rivalry. Mexico-United States, that’s more of a rivalry I have to admit. But for us, this is the start.”
As Osorio alluded to, the sides have met only four times in the last decade, with only one a competitive fixture: a 2011 Concacaf Gold Cup group match in Detroit that saw the Americans win 2-0. Aside from that, it has just been friendlies, a pair of 0-0 draws, including one at BMO Field in 2012, and a 1-0 US win in a pedestrian February encounter in California.
“We’ve been waiting for this match for a long time,” said goalkeeper Milan Borjan, who leads this squad with 47 caps. “This is actually my first against the US. We’re all excited. I hope, first match and first win.”