WASHINGTON -- Forget for a moment that Canada are looking at Tuesday’s meeting in Toronto against the US national team as playing a rival for whom they feel a natural “hate” as Montreal Impact and Canada midfielder Samuel Piette put it.
Forget manager John Herdman’s squad may need a home a victory to push Canada high enough in the FIFA World Rankings to earn a spot in next year’s Concacaf Hexagonal World Cup qualifying stage.
Forget even the bad blood that lingers from the nations’ last high-profile meeting, a 2-1 US win in the 2007 Gold Cup semifinal, in which a late Canada equalizer was wrongly disallowed for offside.
Without all that, this might still be one of the stiffest challenges in the soon-to-be-concluded first year of US manager Gregg Berhalter’s tenure. For in this Canadian squad, the US face arguably the top offensive playmakers in Concacaf outside their own ranks or Mexico’s, beginning with 18-year-old former Vancouver Whitecaps prodigy Alphonso Davies.
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“One of the best players I’ve ever played against,” FC Dallas and US fullback Reggie Cannon put it Friday of Davies, after the USMNT's 7-0 thrashing of Cuba to kick off their Concacaf Nations League slate.
“He had no fear. He would take you on every time. And that’s something that I admire in a player. Because, to play at this level with no fear? That’s something rare. So anytime someone ever asks me who is the best player you ever played against, he’s definitely Top 3,” Cannon added.
Davies, now a regular contributor off Bayern Munich’s bench, isn’t the US defense’s only problem. Jonathan David has 10 goals in 17 appearances for Gent this season between the Belgian first division and Europa League. Lucas Cavallini continues to be a steady producer for Liga MX’s Puebla with four goals in the 2019 Apertura.
“I know that they’re very confident,” said US and Montreal left back Daniel Lovitz. “I’ve shared locker rooms with [Canada players] for six years now, with a lot of the guys. They’re confident in what they do, and I think it’s great. I think they’re excited about the direction that they’re going, as are we. And I think it’s an interesting time and a great time to be paired up against each other.”
Then there’s all the additional circumstances: Canada’s place in the FIFA World Rankings, their rare opportunity to host the US, the stakes to take supremacy in the group in the inaugural Nations League, and some historical bad blood. It may not be as familiar to US fans as qualifying trips to Tegucigalpa or San Jose. But ultimately, it could feel similar.
“When a team comes out as amped up as I’m sure they will be, we have to match that intensity,” said Atlanta United and US goalkeeper Brad Guzan. “We have to make sure we are ready for the game, because it can’t be a case of trying to take 10 minutes to get involved in the game. Because the game has the potential to be over by then.”
Said Berhalter: “We’re going to learn a lot about our group. It’s going to be a potentially difficult environment, and it’s going to be a very motivated opponent. This will be our first game together playing away from home. So everything lines up for us to be tested against Canada.”