TORONTO – When Canada and the US men’s national team clash on Tuesday night (7:30 pm ET | ESPN2, UniMás, TUDN in US; OneSoccer in Canada) at BMO Field, implications will extend beyond the Concacaf Nations League.
For Les Rogues, the result could have a profound impact on their bid to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, all mindful of Concacaf’s new qualification process. The competition has been restructured into two parts, with one avenue arising via the Hexagonal. The event’s six teams will be determined by the confederation’s rankings after the June 2020 FIFA window.
The other part deals with Concacaf nations ranked Nos. 7-35, with eight groups eventually giving way to one winner via a single-elimination knockout phase. That winner will face the fourth-place finisher of the Hexagonal group to determine the Concacaf representative in the FIFA intercontinental playoff.
The US doesn’t face much danger in this format, but Canada sure does. Canada is currently ranked seventh Concacaf behind El Salvador and needs points to help them move up to Hex positioning, avoiding the secondary maze.
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A victory over the US, currently second in Concacaf behind Mexico, would provide a massive boost for Canada as they seek their first World Cup berth since 1986.
“So many angles in this game: [history], World Cup Qualification, Hex qualification, all sorts of reasons,” Herdman said in his pre-match press conference. “But it comes down to these guys are hungry, they’ve been hungry since I met them.”
With so much on the line for the Canadians, it will be intense. Midfielder Scott Arfield related Canada’s likely approach to how his club team, Rangers, tackles the Old Firm Derby against Celtic in Scotland.
“Tomorrow night will be very similar,” he anticipated. “These are the sort of games that the international level throw upon you. The intensity will be massive in this game.”
Both teams will have their game plans, but, as the saying goes, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.
“Tactically we’ve got some ideas, a plan of how we want to approach it, but underneath it’s a physical contest,” Herdman stressed. “In a game like this, while you’ll have tactics, it’ll never be won on that. In some games tactics are everything, but in games like this, it’s who is willing to impose their will.”
Having put their summer Gold Cup disappointment behind them, the Canadians are ready for the challenge of facing one of the region’s giants.
“This is the type of game you dream of, playing against opposition like this,” said Vancouver Whitecaps product Alphonso Davies. “Every footballer wants to play in games like this: big games, in front of their home country. This game is a big one.”
By denying Canada those points, the US could prevent a future opponent from even reaching the Hex. But that is not front of mind, as midfielder Michael Bradley explained before playing on the same ground where he captains Toronto FC in MLS.
“We’re not playing to deny them FIFA points, that’s for sure,” Bradley said. “That’s the last thing on our mind."