By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (Sep 30, 2019) US Soccer Players – Canada's National Team is at a crossroads. It's been here many times before over the past two decades. Wins is what this team needs as it embarks on a pair of high-stakes games against the United States. The Nations Cup, which resumes in October, has made all games meaningful. It represents another chance for Canada to gain much-needed experience ahead of World Cup Qualifying. They also need to record victories in order to position itself for a shot at Qatar 2022.
For a team that only played in one World Cup in 1986, getting better against regional opponents is that first step to prepare for what's ahead. Canada is coming off a disastrous Gold Cup. One of the pre-tournament favorites, they crashed out in the quarterfinals to the tournament's Cinderella side Haiti.
That crossroads that Canada finds itself very much mirrors the United States of the late 1980s when they embarked on 1990 World Cup Qualifying. The United States knew that it would host the tournament in 1994. Canada, as they prepare to qualify for 2022, know they will be a World Cup co-host in 2026. That means making it to Qatar would show improvement for a National Team program that has been inconsistent in the past. The connections to the US don't end there.
First off, the Canadians will play the USMNT on October 15 at BMO Field in Toronto. They meet again a month later on November 15 at Exploria Stadium in Orlando. The Canadians could get a great reception given that three players, Tesho Akindele, Will Johnson, and Kamal Miller play for Orlando City.
Canada is 75th in the latest FIFA rankings. Within Concacaf, the Canadians are seventh behind, in this order, Mexico, United States, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Honduras, and El Salvador. Sure, Canada needs to get better. They have developed better talent since the last qualifying cycle, and a new domestic league also helps. It's players like goalkeeper Milan Borjan, at Red Star Belgrade, striker Jonathan David who plays at Gent in Belgium, and winger Alphonso Davies at Bayern Munich that have made Canada better. Once again, Canada is called to rebuild under coach John Herdman. He knows well that the next two games can make-or-break his teams 2022 chances.
"For us, it's a cup final. This is the game we have been waiting for, for 10 to 15 years," he told reporters recently. "We want their best. We want the challenge. We want Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David tested at that level. It's our house and we have to make sure they feel that."
It's worth noting some positives for Canada in 2019. They have now won eight of 10 games under Herdman, including a home unbeaten record of three wins. With 24 goals scored this year, Canada tied their record for goals in a calendar year from 2011.
The other looming obstacle to Concacaf qualifying is the new process itself. The June 2020 FIFA rankings determine the Hexagonal, the six-team final group stage. Canada last qualified for the Hex in 1998. The team has crashed out in the semifinal round each of the last five editions. In the newest version of the Hexagonal, the top three teams reach the World Cup. The fourth team will advance to a Concacaf playoff round.
This is the part that could affect Canada. Concacaf divides the remaining CONCACAF teams ranked 7th through 35th in June into eight groups. The winners of each group advance to a knockout stage. The last team standing plays that 4th-place team from the Hexagonal. The winner of that advances to FIFA's inter-confederation playoff.
Up until now, very few took the FIFA rankings seriously. They have gained in importance in recent years. FIFA has used them to seed teams in the group stage of the World Cup. Now, teams like Canada must contend with the reality that games played in the Nations League and even friendlies take on bigger significance. Those results and the opponents teams face will influence those rankings. The odds of a team in the second Concacaf tournament qualifying for the World Cup appears remote. That means Canada needs to get better, and fast. Those June rankings are just eight months away. To be among the best six in the region, Canada needs to jump El Salvador, as of right now, by four spots.
Is Canada better than El Salvador? Possibly. The past is no measure, however. Instead, it's the future that will determine which team is better and which category the rankings will place Canada. They will have to overcome long shot odds in the Hex, but even bigger ones in the best-of-the-rest tournament. The challenge for Canada has never been bigger. Canada needs to get better. That process starts against the United States.
Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US Soccer Players. He is also the author of A History of the World Cup: 1930-2018. Find him on Twitter:http://twitter.com/ClementeLisi.
More from Clemente Lisi:
- The Columbus Crew tries to move past a difficult 2019
- Living on the edge of the MLS playoffs
- The pressure on Christian Pulisic and Chelsea
- MLS in the global market
Logo courtesy of the Canadian Soccer Association