By J Hutcherson (Mar 22, 2022) US Soccer Players – Canada has emerged as a new power in Concacaf in large part thanks to the revamped schedule. The pandemic adjustments required to get the games in presented an opportunity that was both unexpected and suddenly available. Figure out squad rotation and create home advantage, and the compressed schedule may reward that effort accordingly.
It’s worth asking at what point Canada went from overachievers to the legit 1st-place team in Concacaf. They sent the message early enough, taking a point at Mexico and at the United States. Then, doubling down on that, they beat both of the Concacaf giants at home. This was the same team that exited to Mexico in the Gold Cup and had to go through the earlier rounds of qualifying. Whatever Canada figured out, there’s no questioning it in the Octagonal.
“There’s lots for Canada to play for as we started this journey with the mission of qualifying for Qatar 2022 and nothing has changed,’ Canada coach John Herdman said when announcing his roster for the last three games of qualifying. “There is a chance to come back home to Canada and have our moment with the fans that we have always dreamed about. That’s what we are playing for in this window.”
Herdman has been clear all along that Canada is playing to establish itself in the hierarchy of Concacaf. It’s easy to look at their roster and see generational talent, but that’s part of the point. We already knew that it takes exceptional players, something that has caused issues across the region trying to get them on the field at the same time.
Canada is more than Alphonso Davies, but no one would question how much better he makes a good team. His performance at home against Mexico underlined what Canada is all about in this cycle. It’s likely to be the building block as they push for more recognition regionally and when they officially qualify for Qatar. Davies hasn’t played for Canada since, continuing to return to full fitness after a myocarditis diagnosis. Bayern Munich posted video of Davies training on Tuesday, his eventual return filling a technical gap for club and country.
That should highlight the issues across Concacaf trying to get a truly representative lineup on the field. It’s been so rare that we simply don’t know how good some of these teams might’ve been in a different version of qualifying. While it’s easy to dismiss that, there are teams outside of the qualifying spots that should wonder what they could’ve done with a better set of circumstances.
What Canada is showing is how that might not matter as they continue to build. It’s worth underlining how quickly things changed. It was Honduras and Costa Rica in the Nations League semifinals, suggesting an order in the region at first choice. The Gold Cup saw different squads confirm that with another United States vs Mexico final, but it was Canada and invited guest Qatar as the losing semifinalists. That’s what carried over into qualifying, Canada as disruptive against whatever version of the best players in the region were available. Home and away, they’re showing how to learn the region.
“This is a tough place to come,” Herdman said after last month’s 2-0 win at El Salvador. “Watching on TV you don’t really get a real sense of the atmosphere. But I’m proud, our mission was to own their ground.”
2-0 away will do that in a final round where lopsided scorelines are at a premium. What’s already worth asking is what some of the other teams will do with this experience. While the scenario will be different in 2026 due to the North American teams hosting an expanded World Cup, the countries in the wrong half of the Octagonal table have to see a clear opportunity. The scope will change dramatically the next time around, increasing the belief that the chance is there.
That has to be the bigger message to take from what Canada has accomplished in just a few months. In a changing international game creating more opportunities, Canada has shown how a team can take giant steps. For all the talk of improving the quality of play across the region, Canada is currently showing how to do it. That’s more than simply hoping that the usual contenders end up in trouble. Like playing at Panama, it’s actively creating a new version of Concacaf where it’s going to be extremely difficult to assume much of anything.
J Hutcherson started covering soccer in 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him at email@example.com.
More from J Hutcherson:
- Playing games in the Concacaf Champions League
- The 2021-22 Champions League round of 16 already sets a standard
- Chelsea vs Palmeiras for the Club World Cup
- Preview: USMNT vs Honduras in 2022 Concacaf World Cup qualifying
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