For the first time perhaps in history, there is not just one team that brings North America dreams to a head at the World Cup. For years, Mexico represented the continent’s best chance at success. Yet, at the upcoming World Cup in Qatar, both Canada and the United States provide young, exciting sides with potential to grow further.
Now, there is a true belief that one of these two can achieve something special. Both nations failed to qualify for Russia 2018. Qatar 2022 brings them back to the world stage.
North America hope at the World Cup
Canada has not reached a World Cup since 1986. Therefore, Canada shocked the soccer world when it finished atop the CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying standings. Moreover, it did so comfortably compared to the United States or Mexico, totaling a goal differential of +16.
A major part in this success has to be put down to national team boss John Herdman. The Englishman created a strong work ethic within the team, as well as a modern style of play. He took the Canada Men’s National Team job in 2018 after seven successful years with the women’s team. In doing so, he transformed Canada into its most lethal form in its history.
Herdman uses young, talented players that ply their trade in Europe. For example, Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David and Cyle Larin played a massive role in Canada’s CONCACAF dominance. The manager created a team that aims to control possession and play on the front foot. These talented quick wide men hit the opposition with quick spurts.
Herdman’s priority in qualification was taking points from traditional big hitters, Mexico and the USA. In fact, Canada picked up eight points from 12 against the U.S. and Mexico. Herdman managed to get the fans on Les Rouges’ side during qualification. Canada drew once and won six in the seven home games during qualification. The brutal cold no doubt played a role in the Central American nations struggling in the north.
The reward is a second-ever berth at the World Cup. At Qatar 2022, Canada takes on perhaps the most challenging group. The runner-up and third-place finishers from 2018, Croatia and Belgium, are in Canada’s group. Rounding out the side is Morocco, the second-highest ranked team in FIFA from Africa. Despite the challenge, Canada cannot be written off.
The United States possesses a strong football infrastructure and a great grassroots program. It is no wonder that the U.S. finally has a team that matches the investments made. Now, it represents one of the best sides from North America going to a World Cup.
For 2022, the United States has a hugely talented group of players mostly playing at the club level over in Europe. Christian Pulisic, Brenden Aaronson, Tyler Adams, Tim Weah, Yunus Musah, Weston McKennie and Sergiño Dest are just examples of the American presence in Europe. With these players involved in the Champions League and other top competitions, high hopes persist in the American camp.
Gregg Berhalter worked on improving the teams pressing and possession over the last few years. It matches the European style of play that yielded success for the USMNT. The defending Gold Cup and Nations League champions have international experience, successful experience at that, to carry into the World Cup. The one issue with moving to this quick European style of play is the loss of physicality. Yet, if the side can outsmart and outwork its opposition, this does not become too much of an issue.
The USMNT fan base always has high hopes for the side. During qualification, some disappointing losses left a sour taste in supporters’ mouths. Officially, the U.S. qualified on the last day, which would yield some nerves. However, not qualifying would have required an ultimate collapse far worse than what happened in Trinidad and Tobago in 2017.
Now, that USMNT fan base gets the glory of playing rivals at the World Cup from outside North America. Drawn in group B, the U.S. faces England, Wales and Iran in its three games in the inaugural phase. In its previous two trips to the tournament, the United States made it out of the group stage. It certainly hopes to repeat that step and venture farther into the competition.
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