The USMNT plays Canada in what is perhaps the most important game of World Cup qualifying this cycle.

On Thursday night, the U.S. stuck to its winning ways as they once again found a way to win. In spite of a somewhat lackluster performance, Antonee Robinson’s goal pushed the U.S. past El Salvador, 1-0.

But, at the end of the day, it is a results-based business. Simply put, the goal is to make a return to the World Cup. Thursday’s win put the Americans one step closer to achieving that goal.

Now Gregg Berhalter’s side turns its attention to a trip North of the border. Canada is the opponent for matchday 10 in CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying.

Recapping the USMNT’s road thus far

Mediocre performances, especially in the first half of games, do not always lead to positive results. Yet, that seems to be the trend in this cycle of qualifying for the United States. To start, a pair of draws against El Salvador and Canada preceded a dreadful first half against Honduras. Then, a four-goal outburst in the second half resembled what this team accomplished in the Summer of 2021.

October was similar with a 2-0 home win over Jamaica that saw the U.S. again held scoreless in the first half. A first-ever away loss to Panama followed those three points. Fortunately, the United States battled back from a first-minute deficit at home to Costa Rica, winning 2-1.

The window in November only featured two games instead of three. In a familiar scoreline, the U.S. picked up three points in a 2-0 win over Mexico. Dos a Cero fever did not last long, as Jamaica frustrated the Americans to a draw the following game, 1-1.

Thursday’s game against El Salvador seemed to be more of the same with a 0-0 halftime scoreline and the US finding a second half goal to secure all three points. Again, it’s a results based business but one has to wonder how much longer the US can keep playing with fire before it burns them, especially as they prepare to take on the top team in the Octagonal on the road when the USMNT plays Canada.

The emergence of Canada

For nearly 35 years the U.S. counted on a game against Canada as an automatic win. Since the appointment of John Herdman as Les Rouges manager, that tone changed dramatically.

In October 2019, the U.S. travelled to Toronto in a Nations League game. Alphonso Davies and company beat the Americans soundly. While the Americans exacted revenge in Orlando just a month later, that game put the United States on notice about Canada’s status among CONCACAF’s elite.

That was made clear when the US closed out group play at last summer’s Gold Cup against the Canadians. Shaq Moore provided the USMNT with a quick 1-0 lead. However, the team struggled to produce much more than that. It hung on to claim top spot in its group.

September’s qualifier in Nashville showed another struggle. While the U.S. found the breakthrough from Brendon Aaronson early in the second half, the Canadians tied it right back up five minutes later through Cyle Larin. A silly foul 60 yards behind the ball by Tyler Adams cost the US it’s best scoring chance after that (and caused Adams to snap at this author when he was asked about it in the postgame press conference).

Gregg Berhalter’s refusal to bring on any subs until the 90th minute allowed Canada to run out with an invaluable road point.

USMNT plays Canada on a chilly Sunday afternoon

Canada’s roster for this qualifying window is a strong one but they are unfortunately missing their star man Alphonso Davies, perhaps the best player in all of CONCACAF. The Bayern Munich star is dealing with slight heart inflammation that club doctors relate to COVID-19.

The rest of the squad is still full of quality players and littered with guys playing at European clubs. It also features plenty of players with experience. Among them is the seemingly ageless Atiba Hutchinson. At 38, he has 91 caps and eight goals from Canada’s midfield.

On Sunday, Canada enters the game with unbounding momentum. Canada is undefeated since the Gold Cup semifinal to Mexico in July, which it lost in stoppage time. Additionally, Canada enters Thursday’s fixture on a four-game winning streak. Most recently, Canada exorcised some demons with a solid 2-0 win away to Honduras. In 2012, Canada suffered a horrendous 8-1 loss in Honduras, which prevented its advancement in World Cup Qualifying.

Here is how the CONCACAF table stands after each team’s first nine games.

  1. Canada – 19 points
  2. United States of America – 18 points
  3. Mexico – 17 points
  4. Panama – 14 points
  5. Costa Rica – 12 points
  6. Jamaica – 7 points
  7. El Salvador – 6 points
  8. Honduras – 3 points.
When, where and how to watch

Originally, the host location for this game was Vancouver. Back then, the plan was for the USMNT to play in San Diego and Portland to keep the qualifiers on the west coast. Canada shifted the location to make use of the cold and to also limit its own travel from its training center.

Now, the game is at Tim Horton’s Field in Hamilton, ON. Kickoff is set for 3 p.m. on Sunday.

Coverage of the game is on Paramount+ and NBC Universo.

The United States leads the all-time series with 16 wins and nine losses. The nations played to 13 draws. Both in strong form, the USA currently is the 11th-ranked team in FIFA while Canada is 40th.

The United States wraps up this batch of international fixtures on the following Wednesday. It hosts Honduras at Allianz Field in St. Paul, MN. Kickoff for Wednesday’s game is at 7:30 p.m. on FS1.