What's at stake for USA against Canada on Friday?

The Concacaf Nations League, belittled as a waste of time for the giants of Concacaf, has early on proved to be a tricky competition for the USA.

What's at stake on Friday when the USA hosts Canada in Orlando?

The USA's 2-0 loss to Canada in Toronto on Oct. 15 means it must win on Friday and beat Cuba four days later in the Cayman Islands if it wants to advance to the Concacaf Nations League's final four in June.

The poor showings in the 3-0 loss to Mexico in September and defeat to Canada, which had not beaten the USA in 34 years, cast doubt on the future of head coach Gregg Berhalter if the USA loses on Friday night.

Almost two weeks after the Canada defeat, Berhalter wrote that “only a win will suffice” in the rematch in a letter to the American Outlaws.

But in a media conference call on Tuesday, U.S. Soccer sporting director Earnie Stewart said Berhalter's job was safe. "When I evaluate Gregg and the coaching staff, and what I've seen today," Stewart said, "I'm a pleased man. An individual result is not going to change that."

That remark from Stewart did not sit well with the American Outlaws, who tweeted,  "We are not pleased. This isn't about an individual result. It's about a year (well, years) of poor results. We need a change in attitude and we need to see wins."

As it stands now, the USA will face Mexico, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Honduras and Canada in Concacaf qualifying for the 2022 World Cup, and its record is one win and four losses against the five future Hexagonal opponents under Berhalter if you throw out the 2-0 win over a Costa Rica "B" team at the beginning of the year.

Just how likely is it that the USA will have another poor performance and lose to Canada again?

For one, Sergino Dest, the 19-year-old Ajax defender who picked the USA over the Netherlands, said on Wednesday that "what happened against Canada will not happen Friday."

Berhalter chalked the outcome in Toronto up to a lack of intensity by a young team on which seven players were playing their first competitive match on the road.

"One of our observations after the game in Toronto is that when we're playing these games away from home," he said, "the opponent is playing these games like it's the biggest game of their lives. Canada hadn't beaten us in 34 years and was playing like that. For us to be successful at away venues we need to match that intensity, or exceed that intensity. And that's been a consistent message in this camp."

Even if you buy Berhalter's argument, the focus on intensity doesn't diminish the ongoing concerns about the rigidity of his style of play or the level of the individual talent currently in the team.

Besides Dest, who will be cap-tied to the USA if he plays against Canada or Cuba, the USA gets back defender John Brooks, who has played in one of the USA's 16 games in 2019, and midfielder Alfredo Morales, who also came through the youth system at Hertha Berlin. But the USA lost its most dangerous attacker in Christian Pulisic, who is coming off arguably the best month of his career and is recuperating from a hip injury.

“When you think about his dynamic dribbling, you don’t see players like that around very much anymore.” Berhalter said of Pulisic's recent play at Chelsea. “We’ll have to compensate with other types of skills. But what we do have is speed and physically, and we’ll want to take advantage of that. I think that will be a key component of the game.”

Pulisic's recent success at Chelsea -- five goals in his last three Premier League games -- has been dependent on getting good service in the penalty area from his young teammates. That has been a huge problem for the USA.

“We’ve been working with the wingers, working with the attacking midfielder, having them focused on spaces we need to exploit, and being very aggressive around the penalty box,” Berhalter said. “One thing we weren’t happy with in the game in Canada was our lack of ability to get behind their backline and our lack of ability in the final third to deliver accurate crosses. We got into some good positions and didn’t take advantage of that. So we focused on that during this week and it’s been looking pretty good.”

Despite the criticism of the team and its recent results, Berhalter believes in his players.

"It's a group that's developing," he said on Thursday. "I think it's a resilient, brave group. From Day 1, the players have been focused on every single thing we've asked of them. And for me that mindset is amazing. We're embracing [the pressure]. When you look at the history of U.S. soccer, we've been in situations like this before. This is what builds the team, this is what makes the team strong. We need events like this to help the team grow."

22 comments about "What's at stake for USA against Canada on Friday?".
  1. Bob Ashpole, November 15, 2019 at 7:39 a.m.

    For me, the fact that Berhalter sees the senior game as a contest of competing intensity implies that Berhalter is fresh out of ideas about how to coach the MNT. 

    He is lost. The MNT doesn't need a motivational speaker. The public symptoms of bad coaching and bad game plans is players that appear uncommitted. Of course players never publicly criticize a coach. The coach selects the players. 

  2. Ginger Peeler, November 15, 2019 at 8:52 a.m.

    Doesn't his falling back on "speed and physicality" say it all?  That's what we've been relying on for years. If that's the best we can do, then Berhalter had better also bring out the heart and desire our men used to always play with. I'm inclined to think that these players aren't really on board with the coach. I guess we'll see today. 

  3. Joseph Pratt, November 15, 2019 at 9:45 a.m.

    I think it's time for Berhalter to accept the fact that, as Alexi Lalas put it recently, he is trying to paint the Sistine Chapel with crayons. Enough with trying to be Pep and have the team always play out of the back. Go ahead and play direct soccer, get the ball into the opponent's half and then press like crazy. If there is an American style, it's to play hard-working, physical soccer, winning second balls and getting in behind. Sure, it might not be all pretty triangles and one-touch. And, yeah, I'd love it if we could play that way, but we are not there. It's time for the USMNT to be honest with itself and play to its strengths, rather than pretending to be something it's not. 

  4. Bob Ashpole replied, November 15, 2019 at 11:36 a.m.

    Respectfully I disagree on all your points, but accept your conclusions. Berhalter is not trying to imitate Pep. He is conforming to USSF conventional thinking on tactics which ought to be called playing "in the" back rather than playing "out of" the back. USSF insists on only hiring a coach who will play the way USSF dictates. It is a "style" born in an office and not on the playing field. Stewart is very much a promoter of this approach, which is why is not going to blame Berhalter. Berhalter is only following instructions. USSF will only hire coaches who are willing to move to Chicago and drink the kool aid.

    Playing "out of the back" simply means to advance into the opponents half using combination passing rather than a "hail Mary" long punt or goal kick.

  5. Bob Ashpole replied, November 15, 2019 at 11:45 a.m.

    I see this convention as someone inventing a passing drill and then wanting the game to conform to the drill. Life doesn't work that way.

  6. R2 Dad replied, November 15, 2019 at 12:11 p.m.

    This is a simplistic take, and I don't want to backslide 20 years of youth player development to gamble on 2nd balls and all the injuries from 50 headed balls each game. I can watch a crappy local men's league game to see all that American Style.Winning with kickball encourages additional winning with kickball, which is how you get to the World Cup and NEVER to a semifinal. What we need is an organization all rowing in the same direction (which we do not have), uniform player selection based on skills/touch/quickness instead of height/speed (nope), and 10 years of steady progression to let it bake in. I have no hope this will ever happen in my lifetime. Why am I so pessimistic? Nothing has changed at the local level. I was an AR at a local U15 match, watching hispanic team vs hispanic team. This wasn't a top league, this was down the ladder a couple rungs. One team had a fearless kid up top, good touch, awareness, finished well, has promise. This kid will NEVER get pulled into a camp, never get recommended by an "influential" coach to the Nats--he's a nobody. It's not that he can't perform--it's that he's 5'-5". In another year he will get lost/injured in the U19 scrums and enters college/the working world. Nobody cares.

  7. frank schoon replied, November 15, 2019 at 12:42 p.m.

    Joseph, I have to agree with Bob and R2 on this although I understand your point which is a Volkswagen is out of place at a LeMans...
    But kicking long balls which end up 50/50 is not the answer... If you look at how the Canadian goals were scored against us it was on their attack not due to some lousy build up where we lost the ball in our own third. 
    We have to keep on emphasizing a style of ball possession which takes into account building up as well...

  8. frank schoon, November 15, 2019 at 9:55 a.m.

    What can I say....Maybe a big time loss tonight would really shake up those in power to realize that this train is not going anywhere, meaning MAJOR, MAJOR changes need to come about. Stewart and GB have got to go. Although the problem lies deeper than Earnie and GB, it does not help to have these two running the show. We need to place this "hellbound train to nowhere" on another track.
    What I would like to see is for the USSF to call for an important meeting, setting up a "think tank" , invite  people like Frank de Boer, Thierry Henri, Tata, Schweinsteiger, Zlatan, David Villa, great players/coaches who have experienced the American game to come together in serious meeting to map out what should happen and how to go about making changes in the American game for we our continually producing the same ole, same ole, type of players and game. Yes, we can fire GB  but this does not answer or solve OUR PROBLEM. We need to look further look down the road and  and not look upon our immediate NT results for we have to realize without major changes we will continue deal with the NT problems....If you seen the U17 play, that should say enough...

  9. Tony Biscaia, November 15, 2019 at 11:34 a.m.

    Frank, problem is IF Villa,  Ibra et al speak out it will just be construed as malcontents lashing back after fact, when they actually have a better perspective than ANYONE who is directing the changes to be made in our team's future.  They should be ashamed, we have 10x more kids involved in the sport than say, Portuga or Sweedenl but guess who excels

  10. Goal Goal, November 15, 2019 at 11:37 a.m.

    First this to GB.  Any loss at this stage is a big loss.

    Second.  I watched the U17 semifinals last night.  Netherlands-Mexico and France-Brazil.  At that age our 17's are no where near having the ability that these teams do.  We better do something now or a few years from now we are going to be further behind than we are now.

  11. Tony Biscaia, November 15, 2019 at 11:42 a.m.

    ooops that floating L...  I do think that the latino/african/world angle needs to be explored vs the kick/chase Brit/style mentality which has proven over time to be just a bad case of sweating without thinking.  How many WC's has England won?  Ya I thought so

  12. Tony Biscaia, November 15, 2019 at 12:01 p.m.

    Sign me up for youth soccer being a barometer of our aspirations long term. We have the numbers in participation, but unfortunately it's mostly pay-to-play which excludes you know, real natural talent that can't afford it

  13. beautiful game, November 15, 2019 at 12:40 p.m.

    Good opinions expressed by all soccer officianados. Coaching needs to adress what each player brings to the team table and if they can make things happen on a consistent basis. There are core players on this team that belong and there are too many that don't. Getting rid of those players that can't make decisions and lack efficacy is the coaches first priority. That priority should have been addressed by now and remains dormant. Until coach B and the USSF get its plan of action in gear is critical. 

  14. Bob Ashpole replied, November 15, 2019 at 4:10 p.m.

    I am not being glib when I say the coach wants players to follow instructions, not make decisions. So he is selecting players that follow his instructions. There is no freedom to depart from the "game plan" even when it is obvious to the fans in the stands that an adjustment is needed. The dumb decisions during the game might not be due to a lack of soccer IQ on the player's part.

  15. Kevin Leahy, November 15, 2019 at 1:19 p.m.

    Until US players can play in very tight spaces without coughing the ball up they, will struggle. That doesn't mean they can't compete. The top teams in the world are there for a reason. England has won a WC and they aren't bad right now. Some generations have better players than others (Belgium) but the top half dozen are always the same. Coaches seem to believe they can think for their players. Maybe in basketball with all the timeouts but, not in the beautiful game!

  16. David Ruder, November 15, 2019 at 2:56 p.m.

    I hope I'm wrong, the best we can do tonight is a tie, especially with some key players missing. After seeing a few games Canada played recently, I felt that the US would have a hard time beating them. I was impressed with the hustle and determination Canada played that I did not see the US play. 

  17. Brad Matheny, November 15, 2019 at 3:11 p.m.

    We're improving and tonight we'll do well continuing to build towards a better future. 
    In my opinion; iIf y'all want voice to judge, then get involved in US Soccer OR just sit back, smile and clap when we do well. Before replying and getting all worked up, please go read Roosevelt's "man in the arena" and Kipling's "IF", then realize you are not in the arena and you do not have onus for managing the team. The best you decided/can give is to cheer, have faith and be encouraging.

    My hopes are that tonight when we blaze Canada, we'll have
    Dest    Long    Zimmerman   Lima
              Roldan   Mckennie
    Morris        Sargent          Arriola

    GO USA!


  18. Bob Ashpole replied, November 15, 2019 at 4:13 p.m.

    "Trapp, Roldan, and McKennie" as the midfield in a 433 is what I dread.

  19. Seth Vieux replied, November 15, 2019 at 5:08 p.m.

    Oof - I can respect your sentiment, but good lord does seeing your preferred line up make me all but dismiss your opinion. Trapp and Roldan together in midfield with your most preferred 10 in the world is going to still be a disaster. Two guys that have proven in every single USMNT appearance that they are totally outclassed at the international level.

  20. Seth Vieux replied, November 15, 2019 at 5:10 p.m.

    Lima and Zimmerman are more deserving of minutes than Roldan or Trapp, but you'd rather have them than Brooks and Yedlin?

  21. Sean Guillory, November 15, 2019 at 4 p.m.

    The ultimate problem with our US team is that no one, including the media wants to call out individuals that do not belong on the team.  Players like Trapp, Lovitz and Roldan are not good enough for this level and need to stop being picked.

  22. Brad Matheny, November 15, 2019 at 8:09 p.m.

    Wow, we're looking GOOD!

    And TT can't stop slandering...

    what do y'all like about how we're playing this game?

    what do you think GB has done well to influence the players performance environment?

     I like our gusto this game!

    Only thing suspect so far is Brooks

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