Despite their best player, Alphonso Davies, watching and cheering along on Twitch rather than sharing the field with his teammates, the Canadian National Team recorded a statement 2-0 win over the U.S. Sunday in Hamilton, Ontario.
This opened up a gap at the top of the table in CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying, with Canada holding a 4 point lead over favorites USA and Mexico. Canada is shocking many soccer personalities and pundits around the world with their play, as they're now on the verge of booking their first trip to the World Cup since 1986.
As celebrated as Canada's victory was, it was equally disappointing for the US team. Another slow start, controversial personnel decision from manager Gregg Berhalter, and more limitations coming to light for this talented, yet young squad. Here are a few of my thoughts from the 2-0 loss to our new rivals from the north:
The US have now been held scoreless in 8 of 10 first halves during this World Cup Qualifying cycle
The U.S. did hold the majority of possession (63%) in the first half in Canada, and their play wasn't terrible, despite giving up Canada’s early goal. They also outshot their opponents 7 to 2. But there is no way you can’t expect long-term success when you have scored in the first half in just 2 of 10 World Cup qualifiers. Manager Gregg Berhalter, who we'll talk more about shortly, said he isn't too concerned as long as his team keeps creating chances. The problem is, the U.S. had only one great scoring chance in the first half. (Weston McKennie’s corner-kick header which was saved by the Canadian goalkeeper) The lack of scoring early in games and the slow starts, have become an issue for the USMNT, especially when they find themselves in hostile environments on the road.
For the second game in a row, Gregg Berhalter chooses to start with Ricardo Pepi on the bench, instead choosing MLS players Jesus Ferreira and Gyasi Zardes at the striker spot respectively
The lack of scoring from the center forward position during this cycle, is mind-boggling. The only forward to score for the U.S. is Ricardo Pepi, who scored 3 goals in a 2 game stretch at the end of 2021. Still, Berhalter chose to start Jesus Ferreira against El Salvador, and Gyasi Zardes against Canada; 2 MLS players who have not played a competitive game since their club seasons ended almost 3 months ago. Pepi, who just turned 19, recently made a $20 million move from FC Dallas to Augsburg FC in the German Bundesliga. Although this can be a whirlwind period for a young player, he has been in the rhythm of playing games week-in, week-out, which is more than you can say for the other forwards chosen.
“All of these opponents are different,” Berhalter said after the game. “All of them bring different elements, and we want to pick the best striker that we think can get the job done in that particular game. So it will be a gameplan-specific striker. Now Ricardo’s a player that just went over to Germany. He’s just breaking in there, and I’m sure he’s going to have a long runway with the national team. And it’s just about getting him confidence and game time at the highest level. And I think he’ll eventually do that. With Jesus and Gyasi, they’re not in season yet, so it’s hard to really see the form that they’re in to say, O.K., this is the guy who’s going to be leading the line for three games in a row.”
Berhalter seems to be contradicting his own decision a bit with that quote. At some point, do you not just want to play the guy who is best suited to score goals for your team?
Defeat against Canada makes Honduras fixture a massive one this coming Wednesday
What was once a more comfortable position for the USMNT near the top of table, has become a bit jumbled with teams closing in for those top 3 spots, the automatic bids to the World Cup in Qatar next winter. The fourth place spot will need to go to a playoff to attempt to qualify. The goal is obviously to finish in that top 3, and not mess around with any playoff matchup. As it stands, the U.S. find themselves tied on points with Mexico, but just one point ahead of fourth place Panama. With matchups still to come in March in Mexico and against Panama, (as well as a trip to Costa Rica) Wednesday's match against Honduras becomes basically a must-win to avoid finding themselves in a dire situation at the end of the qualifying cycle. Who would've thought that the U.S. would beat Mexico three times in five months, including another Dos a Cero win in Cincinnati in November, but the Kings of CONCACAF would be Canada? Not only that, but they could very well be one of the best global stories during the World Cup Qualifying period.