Canada beat US, cementing a soccer power shift

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If it was still unclear which country in North, Central America and the Caribbean had the best soccer team during this World Cup qualifying cycle, Canada provided another compelling argument for its primacy on Sunday.

With a 2-0 victory over the United States on a frigid afternoon, Canada, without its best player, extended its lead atop the eight-team qualifying group that will determine the region’s berths at this year’s World Cup. . Now four points clear of their closest rival with four games remaining, Canada moved into top position for one of the region’s three automatic spots in Qatar in November.

And with its toughest tests behind it, Canada went unbeaten in home-and-away matches against the region’s two traditional heavyweights, the United States (1-0-1) and Mexico (1-0-1), a generational achievement may be just around the corner. the corner: If Canada qualifies, their trip to the World Cup will be the first for their men’s team since 1986.

Canada’s head coach, John Herdman, who is from EnglandHe said that the events of Sunday made him feel for the first time that he lived in “a soccer country.” The team bus, for example, was greeted with cheers, confetti and smoke.

“This is what we have dreamed of,” he added later. “It is absolutely what we have dreamed of to excite people. And people who have always had to wear an Italian t-shirt or a Serbian t-shirt or a Greek t-shirt, they can leave them. That’s what we want them to do, put on the Canadian jersey and now be proud of us.”

The loss, in front of a raucous crowd in Hamilton, was a blow to the United States, but hardly a fatal one. The Americans moved into a tie for second place with Mexico, which tied Costa Rica, 0-0, later on Sunday.

“The result hurts but the performance doesn’t,” US coach Gregg Berhalter said. He insisted he wasn’t making excuses, but pointed out how a narrow pitch and “very poor pitch grass” made it difficult for his team to create and process scoring opportunities. Some injuries in the game also undermined the Americans. Overall, Berhalter noted how the United States dominated ball possession but lacked accuracy at the other end of the field.

“When we talked about what we had to do to win this game, we pretty much checked all the boxes,” he said.

The last, and only time before, that Canada played in the soccer exhibition tournament, only one player on its current national team roster was alive: defender Atiba Hutchinson, 39. But reinvigorated by a talented crop of Europe-based young and professional stars like Cyle Larin, who scored an opening goal early on Sunday, and Sam Adekugbe, who added the late clincher, Canada has gone from being an afterthought to becoming in a power.

With their victory, Canada remained the only undefeated team in the final round of qualifying in the region and achieved their first victory over the United States in World Cup qualification in 42 years.

“Every time we went to the United States, they had 50, 60,000 people yelling at us, and we are tired of that not respecting us,” said Canadian goalkeeper Milan Borjan, adding that he did not want his country to be “humiliated”. ” never more.

Then he added: “But now, when they come to us or we go there, they are afraid. The last four or five games are scared; they were afraid of us.”

Canada took advantage of a poor start by the United States to score an early goal after just seven minutes, and held on for the rest of the game even after the Americans began to dominate the game. In front of a crowd that braved the 18 degree Fahrenheit wind chill at game time, Canada gave up their share of possession at times but little ground, matching the Americans’ pressure with aggressive, physical and at times belligerent responses.

The opening goal came amid a series of American errors. Canada won a short goal kick from Matt Turner in the air and then used a quick exchange of passes to turn a turnover into a goal. Larin, after a back-and-forth with Jonathan David, stepped over US center back Miles Robinson, who slipped trying to keep up, and fired a shot past Turner. Canada did all this without Alphonso Davies, the Bayern Munich star who will miss games this window as he recovers from a COVID-related heart problem.

As the first half progressed, the United States slowly gained more control of both the pace and the ball. But the same problem that marked his previous steps in qualifying returned: he failed to convert his chances.

Berhalter has relied on a rotation of players, particularly at the forward position, as he has sought to balance the fitness of his players and exploit World Cup qualifying matchups. On Sunday, it began with Gyasi Zardes at striker over Jesús Ferreira, the surprise starter in Thursday’s win over El Salvador, and Ricardo Pepi, the teenager whose form may hold the key to America’s World Cup hopes. Called up again by Berhalter on Sunday, Zardes looked outmatched at times, finally being replaced in the 67th minute. Pepi offered a spark, but by then Canada had ducked to wrap up their victory.

“Defensively,” Borjan said, “we played amazing.”

However, Zardes was not the only American who failed to find the back of the net. In the 36th minute, Christian Pulisic took a free kick from beyond the penalty area over the goal.

Borjan saved a header from Weston McKennie just before halftime. And in the 85th minute, Paul Arriola, another late substitution as Berhalter chased a goal, sent a bicycle shot just off goal.

When Adekugbe split the defense on a stoppage-time counterattack and scored the second goal, Canadians on the pitch, in the dugout and in the stands knew that victory, and perhaps a World Cup berth, was hers. He may take another game, or two, but to the players, and perhaps to some of his fans, he’s starting to feel like the chance of a lifetime for him.

“We are the only team that is undefeated and we are proud of that,” Canadian midfielder Jonathan Osorio said. “This is a great win, but it’s just another three points. We want to stay at the top of this region.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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