Clear path emerges for Canada in 2022 CONCACAF World Cup qualifying ahead of landmark USA games in Nations League this fall

Canada got a big boost this week with the release of the latest FIFA World Rankings, giving them a much clearer path in what is a murky qualification process ahead of 2022. 

The latest FIFA Rankings were released this week, bringing good news for fans of the Candian’s Men’s National Team, as they jumped up to 7th place in CONCACAF (75th in World), now finding themselves only 5 ranking points behind 6th place El Salvador (72nd in World) in the updated rankings. It’s a huge boost for Canada, who found themselves a distant 31 points behind El Salvador before the September International Window began, as they now sit within striking distance of their Central American foes. 

This news is huge for Canada and the other teams around them in the rankings, as the FIFA rankings now play a huge role in determining seeding ahead of the beginning of the 2022 World Cup qualifying process, putting increased emphasis on the remaining Nations League games this fall.

With the top six ranked teams in CONCACAF as of next summer now being granted direct entry into the “Hex”, a 6 team group for World Cup qualifying that grants 3 spots in the 2022 World Cup to the top 3 finishers in the group as part of a 10 game process, a handful of teams are desperately fighting to be included as part of that top six come June. As the alternative is a 29 team gauntlet that grants the winner a chance at half a spot, Canada and competing teams will be battling to ensure they end up with the big boys in the Hex ahead of the start of the 2022 qualifying process. 

Canada’s main current competitors for that 6th spot, El Salvador (fell to 72nd from 68th) and Panama (fell to 77th from 74th), had rough September windows, as El Salvador dropped 15 points after being upset by the 155th ranked Domincan Republic, while Panama also dropped 15 points after a loss to the 167th ranked Bermuda. Curacao (76th globally, 7th in CONCACAF) has also vaulted themselves right into contention, as they find themselves 2 points behind Canada after picking up 11 points last window. 

With Canada picking up 10 points with a pair of victories against 178th Cuba, including a tense 1-0 road result that guaranteed that they would not suffer any heavy points losses like their Central American foes, they now find themselves in a strong position ahead of the next two International windows, which include 2 games against the US, as well as any friendlies that they decide to schedule. 

“We did the math straight after the (1-0) game so we were able to show the players the impact of the first round of Nations League.” Canada coach John Herdman told Neil Davidson of the Canadian Press “And (we were) able to show them that we took care of business in what can be a tricky CONCACAF landscape, which obviously El Salvador and Panama found out in that period. It can be tough.”

The tone set for USA vs Canada

Jonathan David, Jonathan Osorio and Alphonso Davies figure to be key pieces for Canada vs the US (Ben Steiner)

Everyone knows that those US-Canada games are going to be huge, especially for Canada, who is looking to gain relevancy with results against some CONCACAF giants. For that, there is no better test than the Americans, who have long held the upper hand over their northern neighbours in this sport, with countless more World Cup appearances, more top players abroad and a better head-to-head record. While they have played each other 3 times in the last 7 years, this will be their first competitive meeting since the 2011 Gold Cup, where the US bested Canada 2-0 in a group stage meeting. 

But everything has changed for Canada since then, as they have undergone some massive changes. They now have a golden generation of attacking talent, spearheaded by Jonathan David and Alphonso Davies, going along with a squad playing and succeeding at all levels of play, giving them unparalleled depth in the history of this program. Against a US team rebuilding under coach Gregg Berhalter, winning one of these two fixtures will go a long way in showing that this edition of Canada is here to change some narratives about the country in football. 

“It’s a great opportunity for the fans to unite around this team,” Herdman said in a statement released by Canada Soccer on Friday. “And a big moment for the team to test themselves against one of the best in Concacaf. We know the quality of USA and the history of results in the last two decades but with the fans behind us we believe we can change that narrative in October and November.”

And with the bigger than expected shift in CONCACAF rankings, winning at least one of the US games becomes of paramount existence for Les Rouges. Before El Salvador’s and Panama’s losses, Canada needed to win at least 1 or 2 games against the US, before making it through to the Nations League Playoff round, where they had to win at least one game. Now, just making it there should get them in comfortably, and even if they don’t, picking up a victory against the US and adding some points through friendlies can scrape them across the line. So against the US, the message will be clear: win, and you can get in. 

With El Salvador’s next two matches only giving a possible 9 points for 2 victories, compared to the possibility of losing around 20 if drawn or lost, Canada can make some serious headway against the Americans, as they can gain up to around 15 points vs the US if they win, while still gaining 5 in a draw and only losing 7 in a loss. So even if El Salvador wins as expected, and Panama (who can gain around 15 if they upset Mexico at the Azteca) pull off the unlikely with a win themselves, if Canada finds all 3 points against the US, all of a sudden they will be the 6th-best team in CONCACAF.

So for Canada, the US game only grows in importance day-by-day, and for a country starved for competitive games, this opportunity is one that will give Canada a good litmus test of where they are at. While the cohesion of their defence remains a question mark, they have many players at all positions playing at top clubs and in top leagues and competitions around the world, so expect them to step up big as they try to complete the next big task in their World Cup journey. 

“One win against the U.S., yes it would put us in a really favourable position in CONCACAF rankings,” Herdman said to CP. “But it would also help us in achieving the next task — which is to be part of the final four in June.”

Next up: Canada vs USA, Tuesday, October 15th, 2019, 16:30 PST (BMO Field, Toronto)

BTSVancity will have more Canada content leading up to the US game on October 15th. 

Some Herdman quotes from Neil Davidson of the Canadian Press: original article here

Cover photo courtesy of Canada Soccer (Martin Bayzl)

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