34-year droughts, World Cup hopes, Gold Cup and Nations League dreams: what’s at stake in Canada vs USA

In part 4 of our preview series leading up to Canada vs the US on October 15th, we take a look at why this game is important for both sides, as they take each other on in their first competitive match in nearly a decade. 

Part 1: Breaking down the squads, storylines and key players

Part 2: Analyzing both teams tactical profiles

Part 3: Key players and individual battles to watch tactically 

After over a month of build-up, the end is finally near, as both Canada and the US are on the final sprint towards Tuesday. It promises to be an entertaining day, as both teams prepare to renew hostilities in a pivotal CONCACAF Nations League clash, in what will be their first competitive meeting in 8 years. 

It’s a huge game, at least for Canada, as we’ve certainly alluded to in the past. As they look to establish themselves among the finest CONCACAF has to offer, they get a huge measuring stick game against their southern rivals, who have long held footballing superiority over their northern neighbours. 

Rivalry aside, there is plenty more at stake for both sides, as Nations League is interwoven with important implications. From having an effect on the start of World Cup qualifying next year, to participation in the 2021 Gold Cup, and plenty more, these 2 US games have a lot riding on them. 

In part 4 of our in-depth preview of this game, we will break down some of those implications, as we try to look at why this game is so special beyond the obvious rivalry factor at play. So with all that in mind, here is some of what will be at stake when both teams exit the tunnels at approximately 19:33 EST on Tuesday. 

Attempting to erase 34 years of futility:

Canada is trying to erase 34 years of history against the US (Ben Steiner)

To say this rivalry has been one-sided would be a severe understatement. Canada’s last triumph vs the Americans? A 2-0 victory in a friendly all the way back in 1985. The US’s record since that game? 10W-7D-0L, with 24 goals for and 4 against, which gives an idea of how dominant the US has been over their Canadian foes. 

It means a tall task for the latest edition of Les Rouges, who certainly hasn’t any problem scoring this past year and a half, breaking plenty of offensive records thanks to a quality assembly of young offensive talent. No one on Canada’s 23 man roster was even born the last they beat the US, so they’ll be certainly foaming at the mouth to share the pitch with their 49th parallel neighbours, as they look to be known as part of the Canadian team that finally broke the streak. 

CONCACAF Nations League implications:

This matchup was made possible by the new Nations League, an initiative CONCACAF borrowed from UEFA, as they aimed to eliminate a lot of the friendlies they deemed ‘useless’. By splitting teams into different tiers, in this case, A, B and C, they looked to increase the number of competitive matchups in the region, allowing teams to move up and down the tiers based on their results. 

Some of the bigger teams supporters haven’t been a fan of the new process, with folks from the US being noticeably outspoken on the creation of the tournament, but it has certainly been beneficial for countries such as Canada. As they look to improve their footballing profile ahead of co-hosting the 2026 World Cup, having more competitive fixtures with the likes of Mexico, the US, Honduras, El Salvador, Panama, Costa Rica and more will only improve their roster. 

To get to this point, Canada embarked on a qualifying process with the teams ranked 7th to 40th in CONCACAF, playing 4 games to decide their League placement for this fall. Thanks to a sparkling 4-0 record, scoring 18 goals and only conceding 1, they qualified for the inaugural League A, placing them and the 5 other best teams in a 12 team pot along with the top six in CONCACAF. 

They were then drawn into 4 groups of 3 based on a pot system, and Canada landed in a group with the US and Cuba, with each team playing each other home-and-away across 4 games. The winner of each group will head into a 4 team knockout tournament in the spring, whereas 2nd place remains up in League A for the next edition, while the 3rd place finisher gets relegated to League B. 

Gold Cup implications: 

Nations League has direct implications on qualification to the 2022 Gold Cup (Keveren Guillou)

A week before the competition kicked off, some new implications were thrown into the fold, as CONCACAF announced exactly how Nations League would grant qualification into the 2021 Gold Cup. 

*It’s important to note that this is a big deal that CONCACAF announced this, because for a long time, the Gold Cup did not have a proper qualifying system. Despite being North America’s answer to the Euros and Copa America, ‘hosts’ Canada, Mexico and the US had an automatic qualifying spot in the tournament, while the Caribbean and Central American nations determined their representatives via the Caribbean Cup and Copa Centraamericano. 

In the release, it was announced that each of the top 2 finishers in the 4 groups in League A, a total of 8 teams, would be granted direct qualification to the 2021 tournament. The same would happen for all 4 Group B winners, who also earned promotion to League A along with their Gold Cup qualification. The 4 group winners of League C would then play the 4 runner-ups of Group B, with the winners of the two-legged series taking on the 4 relegated Group A sides, with the 4 winners making the Gold Cup. 

Out of breath yet? Don’t blame you. While it’s a complicated system, it’s great for CONCACAF however, as they have both increased the number of competitive games while making reaching the Gold Cup a fairer experience. 

Interestingly enough, thanks to their 6 points from their two games against Cuba last window, and the US’s 7-0 drubbing over the Island nation this past Friday, Canada was actually the first nation to assure their spot in the 2021 Gold Cup. They have also avoided relegation to League B, and have a good shot to qualify to the final tournament in the spring, needing at least a victory against the US, and maybe a draw on top of that depending on how their goal difference totals stack up.

World Cup implications: 

For as important as making the Nations League finals would be for Canada normally, CONCACAF upped the stakes this summer, when they announced their World Cup qualifying process for the 2022 tournament. Instead of the usual process, which included a 4 round process with teams entering at different stages ahead of the ‘Hexagonal’, CONCACAF decided on a process that would start in fall 2020 instead of spring of 2019 like the old format would have called for. 

That process, which we broke down here, has been much maligned, as the top 6 teams in CONCACAF next summer based on FIFA Rankings will be sent directly to the Hex, while the other 29 teams will fight it out for a half-spot in a gruelling tournament. Due to that change, FIFA Ranking Points have become a big talking point, as the accumulation of them will affect some teams World Cup positioning next fall.

It put increased importance on Nations League, as well, with games in sanctioned competition counting as more valuable games in terms of accumulating points. With the ranking system favouring better opposition and important games, it has made the Nations League the best way to gain points, as they count for a lot more than what friendly games could have provided. 

Canada has 17 points up for grab against the US, points that would leapfrog them into 6th place in the next rankings, no matter the results around them. With their main foes Curacao, El Salvador and Panama unable to match that total this window, it would give Canada an inside position on that spot heading into November and beyond. 

Current FIFA Rankings table, with points:

6. El Salvador1327
7. Canada1322
8. Curacao1320
9. Panama1316

It gives increased important for Canada in these US games, as winning will give them valuable points now due to the US being ranked much higher than them. Positive results against the US will also probably qualify them to the Nations League Finals in the spring, which wouldl be huge as the multiplier for ranking points will be higher there no matter the opposition. 

Looking Forward: 

So while on the surface this game looks huge for rivalry reasons, there are plenty of other factors that will be at stake when both teams take the field. From Canada’s World Cup qualifying hopes, to both team’s qualifications into the Gold Cup and the Nations League final, as well as continuing/ending (depending on your perspective) the 34-year US winning streak over Canada, there’s a lot of things to digest. 

It also means that Canada will come out fighting, which could possibly reopen a forgotten rivalry in CONCACAF. Given the size of both countries, and their longstanding rivalries in other sports, a healthy Canada-US rivalry would be great for CONCACAF. And with all that’s up to play for, this is as good as a time as any for them to kick it off again. 

Up next: Final part, Match Preview!

Canada vs USA, Tuesday, October 15th, 16:30 PST, 19:30 EST (BMO Field, Toronto)