On Thursday, both Canada and US’s men’s national teams trained in Orlando, as they prepare to do battle for the 2nd time in a month. Here is what they had to say ahead of the pivotal match at Exploria Stadium.
Time for a wild ride.
Around 27 kilometres from the famed Disney World theme park, Canada and the US will get set to embark on an adventurous 90 minutes of football, with both teams jostling for pole position on top of Group A of the CONCACAF Nations League. After an entertaining tilt up in Toronto last month, both teams now get to do battle in the warm confines of Orlando, with plenty on the line for both countries.
For the US, it’ll be a case of win or go home, as Canada sits on top of Group A after 3 matchdays. On the other hand, another win or draw for the Canucks, and they guarantee a spot in the knockout stages in 2020, which would be a massive result as well in terms of their quest for World Cup qualifying.
After a historic victory last time, one that seemed to reinvigorate the Canadian team, they’re now looking to show that the win was no fluke.
“The players are focused and clear on what they need to do,” John Herdman, Canada’s coach, said on Thursday. “They have come out of that win over USA with not only a level of confidence, but a real belief going into this game that they can compete. It is not bravado, it is not talk, it is genuine belief because they lived it.”
He added: “The USA have their motivations for this match, but for us, it is another cup final, another game that could decide our fate for qualification to the Hex, so we will give absolutely everything we have to move this country one step closer to achieving that goal.”
On the other side, the US is looking to show that the win last month was but a mere blip on the radar, one that has seen them hold dominance over their neighbours for decades. While many Canadians will suggest that the victory was a sign of things to come in this rivalry, the US will quickly look to shut down those theories with a victory on Friday, so expect a fired-up American side when the whistle blows in Orlando.
“I guarantee you that it’s going to be a different-looking game,” US head coach Gregg Berhalter said on Thursday. “Sometimes it takes getting a fire lit under you to get that response, and we’re always striving for a mixture, we want a super high intensity, but we also want to be able to pick things apart by playing our way.”
It’s not going to be easy for the US, who come into this game undermanned. Despite a resurgent period of club form with domestic side Chelsea FC, star winger Christian Pulisic had to withdraw from this camp, joining fellow high-profile absentees Zack Steffen and Tyler Adams. While Pulisic was rather ineffective in the first leg up in Toronto, he’s a dynamic player that can change a game on his own.
For Berhalter, it won’t be easy to compensate for a loss of that calibre, but it’s a task that he’s been faced with solving. While it would be nice if Pulisic, Adams and Steffen could all heal from their injuries, that won’t happen overnight, so it gives the American boss a good chance to see some of the other talent that he does have at his disposal.
He knows some of that talent well, with many of the expected starters featuring in camps these past few windows, so expect the US to try to play to the strengths of what they do have, instead of lamenting what they don’t.
“With Christian (Pulisic) not being here, I don’t think we have a like for like replacement for Christian Pulisic,” Berhalter said. “I don’t think many teams do have a like-for-like replacement, when you think about his dynamic, dribbling, you don’t see players like that around much anymore, you don’t see 1v1 dynamic players, so we’ll have to compensate with different types of skills.”
He added: “What we do have is speed, what we do have is physicality, and we’ll want to take advantage of that. I think that will be a key component of the game, in terms of getting numbers around the ball, I think the more I’m looking at this, right I think you guys would say Liverpool is a good team for getting numbers around the ball, right, but there are always moments in games where you’re going to be exposed.”
“Liverpool also, there’s moments when teams rip through them, and those are the moments we want to avoid, I think that’s the most important thing, limiting the damage they can do, there’s going to be times when they penetrate us, we don’t like that, but for us, it’s keeping that number low, and when they do, how do we control that part of the game, we want to be aggressive in this game, we want to get pressure to the ball, and hopefully win the ball high up the field,” he finished.
On the Canadian side, they have a daunting task ahead of them. Against a US time who fancies playing at home, it’s not going to be easy to snatch a result, but they’re confident they can do so. After a perfect game against the Americans last time out, where they overwhelmed the US en route to a 2-0 victory, they know that they have the talent to keep up with their neighbours south of the border.
It means that despite the Americans promising a reinvigorated work rate and effort, Canada are looking to block out that noise, using their newly-found experience to boost them to a historic win.
“They’re going to be motivated because last time we beat them, they don’t want to lose again for sure, but we know what we came here to do,” Canada forward Jonathan David said on Thursday. “The coach (John Herdman) talked to us, he told us: ‘this is going to be hard’, they’re going to come out hungry, so we have to expect it, and be even hungrier, sharper, everything has to be better. We just have to give that extra percent, to come here and get the win.”
David is going to be relied upon heavily in this game, as he looks to finish a remarkable 2019 international campaign with a bang. Already the holder of the most goals in a calendar year by a Canadian player, he has seemed to score at will all year, so look for him to pop up and find a goal in Orlando.
After forming a devastating partnership with Alphonso Davies up front in October, as the two young starlets playing their trade in Europe made life difficult for US defenders last time around, David is excited to make some more noise with this young squad. As this group of players continues to grow and mature, they’re hoping these US games are just a start of what they can do, so they want to just keep showing that victories like the one last month are no fluke.
“Of course, with a player like that on my team, with his pace, his technical ability, it’s a pleasure to play with him,” David said of his partnership with Davies.
He added: “I think now, we have a great group of young guys coming in, and I think if we continue going this way, with guys getting minutes at their clubs, playing more against good competition, I think there’s no reason why we can’t compete with the best in the world.”
At the same time, the pressure is slowly mounting for this Canadian team. Having missed out on the World Cup since 1986, the Hexagonal since the 90s and having last won the Gold Cup in 2000, there’s a lot of catching up to do with this young side.
While the fan support of this team had become rather apathetic over the years, as there never seemed to be the potential that any team would be able to end any of those aforementioned droughts, Canada is starting to reinvigorate attention across the country. That added attention could seem dangerous, but so far it doesn’t seem to be impacting the squad, as they remain calm and poised within their environment.
A big part of that? Captain Scott Arfield says it has come down to understanding the level of talent that they have had in the fold since day 1, just making sure to get stronger each camp, and from there, they knew that results would come.
“Certainly not in-house,” Arfield said on Thursday when asked if expectations were starting to get overwhelming. “I think from the outside noise, everyone is starting to appreciate what a good team we have, but certainly since the manager (Herdman) has come into the program we’ve fully believed in him, and every camp we get stronger, so we never surprised ourselves when we won that game.”
“We fully believed that we could get that result, I think for some outside, looking in, it was a bit of a shock, but certainly in-house we’re confident about winning the game.”
Part of that? John Herdman. While the move to appoint him was met with skepticism at first, he has found a way to get his players to buy-in, and it has led to some good results. His motivational skills have earned compliments of many players, as he is an energetic public speaker.
And while his tactical knowledge has been questioned, he shut down a lot of those naysayers with a top tactical performance against the US, so he is riding a bit of a high heading into this one. With Canada holding the upper hand tactically now, he’ll be expected to stay on top of that battle with his approach in this one, and based on what we’ve seen, he’ll definitely have something up his sleeve.
When asked about what Herdman has done for changing the complexion of this team, Arfield was honest in his answer, stating that a big part of what he has done has been the belief instilled in the team.
“He’s got everybody on the same page,” Arfield said. “And it sounds so simple, but in football, it’s not that simple. I’ve been around a long time, all the opinions can get in the way, and egos get in the way, and he takes that and parks that as soon as you come into camp, whether if you’re a rookie coming in here, making your first appearance, or if you’ve got 50+ caps, it’s always the same. Everybody’s on the same page, there are no egos, there are no bad opinions, and if there was, he quickly got rid of them.”
Now for Canada, it’s time to continue translating the good vibes off the pitch onto it. While there has been a fresh feel with the program this year, results like the one last month will be the ones to get people on board, so building off that will be a big priority.
Against a US side that is trending the other way, with fan support dwindling, they get a prime chance to deliver a knockout blow with the whole country taking notice. After suffering through many disappointments these past few years, it’s a chance to continue this National Team resurgence with a bang, with Orlando being the scene for this potential breakthrough.
So look for Canada to take advantage of that today. The US support isn’t looking to be strong for this game, with 10 000 people looking to be a high estimate in terms of attendance, but Canada will just want to focus on their own game.
After being so successful with that approach last time, no reason to deviate from that plan.
“I don’t know if the stadium is going to be full, or half-full, or anything like that, but I don’t think we should focus on that,” David finished. “We should just focus on what we can control, and that’s what we have to do on the pitch.”
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Up Next: Canada vs USA, Friday, November 15th, 2019, 16:00 PST, 19:00 EST (Exploria Stadium, Orlando)
Cover image courtesy of Canada Soccer