Canada .... (1)2 .... USA .... (0)0
Tim Horton’s Field, Hamilton, Ontario.
John Herdman’s Canada will be in Qatar in November. Of that there is very little doubt.
It’s not yet mathematically confirmed but with four rounds of qualifying fixtures remaining it would take a collapse of monumental proportions - and then some, to stop the Maple Leaf.
Yesterday in Hamilton their amazingly smooth and trouble-free run through this Octagonal reached it’s zenith by dumping the old enemy, USA, 2-0.
The outcome was not achieved without much hard work and some anxiety, but despite considerably less possession against arguably a more talented squad, Canada played smarter, scored when it mattered and carried off the honours.
They can’t yet quite punch their ticket even if El Salvador is defeated Wednesday and Panama lose in Mexico, but with the Canaleros also facing a tough away trip to the US in the next window, by the time Canada faces them in the final round of fixtures, that occasion could (should) be academic.
Cyle Larin gave Canada a 7th minute lead, at the same time wresting away the record for the country’s top international goalscorer from Dwayne De Rosario.
The ball seemed to hang up in the wind and only Kamal Miller reacted returning a goal-kick deep into the American half. Larin and Jonathan David played a neat one-two outwitting the US defence, the former tucking the ball into the far corner. Question-marks will hover over Arsenal-bound Turner in the American goal, who should have done better.
Anxiety levels peaked for the Canadians when Weston McKennie eclipsed Vitoria on a corner from Pulisic sending a powerful header goal wards, but somehow Borjan managed to get a hand to twist the ball onto the crossbar and away to safety. Despite enjoying greater possession throughout it was as close as the Americans would get.
For long periods the Canadians found difficulty getting any sustained passages on the ball, but despite the presence of Champions League winner Christian Pulisic the US lacked creativity and failed to carve out significant opportunities.
Herdman’s plan worked a treat and remember, this result was achieved without the likes of Alphonso Davies, while Canada’s two best central midfielders Atiba Hutchinson and Stephen Eustaquio weren’t even stripped.
Sam Piette, carrying an injury was on the bench and Mark Anthony Kaye, low on game time, made the start.
The midfield was helped by the front pairing, each of whom knew they must at times operate deeper than their natural instincts allow.
Sam Adekugbe applied the icing to the cake with the clincher five minutes into added time. Perfect timing. There was no way back for the US after that.
Why was the Hatayspor defender even that far forward so late in the game? The unlikeliest of scorers, with still much to do after receiving Miller’s speculative clearance on halfway, Adekugbe slotted past Turner as calm as you like. A brilliantly taken goal from a source no-one could have predicted.
Canadians shouldn’t get too far ahead of themselves. San Salvador will forever be a tricky venue and Wednesday night promises to be no different, but this is a team always well-prepared, and one that simply keeps finding ways, often dissimilar, to get results.
And Les Voyageurs have every right to get carried away. The long-suffering fans of the Canadian program, scorned and ridiculed down through the years have followed through thick but overwhelmingly thin. They will have their richly-deserved day in the desert sun of Qatar after all.
As for the Americans, they still have work to do, and you suspect they’ll have to achieve it through maximum points from home games against Honduras and El Salvador. They still have to go to Mexico and Costa Rica and just half a dozen competitive wins on the road in the last decade doesn’t augur well otherwise.
Canada: Borjan - Johnston, Vitoria, Johnston, Adekugbe - Laryea, Kaye (Fraser, 58), Buchanan - Osorio - David (Ugbo, 84), Larin (Hoilett, 73).
Head Coach: John Herdman
USA: Turner - Dest (Cannon, 76), M Robinson, Richards, A Robinson - Musah (Arriola, 76), Adams (Acosta, 69), McKennie - Aronson (Morris, 69), Zardes (Pepi, 69), Pulisic
Head Coach: Greg Berhalter
Match Officials -
Referee: César Arturo Ramos Palazuelos (MEX)
Asst Refs: Alberto Morín Méndez (MEX), Miguel Ángel Hernández (MEX)
4th Official: Luis Enrique Santander Aguirre (MEX)
VAR: Fernando Hernández Gómez (MEX)
With four rounds of matches still to play, Canada tops the Octagonal group by four points from the USA. A third place finish is enough to secure automatic qualification. The fourth placed country will go into a play-off with the winning nation from the Oceania region (most likely New Zealand).