Nashville SC USMNT

Mini-preview: USMNT v. Canada (World Cup Qualifying)

Hello. The start of college football season means the day job leaves extremely limited time to talk soccer. Let’s get right to it.

The essentials

Opponent: Canada
Time, Location: Sunday, Sept. 5 7:05 p.m. CDT • Nissan Stadium
Tickets available?: Tickets available!
Weather: 75ºF(!!!!), 18% chance of rain, 85% humidity (!), negligible wind
Watch: FS1

The FIFA rankings: USA 10, Canada 59
Competition: 2022 World Cup Qualifying matchdate one

The competition

A round of draws all around was disrupted by a late Mexico winner against Jamaica, leaving El Tri atop the table and the Reggae Boyz at the bottom after one matchdate. It’s a little too early for the table to be particularly relevant (imagine, if you will, Mexico on three points, Jamaica on zero, and six other teams crammed in between).

However, that the US only took a draw against El Salvador does increase the importance of these next two games in the first window. If the USMNT can’t get to at least five points after this window (a win and a draw tonight and Wednesday, in either order), it’s trouble. It kinda problematic if they don’t win both these games, in fact.

So best to get that job done tonight before worry about the midweek match.

The Canucks

These Canadians are generally quite familiar to the USMNT, and will be quite so by the end of the qualifying cycle, with this the middle of three games over seven months.

However, the precise Canadian team that will take the field in Nissan Stadium tonight is quite different than the one that the Americans struggled against during the Gold Cup: take the talent Canada had in that game and add Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David, and you’ve ratcheted things up a very significant notch. Davies, one of the top left backs in the world for Bayern Munich, plays mostly in a more-advanced role for his country, as both a left winger or a cut-to-strong-foot right winger (though he was at LB this week). David can play either as a winger or a member of a strike pair, preferably with former Orlando City striker Cyle Larin. The Canucks also add New England Revolution winger Tajon Buchanan to the mix, and there’s a lot of attacking talent there.

After spending much of the Summer transitioning to a 3-5-2 formation (both in preliminary WCQ rounds and the Gold Cup), Canada came out in a 4-2-3-1 Thursday evening – leaving Nashville’s Alistair Johnston on the field as a right fullback after he’s played both RCB and RWB in the wider formations.

Your mileage may vary as to how successful the tactical approach was: playing at home against Honduras, the Canadians failed to create a goal from the run of play (their lone goal was a late penalty), but they also limited the Catrachos to the same (Honduras also found the net only on a penalty kick). Despite that, this was a pretty offensive game – 15 shots a pop, seven combined on-goal.

This isn’t your older brother’s Canada, but it’s also not a team that’s going to cruise to qualification. That has positive (not that good!) and negative (desperately need results, even in the US) implications.

The United States

Winger Giovanni Reyna is rumored to be out, though the trade-off to almost certainly add Christian Pulisic as he didn’t travel to El Salvador to stay here and work on his fitness… is one that you’d probably take.

I would expect heavy rotation elsewhere as players whom you might consider Best-XI choices – John Brooks, Walker Zimmerman, Antonee Robinson, Zack Steffen – could make their debuts in the cycle. The only one who seems like a mortal lock is Brooks, but Zimmerman is both a good complement to his style of play (a rangier, athletic guy without quite as much technical skill) and playing in his club’s home stadium, so that familiarity could see him be the choice. Steffen’s back injury will keep him out of this one, so that’s another potential Best-XI guy not making his way in. A 3-4-3 (or hybrid 4-2-3-1 with James Sands alternating between defense and midfield) could be a choice to help create more legitimate chances.

After Thursday’s (slight) disappointment, the USMNT will feel a need to go out and grab all three points. Obviously, the defensive effort is on a long streak of clicking perfectly: it’s been almost three months (and eight matches) since the squad gave up a goal from the run of play. But getting more creativity and producing attacking chances from situations other than set pieces will be necessary.

Prediction

The United States wins 2-1.

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