ARADISE, Nevada — Following the euphoria of eliminating longtime rival Mexico in a match that often looked more like a bar fight than a soccer game, the United States men’s national team must guard against any sort of let down to win Sunday’s CONCACAF Nations League final against Canada (9 p.m. ET, Paramount+/Univision).
This game will be different. That 3-0 win over El Tri, during which both teams saw two players issued red cards for violent conduct, was played in front of a packed house of mostly Mexico supporters at Allegiant Stadium. This time, the 61,000-seat home of the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders might only be half full at best. The match is less likely to be marred by the sort of the WWE-like shenanigans that turned the last 30 minutes of the U.S.-El Tri contest into a farce.
That doesn’t mean Sunday’s finale will be any less hotly contested. Over the last four year, the U.S. and Canada have developed a genuine, at time nasty, rivalry of their own.
Canada went unbeaten against the Americans in two qualifying matches for the 2022 World Cup. Les Rouges topped the regional World Cup qualifying standings last year — a fact that they’ve reminded the U.S. players of at every opportunity this week.
“If Canada wants to say that, let them say that,” American forward Tim Weah said on Saturday. “We’re focused on our main goal.”
That goal, of course, is to win their second consecutive Nations League title at the Canadians’ expense.
“Regardless of who’s in the crowd or who’s not, I think we’re gonna bring that same mentality that we did the other night,” said U.S. defender Chris Richards. “Hopefully, after 90 minutes or 120, we are lifting the trophy.”
Both teams are desperate to stake their claim to regional supremacy. The U.S. was the lone CONCACAF representative to reach the knockout stage at last year’s World Cup in Qatar. After trouncing Mexico, the Stars and Stripes can end any doubt about which nation is best by hoisting the silverware on Sunday. Meantime, Canada is seeking its first title of any kind since claiming its only Gold Cup 23 long years ago.
So this promises to be another grudge match. Even if the two foes manage to finish the game with all 22 players still on the field.
“We’re not planning on turning it into MMA,” Canada defender Alistair Johnston said. “But at the same time, it’s CONCACAF. Things get CONCACAFy. And we’re fine with that.
“I think that’s one of the reasons we finished on top of World Cup qualifying in our region,” he added. “We were really good at winning not only on the pitch, but also the mind games on and off it.”
This Canadian side is nails-tough and has consistently performed above the sum of its parts. And in all-world wingers Jonathan David and Alphonso Davies, it has two legitimate game changers that the Americans must be aware of at all times.
“It’s a tough matchup because it’s a good team,” interim U.S. coach B.J. Callaghan said during Saturday’s pre-match press conference. “They can hurt you in different ways.”
As David’s teammate with French club Lille, Weah knows it as well as anyone. “I love him, but he’s my opponent, so it’s gonna be war,” he said.
The Americans will dearly miss suspended duo Sergiño Dest and Weston McKennie. But the U.S. still has a matchwinner of its own in captain Christian Pulisic, who rebounded from a nightmare season with Premier League Chelsea to score twice against Mexico.
“This is Christian’s getaway,” Weah said of the national team.
Pulisic can’t do it alone, though. With Dest out, backup right back Joe Scally will likely be tasked with stopping Bayern Munich https://www.foxsports.com/soccer/tyler-adams-2-playerburner Davies. Yunus Musah, who was superb in defensive midfield versus Mexico in place of the injured Tyler Adams, will have even more ground to cover with McKennie out.
The U.S. is still the deeper of the two squads. The better one man for man, too. “In terms of their individual talent, a lot of us are lucky enough to play in top leagues, and we’re used to playing against top players,” said U.S. left back and Prem veteran Antonee Robinson. “It’s not anything new to us.”
Robinson was then about Canada’s recent success against the Americans. “Obviously it’s annoying that we didn’t beat them in qualifying. We want to beat everyone who we play against. But in terms of who the opposition is, I couldn’t really care less,” he said. “This is just another team standing in our way of lifting more silverware.
“We’ve grown since then,” he added. “Nothing in the past matters. It’s just about winning.”
Whatever it looks like in the end.
Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.
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