Canada’s marquee showdown vs. the United States in Orlando on Friday feels a bit like a double-elimination even though the Reds have yet to lose in Concacaf Nations League play.
Winning to stay alive – and keep moving further, round after round – will be coach John Herdman’s objective en route to the greater goal: qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
Right now, the more Canada wins, the better its chances improve.
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Under new World Cup qualifying rules, the top six teams in Concacaf, based on the FIFA world rankings in June 2020, move on to “the Hex,” the final round of qualifiers for the region. The top three nations in “the Hex” then qualify for the World Cup in Qatar.
Canada currently sits sixth in the Concacaf region, behind Mexico (No. 11), the U.S (23), Jamaica (45), Costa Rica (47), and Honduras (63), and just ahead of El Salvador (73). In order to crack the top six by next June and advance to “the Hex,” Canada has to win games like the one against the U.S. in order to pick up valuable ranking points and move up the FIFA ladder.
The Canadians broke into the top six last month, but margins are still razor thin amongst Concacaf nations in the current FIFA world rankings:
1. Mexico (1613 ranking points)
2. United States (1530)
3. Jamaica (1441)
4. Costa Rica (1436)
5. Honduras (1368)
6. Canada (1339)
7. El Salvador (1336)
8. Curacao (1323)
Canada’s 2-0 win over the U.S. last month in Toronto, its first against the Americans in 34 years, powered the Reds past El Salvador for the sixth spot with a 14-point month-over-month jump. It was the largest jump of any team in Concacaf’s top 10.
FIFA’s world rankings put added weight on big games, and a victory or a draw in Orlando by the Canadians would see them win the group and advance to next summer’s Nations League finals – which would be a success in itself. But a win would also promise two more competitive matches in early June.
Teams will be seeded based on rankings in late June – after the June 1-9 international window – giving this Canadian team a chance to climb up the ladder to safety, especially if they meet (and beat) Honduras, who have already qualified for the Nations League finals.
A top six spot is far from guaranteed for Canada, especially with a pair of teams hot on their tail.
El Salvador is leading their group in the Nations League and Curacao has followed up their strong 2019 Gold Cup by holding its own in its ultra-competitive group, tied with Costa Rica for first place (although their 2-1 loss to Los Ticos on Thursday makes the path much harder for Curacao). If Canada falters, both nations will have a chance to make up the ground and climb to No. 6.
But Canada has the best chance with these big matches – challenges that offer big rewards, Friday and beyond.