‘All to play for’: Herdman maps Canada’s path to Hex following January camp

Canadian men’s team coach John Herdman thinks Les Rouges still has a shot of qualifying for “the Hex.”

Herdman’s side dropped a 1-0 result to Iceland on Wednesday in the finale of a run of three friendlies in California this month, a result that failed to improve Canada’s chances of qualifying for “the Hex.”

Under new World Cup qualification rules, the top six teams in Concacaf, based on the FIFA world rankings in June, move on to “the Hex,” the final round of qualifiers for the region. The top three nations in “the Hex” then qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Canada currently sits seventh in the Concacaf region, behind Mexico (No. 11), the U.S (22), Costa Rica (46), Jamaica (48), Honduras (62), and El Salvador (69).

Should Canada not make “the Hex,” it would be forced to compete in an arduous secondary Concacaf qualifying competition, with the ultimate winner then facing the fourth-place finisher from “the Hex” in a two-game series. The winner of that would then have to play a home-and home playoff against a nation from outside Concacaf with a World Cup berth at stake.

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In order to crack the top six by June and advance to “the Hex” Canada has to win games in order to pick up valuable ranking points and move up the FIFA ladder. The greater the opponent, the greater the point total awarded.

Canada’s loss to 39th-ranked Iceland on Wednesday was a missed opportunity for Herdman’s side to pick up some ranking points and close the gap on El Salvador for sixth spot in Concacaf.

“We were hoping to come out of this period with six points [if we had beat Iceland]; we’ll likely come out with two or three,” Herdman told Canada Soccer after the match.

He later added: “We’ll be around 12 points behind El Salvador. Now it’s about the March window – there will be 10 points to play for there. That takes us into May in June. There might be a little space in May we might be able to get a hold of… It’s still all to play for.”

Canada Soccer has not announced men’s national team friendlies for the next FIFA window, set to take place between March 23 to 31.

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Herdman used this January camp to give chances to players farther down the depth chart, as he handed out national debuts to nine Canadian players, including FC Edmonton defender Amer Didic and Forge FC attacker and CPL player of the year Tristan Borges.

“We’ve narrowed the gap marginally in a window where we gave a lot of opportunities to players, deepened our squad, learned some things,” Herdman said.

“Now knowing that by March I’ll have a bit more depth especially in our backline which I thought was very interesting.”