SANDOR: Lack of respect for CanMNT could come back to haunt U.S.

There was a time, maybe as recent as 30 years ago, when it was hard to imagine a world where Hungary wasn’t a major soccer power.

Imagine telling Uruguayans in the 1950s that, after being a dominant soccer power for the first two decades of the World Cup era, that they’d fade away for a long time.

Or, imagine telling people in 2014 that Italy would not qualify for the World Cup in 2018. The Netherlands, too. And Chile. Oh, and the Americans. And imagine telling those same people that Croatia would be a finalist.

The hardest thing about change is how quickly it can come, and how hard it is for us to rationalize and accept it.

Case in point: Even after failing to qualify for Russia 2018, the Americans still see themselves as one of the two dominant powers in Concacaf. They had a ranking that guaranteed them a spot in the “Hex” for the 2022 World Cup qualifying process; they reached the final of the 2019 Gold Cup; and they didn’t have to endure the preliminary rounds of the Nations League.

So, after a rather comprehensive loss to Canada by a 2-0 score line in Toronto on Tuesday that rather flattered the visitors, the #USMNT hashtag was filled with Tweets asking how the Americans lost the game.

Ian Darke, the English commentating legend doing play-by-play for ESPN, called it “a calamitous, disjointed, error-strewn, awful performance from the USA. Incredible, really, but you have to say: Tonight the USA have hit a new low.”

Grant Wahl, in his Sports Illustrated day-after column, did not mention one Canadian player by name in his piece as he went on to eviscerate the American program.

In a post-game interview with OneSoccer, U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley admitted his team was second best, but that nothing that Canada did surprised the Americans.

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The narrative is clear. And that narrative will continue south of the border next month for the Nations League rematch between the two teams in Orlando. It’s not that the Canadians won, but that the Americans lost. The Americans have themselves to blame for the result in Toronto. It wasn’t about what Canada did, it was about what the Americans didn’t do.

Nothing could be better, frankly. Nothing could better serve Canadian national team coach John Herdman as well as being able to put clipping after clipping on the dressing room wall — all of them discussing how America “lost” to Canada. Nothing would work better for him than being able to tell his players that they still aren’t getting respect from the Americans, that they’re still the underdogs despite running and tackling the Americans off the park in Toronto.

As well, it feels as if the Americans can’t quite accept that there’s a changing of the guard in Concacaf. Yes, Mexico is still the big boy on the scene, but who is No. 2? Costa Rica? Canada? Are the Americans still in the conversation?

Ironically, the new qualifying system which gives the top six FIFA-ranked teams in Concacaf a clear route to the Hex, while everyone else goes through a wild donnybrook of a tournament for just one wild-card spot, protects the Americans. Their ranking is based mostly on history, and it will remain high enough to allow them to stick with the big boys, though recent results make you wonder how far they’ve slipped.

But, while the Americans might not respect Canada yet, at least when it comes to soccer, surely the rest of Concacaf has taken notice. That maybe the days of 8-1 losses and scoreless tournaments are behind Canada. That maybe, like Iceland and Croatia, we’re part of a new generation sweeping away an old guard.

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