The Canadians’ greatest rival, the Americans pose a stiff challenge in Group B. Fans of both sides will remember the pair of intense games these teams played in the Concacaf Nations League last fall, with Canada winning 2-0 at home in October, before losing 4-1 down in Orlando the next month. As a result, it was the U.S. that ultimately topped that Nations League group on goal differential.
The U.S., like Canada, has some excellent young talent playing at high levels around the world. Winger Christian Pulisic has been playing well for Chelsea when healthy, and midfielder Weston McKennie made a summer move to Juventus and he’s earning regular minutes there — although he won’t have the luxury of passing to Cristiano Ronaldo in the Gold Cup. Young fullback Sergiño Dest is on the verge of signing for Barcelona, too.
There are a few selection headaches for coach Gregg Berhalter to consider (depending, of course, on how many of his starters are available for the Gold Cup). U.S. fans have recently resumed debate over who their national team’s top striker might be, with Josh Sargent, Gyasi Zardes, and Jozy Altidore (if healthy) all possible candidates.
This is an American team in transition, but they have serious game-breakers. The U.S. played 18 games in 2019, winning 11, losing five, and drawing two (such is the luxury of playing lots of games: additional development opportunities). They went to the final of the 2019 Gold Cup, losing 1-0 to Mexico. The U.S. is the second-best team in Concacaf, until proven otherwise; they’re 23rd in FIFA’s world rankings, well ahead of Canada, and not for no reason.
Still, we’ve seen what Canada can do against them. John Herdman’s squad has shown that it’s capable of pressing the U.S. and marking stars such as Pulisic out of the game. The challenge this time may be doing it away from home.
This will be a must-win game for Canada. The two sides met at the last Gold Cup as well, with Les Rouges winning 4-0 to open their campaign in style. Jonathan David scored a brace in that relatively straightforward contest, as the Canadians seemed to have much less trouble dispatching Martinique than even Mexico did.
After finishing third in that 2019 Gold Cup group, Martinique went on to perform reasonably well in the Nations League. They’d qualified for League A in the exact same way Canada did, by winning all four of their qualification matches, and they ended up in a group with Honduras and Trinidad and Tobago. Martinique finished second in that group, which qualified them directly for the Gold Cup, but they did so by drawing three and losing one of their games — a disappointing campaign for Trinidad helped them in that respect.
The vast majority of Martinique’s roster is playing locally on the Caribbean island, although a few eligible players are scattered around the world. It seems that in 2019 they reached out to a number of French-born players who’d qualify to play for Martinique, having cap-tied experienced European club players such as Cyril Mandouki, Julio Donisa, and former Newcastle United striker Emmanuel Rivière. In several case, they managed to convince players who’d played for France’s youth national teams to swap over.
A key player for Martinique is defender Jordy Delem, who’s been playing for the Seattle Sounders in MLS since 2017. He has 46 caps for his national team since 2012.
Since Martinique is a territory of France and thus not a FIFA nation, there are no ranking points available to Canada (as we became well aware of in 2019). They are, however, the 11th-place team in Concacaf’s own men’s team rankings.
Winner of preliminary match 7
Not exactly an opponent you put on a poster, is it?
The difficult thing is, Canada won’t know who their third opponent in Group B is until right before the Gold Cup begins. There are 12 teams in Concacaf vying for the final three spots in the tournament (it would’ve been four, but a spot in Group D was given to Qatar), and four of them are playing in a one-off knockout bracket to enter directly into Canada’s group.
The two semifinal matches will be Haiti versus Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Bermuda versus Barbados. One has to think that Haiti (ranked 83rd in the world, 10th among Concacaf teams) is the heavy favourite against Saint Vincent (167th, 21st), and also against whichever of Bermuda (168th, 22nd) or Barbados (162nd, 19th) wins the other semifinal.
The Haitians had an incredible run at the 2019 Gold Cup, beating Costa Rica en route to winning Group B before defeating Canada in the quarter-finals, and then losing 1-0 to Mexico in extra time. Their stingy defence was excellent, led by current CPL players Jems Geffrard and Andrew Jean-Baptiste, and they scored two in each of their group stage matches. They ended up in this qualification round because they finished last in their Nations league group behind Costa Rica and Curaçao.
Canada played Barbados at their 2020 camp in California, winning 4-1 both times. They haven’t played Bermuda since a 4-2 friendly win in 2017, and their most recent meetings with Saint Vincent and the Grenadines were a pair of wins in 2008.
Realistically, Canada will be hoping for somebody to beat Haiti in the qualification round, because there are some demons there. That said, the Canadians would probably love a chance to avenge their heartbreaking 3-2 loss to the Haitians in the last Gold Cup. On paper, Canada is the better side (depending on who’s available to John Herdman in this tournament), but Haiti is no slouch in Concacaf competitions, having nearly beaten Mexico as well.