USA vs. Canada | International Friendly Match Preview
USA vs. Canada
February 5 | 10:15 pm ET | StubHub Center, Carson, Calif.
TV: FS1, UniMás, UDN in US; TSN in Canada
Coming off a comeback victory against Iceland in their first game of 2016, the US national team host northern neighbor Canada to the StubHub Center for the final game of the January training camp. For Canada, it will be their first game action of the year, as both countries gear up for World Cup qualifiers in March.
Well, where do we begin? The War of 1812? The softwood lumber dispute? The Bieber Fiasco?
While you could argue who “won” any of those conflagrations, the history in men’s soccer is a little more clear-cut. Canada haven’t beaten the USA in a full senior men’s international game in over 30 years, dating back to a 2-0 win in a friendly at Vancouver’s BC Place in 1985 (incidentally, the same year in which Canada qualified for their one and only FIFA World Cup).
In 16 matches since then, the Americans have won eight, while another eight have been draws (including the last two, a pair of goalless stalemates). However, during that same time span, Canada has won five Olympic medals in men’s curling, while the USA has only won one. So, y’know, there’s that.
It wasn't a perfect performance, by any means, but the USMNT did well to start 2016 on a high note Sunday, defeating Iceland 3-2 in a friendly. While the defensive performance showed there's plenty to work on, the impressive role D.C. United defender Steve Birnbaum played in bringing the Americans back from 2-1 down, with an assist and the winning goal, gave some hope that set pieces and goals from unlikely places could play a big role for the team this year.
Kellyn Acosta, Ethan Finlay, Tony Tchani and Jerome Kiesewetter received their first senior call-ups in the game, and expect more new or recent additions to get minutes against Canada. For some, it will be preparation for the U-23 squad's home-and-away playoff series against Colombia's U-23s in March for a berth to this summer's Olympic tournament. For others, it will be an audition to see if they can contribute during the senior team's World Cup qualifiers this year, or for the Copa America Centenario this summer.
Competing against the Yanks in anything is a golden opportunity for Canadians to reassert their sovereignty and global relevance; unless, of course, the Americans come out on top, in which case Canadians will be quick to tell you it was a stupid competition that nobody cared about anyway.
But this is the rare occasion where the potential for cross-border glory is actually being overshadowed by another impending fight; or rather, a pair of them, in the form of two massive World Cup qualifiers against Mexico in March.
Canada currently sit second in Group A in the semifinal qualifying round in CONCACAF, after a home win over Honduras and a draw in El Salvador back in November. Those three teams know that, come September, they’ll likely all be scrapping for second place in the group behind Mexico—and the ticket to the Hexagonal round that comes with it.
Canada haven’t reached the Hex since 1997, and getting there in 2017 will likely require getting at least one point off of Mexico. So while playing against a fellow CONCACAF heavyweight is a good chance for Canada to finalize tactical plans, it’s really next month’s Mexican standoffs that matter.
(Unless, of course, Canada manage to beat the USA on Friday, which would instantly make it the most important friendly in national team history.)
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Steven Vitoria, D, Canada
The 29-year-old Toronto-born defender is with the Canadian team for the first time in his career, and it’s clear there are two camps of fans—those who hate him, and those willing to shrug their shoulders and accept more depth being added to a program that’s traditionally lacked it.
Some have never forgiven Vitoria for spurning his birth nation and playing for Portugal on Canadian soil at the 2007 Under-20 World Cup. Others are just glad to see another name on the list of new and returning recruits to the Canadian program in the past year, joining the likes of Junior Hoilett, Tesho Akindele, Lucas Cavallini and Fraser Aird.
Either way, Vitoria (who spent last season with the Philadelphia Union, on loan from Benfica) will be hoping to earn his first senior international cap on Friday, and perhaps win some new supporters in the process.
Jerome Kiesewetter, M, US
The Stuttgart II winger arguably jump-started the US comeback effort after debuting for the senior team in the second half, as his energy and attacking intent pushed Iceland's defense time and again. It seems quite likely he played his way to more minutes and he could even get the start against Canada.