Marquee matches vs. U.S. a measuring stick for Canadian men's soccer team
Canada gets pair of chances at Nations League to end 34-year winless streak
After posting a perfect record in qualifying play, a young Canada side will now test itself against the U.S. in CONCACAF Nations League A competition.
The home-and-away meetings later 2019 with the 25th-ranked Americans are being seen as a measuring stick for how far the Canadian men, ranked 79th in the world, have come under coach John Herdman.
The other team in Canada's group is No. 174 Cuba. But the marquee matches against the U.S. are the main attraction.
"It's a perfect draw for us, a perfect opportunity for the team, the coach, the players and our fans who can get behind us now for some great great matches upcoming," said Peter Montopoli, general secretary of the Canadian Soccer Association.
The group stage will be played in the FIFA international match windows in September, October and November 2019. The tournament championship is scheduled for March 2020.
TFC captain Bradley excited for rivalry
Canada qualified for League A — the top tier of the new three-level CONCACAF competition — after finishing second to Haiti on a tiebreaker in the 34-team qualifying round.
The 12-team league A is split into four groups with the pool winners advancing to the tournament semifinals.
The bottom teams in the groups will be relegated to League B, with its four group winners earning promotion to the top tier. There is also promotion and relegation between League B and C.
Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley, a former U.S. skipper and still active international who has won 145 caps for his country, welcomed the draw.
"[I'm] really excited," he said. "Hope the game is in Toronto. My kids are very excited. It should be a fun fall."
Toronto defender Drew Moor, a former U.S. international, smiled when asked about the coming U.S.-Canada clashes.
"Those games are still a little ways away, right? Hopefully we're all still friends as they approach. But no, it'll be interesting. I think Canada's national team is in a very good place right now and while there's certainly some work to do there, it'll be a good test I think for both sides."
34-year win drought
Canada's record against the U.S. is 8-14-11, with the last win coming in April 1985 in Vancouver. The Canadian men have gone 0-9-8 since, although they have drawn two of the last three meetings.
The two North American rivals could also meet in this summer's Gold Cup, which serves as the championship of the confederation covering North and Central America and the Caribbean.
"It should be fun. While there is a bit of rivalry within the locker room there at times, it's all professional and it's all switched back over to TFC pride and love at the right time," Moor added. "It should make for a fun couple of weeks as it does approach."
The U.S., which failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, is rebuilding under new coach Gregg Berhalter.
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Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney, a former U.S. international, praised Herdman's work at Canada's helm.
"I think they have a nice structure from which they're working from. They've got good pieces. Some of these up-and-coming talented players are going to be integral in the future of that program. And I see him already bleeding them in, giving them some opportunity.
"Meanwhile he's trying to establish also a culture within that which I think some of the older players like Atiba [Hutchinson] and Jonathan [Osorio] and others are vital to helping to establish the meaningfulness of playing for Canada and the value of that.
"So I know he's trying to accomplish a lot of things at once but I think he's extremely organized and well-intentioned and prepared for what it is he wants to see. And you can see the structure at play when they play. The questions will really come when they find better opposition and the [defence] gets challenged a little bit more and you see if your structure can hold up.
"But I'm a fan of where he's going with it."