How Canada's soccer upset of the U.S. really matters
Maybe this will be the start of something big
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Canada finally beat the U.S. in soccer
Tuesday night in Toronto, the Canadian men's soccer team defeated the United States 2-0 in a CONCACAF Nations League match. This is the first time in 34 years that Canada beat the U.S. in men's soccer. No one on the current team was even born the last time this happened. Here's what else you should know about the win:
Does this matter? Yes. The 34 years is a bit misleading because Canada and the U.S. met only 17 times during that span. But anytime you snap a three-decade-plus losing streak, that's something to celebrate. And it's always sweet to beat the Americans in a sport they're better at. The U.S. is ranked 21st in the world. Canada is 75th, and has never been taken seriously in men's soccer. The women's national team is stronger, but even they haven't beaten the U.S. since 2001. So this is a pretty big upset.
Does this really matter? Maybe. The CONCACAF Nations League is a brand-new, season-long regional tournament that doesn't carry much prestige yet. But the matches count toward the world rankings, which matter in the World Cup qualifying process. In the most recent rankings, Canada was seventh among the CONCACAF countries, which cover North and Central America and the Caribbean. Canada Soccer says that Tuesday night's win moved the team, unofficially, into sixth. That's key because the top six after the June window of international matches get into what's called the Hexagonal (or "Hex" for short) — the final round of World Cup qualifying for the CONCACAF region. It's not the only way to qualify for the World Cup, but it's the best way. The top three finishers in the Hex get direct spots in the 2022 World Cup, and the fourth-place team gets a second chance. It plays the winner of a tournament between the CONCACAF teams that didn't qualify for the Hex, and the winner of that matchup faces a bubble team from another region for a spot in the World Cup. The Hex was first played in 1997 (ahead of the 1998 World Cup), and that's the only time Canada made it that far. So getting back would be a big step.
So should we start getting excited about this Canadian team? That would not be unreasonable. This team has the potential to do good things in part because of some (very) young building blocks. Eighteen-year-old Alphonso Davies, who scored one of the goals last night, is the guy everyone's really excited about. He's a rising star who plays for Bayern Munich — one of the best teams in one of the best soccer leagues (the German Bundesliga) in the world. Bayern paid $22 million US to buy Davies from the Vancouver Whitecaps — a record transfer fee for an MLS player. That shows his potential is sky-high. Nineteen-year-old Jonathan David, who plays in the Belgian First Division, has 11 goals in 11 matches with the national team. He didn't score last night, but he had chances and he combined with Davies to put a lot of pressure on the American defenders. Canada also seems to have a strong head coach in John Herdman. He switched over last year after guiding the Canadian women's team to back-to-back Olympic bronze medals.
When will we find out if this Canadian team is for real? A good test will come on Nov. 15, when Canada plays the U.S. in Orlando. That's the back end of their Nations League home-and home, and also Canada's final match of the group stage. Canada heads into it with a 3-0 record (it also beat Cuba twice). So all it needs is a draw with the U.S. to win the three-team group, which you have to do in order to advance to the four-team final round in June. But you know the Americans will come out swinging on home turf after last night's loss. In their post-match comments, both teams mentioned how Canada out-hustled the U.S. all night. It's fair to wonder whether the Americans went all out — they fielded a strong team, but two of their best players either missed the game or played at less than 100 per cent: Jozy Altidore sat out with an injury and Christian Pulisic was subbed out in the 60th minute after playing through what the U.S. coach called "flu-like symptoms."
So what's the big takeaway here? Taken out of context, the win itself may not be a huge deal because the Nations League doesn't mean a lot and Canada could end up falling back down the rankings (and out of the Hex picture) after the Nov. 15 U.S. rematch and/or the next time they face a tough away contest in one of those countries where the fans throw bags of urine at you. But the bigger picture is that ending the losing streak is great for team spirit, and it shows that this fresh-feeling version of the Canadian team may actually have enough juice to make its 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign interesting. Maybe more importantly, it raises hopes that the national team can put in a strong showing in 2026 when Canada co-hosts the World Cup. If those things play out, we might look back on last night's win as the start of something big.
The Zombie Montreal Expos made the World Series
That's the Washington Nationals to most people. They scored seven runs in the first inning last night and held on for a 7-4 win that completed a sweep of St. Louis in the National League Championship Series.
This will be the first World Series appearance in the history of the franchise, which began in 1969 in Montreal and moved to Washington after the 2004 season. Its only previous NLCS experience came in 1981, when the Expos lost a deciding game to the Dodgers that was dubbed "Blue Monday" — both for the day of the week it happened on, and the fact that Rick Monday hit the go-ahead homer for L.A. in the top of the ninth inning.
That was the only post-season appearance of the team's 36-year stint in Montreal. Another one should have happened in 1994, when the Expos had the best record in baseball two-thirds of the way through season. But the players' union went on strike and the rest of the season and the playoffs were eventually cancelled.
Twenty-five years later, the Nationals will be an underdog in the World Series against either Houston or the New York Yankees. The Astros lead the AL Championship series 2-1 after last night's 4-1 win. Game 4 was supposed to be tonight, but it's a very rainy day in New York City, so it was postponed until tomorrow night.
The Winnipeg Jets' sellout streak is over. The team had sold out its first 332 home games in the regular season and playoffs since the NHL returned to Winnipeg in 2011. But last night's game against Arizona drew "only" 98 per cent capacity at the Jets' 15,004-seat arena. That's still pretty good for a Tuesday-night game in October against the Coyotes, but it may reflect a larger trend. As Ken Campbell of The Hockey News pointed out, four of the five Canadian teams playing at home last night didn't sell out. Given today's ticket prices and the relative meaninglessness of regular-season hockey, maybe this shouldn't be all that surprising.
The NBA/China controversy is washing onto Canadian shores. There's an exhibition game in Vancouver tomorrow night, and a pro-Hong Kong group is planning to protest against human rights abuses by the ruling Chinese government in the semi-autonomous city-state. An organizer said the group wants to "test" the NBA on whether it "really stands for freedom of speech." The league claimed to be doing that by not punishing Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey for his tweet supporting Hong Kong protestors that angered the Chinese government — even though it bent over backwards to distance itself from what Morey said. LeBron James joined the fray earlier this week by criticizing Morey for not weighing the "ramifications" of his tweet — which include potentially costing superstars like LeBron a lot of money because they have massive endorsement deals with shoe companies that do business in China. Read more here about the various Vancouver protests, which will also include people trying to convince the NBA to bring the Grizzlies back.
Correction (plus a bonus Wayne Gretzky fun fact): In yesterday's newsletter, I wrote that the No. 2 scorer in NHL history, Jaromir Jagr, has 936 points. What I meant to write, were I not a moron, is that Jagr is 936 points behind Gretzky. Jagr has 1,921 points. Gretzky notched 1,963 assists alone. So if Gretzky hadn't scored a single goal — and he scored 894 of them, which is 91 more than anyone else ever — he'd still be the all-time points leader (hat tip to CBC Sports editor Pat Grier for pointing that out).
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