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Canada Seek Nations League Title vs. USA: “The Future is Now”

It’s time to write another chapter in what’s become a fascinating rivalry between the Canadian and US men’s national teams.

Yet Sunday’s Concacaf Nations League final at Allegiant Stadium isn’t just any chapter (8:30 pm ET | Paramount+, Univision in US; OneSoccer in Canada). It can be a climactic moment, the coup de grace of being the true Kings of Concacaf.

That line was repeatedly uttered by the Canadians during their historic and region-topping 2022 World Cup qualifying run. Ultimately, though, it means a lot more once a trophy is lifted.

“It means nothing unless you win it,” said Canada coach John Herdman. “We got to a semifinal of a Gold Cup [in 2021] and I just remember that disappointment [of Mexico scoring in stoppage time for a 2-1 win] … We played like six games to get there and, yeah, it hurt.”

That’s what makes this moment so intriguing. The US are loaded with talent and have produced some stunning performances, such as Thursday’s 3-0 semifinal win over Mexico. Those efforts have often drawn praise from Herdman, who has a healthy respect for his team’s southern neighbors.

At the end of the day, this is still a rivalry and one that’s fit for a final of this magnitude. Since 2019, Canada and the US each have earned two wins and a draw in the last five meetings.

What a way to break the deadlock.

While the US enter as defending Nations League champions, a trophy would arguably be more significant for the Canadian program. Qualifying for the World Cup after a 36-year absence was a transformative achievement, but winning a trophy would be key on the road to co-hosting in 2026.

“As I keep saying to the players, it’s about bringing the future to the now,” said Herdman. “We’ve got our eyes on 2026 and winning big matches there, but the future is now for us. We’ve got to take some steps to keep building that trust and confidence in our own ability to win matches.”

More elite opponents and high-stakes games will go a long way towards building on the 2022 World Cup, where Canada failed to win but were competitive for long stretches in group-stage matches against Belgium, Croatia and Morocco. Their lack of World Cup experience and significant core of players participating in top European leagues reared its head, too.

That’s slowly changing with the likes of Ismaël Koné and Alistair Johnston shining in MLS before jumping over to Watford and Celtic, respectively. Both players are key pillars of the national team entering 2026, and more will follow in their footsteps.

But winning a trophy for the first time since 2000, by any means necessary, would cap what this group started during World Cup qualifying and write a new chapter as the next three years take shape. 

“If we have to win ugly, given our circumstances, we will win ugly,” Herdman admitted. “It’s just trying to find that wherewithal to win.

“I’m not putting any pressure on them to win the game with 700 passes and 27 shots. We did that against Belgium and we came away with nothing.”

Unlike that Belgium match, Herdman will have fewer fitness concerns. Alphonso Davies was recovering from a hamstring injury and that World Cup opener was his first match back in action. Stephen Eustaquio was nursing a minor injury but eventually broke down in the second game against Croatia. Couple that with MLS players being out of season at that time and there were challenges to confront.

That’s not really the case entering Sunday’s final. It’s true Davies, Johnston and Tajon Buchanan all recently returned from their respective injuries, but Thursday’s 2-0 semifinal win over Panama did wonders for everybody on that front.

Davies logged just under 30 minutes and scored in a tremendous cameo off the bench. Johnston and Buchanan were withdrawn early, while the likes of Jonathan Osorio (groin) and Junior Hoilett (match fitness) both checked in during the second half. Seeing the rust being shaken off had to be a massive relief for the coaching staff given the tireless preparation ahead of this window.

“You see what goes into trying to get the team ready when you’ve got guys that finish the season in May and haven’t played,” said Herdman. “Young Koné has been training at his old club … and then coming out against the Panamanian team.”

Add in some USMNT red-card absences, and it does seem like the soccer gods are smiling upon the Canadians before a potentially historic evening in Las Vegas.

Source : MLS Soccer