Canada vs. U.S.: What to watch for in Concacaf Nations League final

Alistair Johnston of Team Canada spoke ahead of their tilt against the USA in the Gold Cup Finals, saying that a win here would start them down the path of being on an upswing ahead of the home World Cup in 2026.

Sunday is D-Day for the Canadian men’s national team. A win in the Concacaf Nations League final on Sunday would clinch the program’s first trophy in 23 years, and it would be even sweeter knowing it came against the U.S. in Las Vegas.

A victory would not only be a crowning achievement for this group of players, it would also be a massive boost looking ahead to a home World Cup in 2026.

“It’s a step,” said Canada coach John Herdman after the win over Panama. “It’s about bringing the future to the now. We’ve got our eyes on 2026 and winning big matches there, but the future is now for us.”

Here’s a look at what to watch for as Canada faces the U.S. in the Concacaf Nations League final.


In the last five meetings against the U.S., Canada has two wins, one draw and two losses.

Oct. 15, 2019: Canada 2-0 U.S. (Concacaf Nations League)
Nov. 15, 2019: U.S. 4-1 Canada (Concacaf Nations League)
July 18, 2021: U.S. 1-0 Canada (Gold Cup)
Sept. 5, 2021: U.S. 1-1 Canada (World Cup qualifying)
Jan. 30, 2022: Canada 2-0 U.S. (World Cup qualifying)

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Alphonso Davies (Canada)

After a two-month hiatus due to a hamstring injury, Alphonso Davies logged just under a half-hour in the win over Panama. Then, seven minutes after stepping onto the pitch, Davies emphatically converted Canada’s second goal of the night.

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Safe to say that the hamstring is fine, then.

The flanks could make or break Sunday’s final for both teams (more on that shortly), so the fact Davies got his feet wet over the course of 30 minutes is great news for Canada.

Timothy Weah (U.S.)

Christian Pulisic stole the headlines for his brace against Mexico but Timothy Weah was arguably more effective than Pulisic on Thursday night.

Weah’s off-the-ball runs were especially brilliant, as seen in the buildup for the second American goal, with the Lille forward providing the assist.

Those runs were causing a ruckus for El Tri as Weah finished the game with three key passes (including the assist) and one shot.


Despite their usual midfield superiority, the U.S. still tends to circulate the ball down the flanks and utilize their wide players to open space. With Tyler Adams injured and Weston McKennie suspended, that will surely be a theme on Sunday.

But there’s another wrinkle added with starting right-back Sergino Dest also receiving a red card in Thursday’s semifinal. That means DeAndre Yedlin or Joe Scally could fill his void. Regardless, the strategy shouldn’t change much. Yedlin and Scally are offensively adept full-backs who can replicate Dest’s role.

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If we look at the U.S. pass map from the Mexico game, that reliance on the flanks was evident. Dest (No. 2) combined nicely with McKennie (No. 8) and Yunus Musah (No. 6), along with Weah (No. 21) to open up space for around the Mexican box for Pulisic, Folarin Balogun and McKennie arriving late.

This particular sequence didn’t lead to a shot but it was a regular occurrence in the game.

McKennie’s absence negates some of the impact because he’s absolutely brilliant at timing those late runs and exposing those gaps, but if he won’t be doing it, then someone like Giovanni Reyna will. Canada will have to be alert.

But on the flip side, the American full-backs pushing high means that there’ll be space available for Canada’s wide players. That’s what happened in the first World Cup qualifier in 2021 and it led to a Cyle Larin equalizer via an explosive run from Davies down the left.

The Netherlands also exposed this at the World Cup despite the U.S. dominating possession, the shot count and expected goals battle.

In an effort to congest the midfield areas, the Dutch used a man-marking scheme off the ball.

The front two of Cody Gakpo and Memphis Depay were key to exposing the U.S. on the counter from there. One of the forwards dropped deep to provide an outlet on the counter-attack and the other turned into the open space vacated by the American full-backs to create counter-attacking chances en route to a 3-1 win.

It wouldn’t be surprising if we see some cat-and-mouse games in those wide areas on Sunday given the previous trends.

About the author: Peter Galindo is one of Canada’s leading soccer journalists, having covered the sport for several outlets including Sportsnet, MLS and Bleacher Report. He also works as a performance analyst/scout and co-hosts the Northern Fútbol Podcast which focuses on all things Canadian soccer. You can subscribe on AppleSpotify or anywhere you get your podcasts.

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