After watching his team fall 2-0 to the U.S. in Sunday’s CONCACAF Nations League final, Canada coach John Herdman challenged Canada Soccer “to get real” when it comes to preparing his side.
Herdman has made a point at the tournament of noting Canada’s lack of preparation compared to other countries. And he returned to the theme with emotion in the wake of the loss.
“We’ve got the best generation of players we’ve had and there’s more coming … That support, we’ve got to figure this out financially,” he said. “We’ve got to get serious about winning a World Cup (in 2026). When you play at home you get a chance to win it.”
“We’ve brought a World Cup to our country and we’re not serious about winning it,” he added, his voice rising. “And you see how close that team is tonight. Tactically, we were there. Chances, shots, we were there. The margins were so tight tonight, so tight. We’ve got to get real. We’ve got to get real. And quick.
“Because these players, they deserve it. They deserve their shot. The country deserves it. All the people that worked to bring it (the World Cup to Canada) deserve the shot. Let’s get after it. We’re close.”
Herdman said he personally has had to help raise money for charter flights and security during World Cup qualification.
“It costs a lot of money to get things put together for these (international) windows,” he said. “I think it’s not a secret the organization (Canada Soccer) has been suffering financially.”
The issue of preparation and resources has been front and centre in ongoing labour talks with both the Canadian men’s and women’s sides.
Chris Richards, in the 12th minute, and Folarin Balogun, in the 34th, scored for the 13th-ranked U.S.
The 47th-ranked Canadian men were looking for their first tournament win since the 2000 Gold Cup, not to mention the Nations League winner’s prize of some US$1 million.
Fifteenth-ranked Mexico defeated No. 58 Panama 1-0 in the earlier third-place game at Allegiant Stadium, thanks to a fourth-minute goal by Jesus Gallardo.
The Americans also won the inaugural Nations League in 2021, defeating Mexico in the final.
Canada now turns its attention to the Gold Cup, starting June 27 against a yet-to-be decided qualifier at Toronto’s BMO Field. Herdman said he will have to field a different roster, with injuries sidelining some players.
Herdman’s passion aside, the Americans were full value for Sunday’s victory, threatening in attack and steady in defence. Canada, wearing its black ensemble, looked vulnerable on set pieces and lacked clinical finishing.
“We got the result tonight and we put in a really top performance once again. We fought, we battled,” said U.S. captain Christian Pulisic, who won top player honours. “But we have to give them credit as well, They put on a hell of a performance.”
Both teams looked dangerous early with their pace and passing. But it was the Americans who went ahead with the six-foot-three Richards, rising high in a tangle of players, heading home a Gio Reyna corner in the 12th minute. The Crystal Palace centre back’s downward header eluded Canadian goalkeeper Milan Borjan for his first goal in his 10th international appearance.
Reyna played provider again in the 34th minute, putting Balogun behind the defence on a rapid-fire counterattack. The 21-year-old forward, who scored 21 goals for France’s Reims on loan from Arsenal last season, opened his U.S. account in just his second outing, sweeping a right-footed shot past Borjan.
The game served as a farewell for 40-year-old captain Atiba Hutchinson, who is retiring after a distinguished club and international career. Hutchinson, who came off the bench in the 76th minute in Thursday’s 2-0 semifinal win over Panama, watched from the bench Sunday.
Hutchinson was 19 when he made his senior debut for Canada in January 2003 in a 4-0 loss to the U.S. The midfielder, who exits with a Canadian men’s record (104) caps played in six Gold Cups and a Canadian-record 38 World Cup qualifying games.
The Americans were content to sit back and defend their lead as the second half wore on.
Hutchinson led the dour-faced Canadians to the podium for their losers’ medals, presented by CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani, a Vancouver native.
Herdman made three changes to his starting 11, inserting Alphonso Davies, Jonathan Osorio and Scott Kennedy for Tajon Buchanan, Sam Adekugbe and Steven Vitoria.
The Americans were without midfielder Weston McKennie and fullback Sergino Dest, both suspended after being red-carded in the chippy 3-0 semifinal win over Mexico. Joseph Scally, Brenden Aaronson and Walker Zimmerman came into the U.S. lineup for Dest, McKennie and Miles Robinson.
The Canadian starting 11 came into the game with 441 combined caps compared to 282 for the U.S.
The influential Reyna did not come out for the second half after taking a knock just before the break. Canada, meanwhile, switched to a back four.
The U.S. improved to 17-10-12 all-time against Canada.
But the Canadians have had success against the U.S. in past CONCACAF Nations League play. The Canadian men won 2-0 when they met in October 2019 at BMO Field with goals from Davies and substitute Cavallini ending a 34-year, 17-match winless run for Canada against its North American rival.
The U.S. won the return match 4-1 in Orlando the next month to advance to the Nations League finals.
The teams had gone 1-1-1 in meetings since then, with Canada winning 2-0 last time out in World Cup qualifying play in January 2022 in Hamilton.
But the Americans came into Sunday’s game unbeaten in 21 straight matches (11-0-10) against Canada on U.S. soil, the longest home unbeaten run against a single opponent in program history.
The Nations League features 41 teams from North and Central America and the Caribbean split into three tiers: League A (12 teams), B (16) and C (13). The four group winners in League A advanced to the final four with Canada (3-1-0) topping Group C and the U.S. (3-0-1) winning Group D.