This is the moment of truth for Canada's men's national team.
Qualifying for the semifinal round of the inaugural Concacaf Nations League over the United States is well within reach ahead of Friday's tilt against the USMNT in Orlando, Florida. A win or a draw on Friday means that John Herdman's side will have taken the top spot in League A's Group A, achieving what Canada set out to do at the start of this tournament.
Topping Group A won't exactly erase all the pain associated with the men's national team. Recently, there was the second-half capitulation in the Gold Cup against Haiti, which saw Canada throw away a two-goal lead to lose 3-2 in the quarterfinals of this summer's Gold Cup. And the disappointment of not making it to the Hexagonal round of World Cup qualifying for the 2018 World Cup is still fresh enough, as is the humiliating 8-1 loss to Honduras in World Cup qualifying back in 2012.
But this is a different group for Canada, one that has shown plenty of promise recently. Their last time out, Canada put themselves in this position by beating the U.S. 2-0 at BMO Field. Second-half goals from Alphonso Davies and Lucas Cavallini provided the difference for the Canucks, who picked up their first win over the USA since 1985. Canada felt confident about their chances going into the game, and proved that they are close enough to belong in the conversation with the U.S., a big step forward for the men's team.
And their opponents on Friday come into the game wounded. Not only is head coach Greg Berhalter under plenty of scrutiny for his side's performances this year, but he's missing several critical players for the game. Christian Pulisic is out. As is the Toronto FC duo of Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley. Zack Steffen has taken this international break as a chance to rest because of an injury, and Tyler Adams is still not available, having yet to play for RB Leipzig this season. That's five starters, experienced at the international and club level, that could make the difference for the U.S. against Canada, who won't be available on Friday.
On the other hand, Canada come fully equipped, led by Bayern Munich's Davies. Davies has earned plenty of praise recently for his performances in Germany, where he has recently become a starter at left back. He'll play further forward for Herdman, complimenting either Jonathan David or Cavallini in the attack. The MLS duo of Mark-Anthony Kaye and Jonathan Osorio will help provide the beef in midfield, alongside captain Scott Arfield. And Junior Hoilett will likely provide the spark off the bench, if need be for Canada.
A win or a draw won't completely signify Canada's ascension to the elite in the Concacaf region. They'll have to prove their mettle on bigger stages, at the 2021 Gold Cup, and World Cup qualifying for Qatar 2022. But a positive result on Friday, earning the top spot in Group A, would go a long way in helping Canada achieve their goals, which was what Herdman was tasked to do when he took over the men's team, having helped the Canadian women's team become one of the top teams in the world.