The United States will be aiming to extend their reign as CONCACAF Nations League champions, when they face fellow finalists Canada in a first-ever title-crowning game between these two North American neighbors.
Interim head coach BJ Callaghan will be aiming for an impressive feat of claiming his first trophy after less than three weeks in charge, which would give the coach momentum before he turns his attention towards the Gold Cup beginning several days later.
The former assistant’s first game at the helm – Thursday’s commanding 3-0 humiliation of Mexico in the semifinal – was overshadowed by emerging rumors of Gregg Berhalter’s return as permanent head coach, which was finally confirmed the following day.
While this does make Callaghan’s short run in the coming weeks seem a bit of a lame duck session with the coach-in-waiting looking on, success in either or both of the hurdles will certainly give a boost to his CV should he have developed a taste for being the man in charge.
On the surface, the relative ease of Thursday’s win might give a false air of confidence heading into Sunday’s final against Canada, however the recent trajectory of the opposition combined with several notable disadvantages faced by the USMNT should ensure that there is no clear favorite.
The United States and Canada have never met in the final of any CONCACAF competition prior to Sunday. The Canadians’ two winning campaigns in the Gold Cup and its predecessor the CONCACAF Championship came back in 2000 and 1985, where they respectively defeated Colombia and Honduras in the final game.
In recent years, however, they have had the Americans’ number in an increasing number of games in official competitions. They did provide the lone blemish on the team’s record in their run to the inaugural Nations League crown in 2019, with John Herdman leading the team to a 2-0 win over Berhalter’s squad in their first group-stage meeting.
This was followed by Canada’s impressive run to end up first-place in CONCACAF World Cup qualification, where Herdman again gave his team the edge with a 1-1 draw and 2-0 home win in their two meetings.
While this did not portend any success for the team in their eventual failed, three-loss World Cup campaign, they have picked up right where they left off with a strong showing to reach Sunday’s final.
They defeated Panama in a relatively straightforward 2-0 semifinal, with star attacker Jonathan David being the main catalyst through a goal and assist, and were also able to come through the game completely unscathed in terms of injuries and suspensions.
Herdman arguably has superior attacking firepower than the Americans’ last opponent Mexico, led by Lille’s in-demand forward David, who will once again be a major summer target of top European clubs after scoring 24 goals in the recently competed Ligue 1 season.
Forward Cyle Larin also had an impressive run with La Liga’s Real Valladolid in his half-season loan, scoring eight and setting up another three in 19 league games, while Brügge’s Tajon Buchanan and FC Bayern wing attacker Alphonso Davies will also wreak havoc on Callaghan’s back line.
Davies is still returning to full health after suffering an injury with Bayern in late-April and only played the last half-hour against Panama. However, he did make the most of his time by scoring the team’s insurance goal, and could be given the nod by Herdman on the left to take advantage of stand-in US right-back Joe Scally.
Compared to their significant attacking pedigree, the rest of the likely Canadian starting XI is a step down, although not without some degree of quality. The pair of Portuguese-Canadian players based in the Primeira Liga, defender Steven Vitória and midfielder Stephen Eustáquio were also standout performers on Thursday night, and Herdman has generally set up the team to absorb the pressure of their opponents just long enough to exploit any momentary openings that might appear amidst the frustration.
Still, it would be difficult to expect the Canadians to have their way in controlling the flow of the game and having as many opportunities for ruthlessness as they did against Panama on Thursday.
Even with both Weston McKennie and Sergiño Dest out of the final due to red card suspensions, Callaghan still has enough quality, in particularly in the back line and main attack, to exploit any talent imbalances on the field.
With neither McKennie nor the injured Tyler Adams available to provide a disruptive presence in the midfield, Callaghan will have to rely on either Luca de la Torre or Johnny Cardoso to line up alongside Yunus Musah in the middle.
However, once again going with two defensive-minded midfielders for a second straight game, this time out of necessity, Callaghan will be able to field a deadly front four. Placing the trio of Christian Pulisic, Gio Reyna and Tim Weah behind front-man Folarin Balogun worked like magic against Mexico, however Brenden Aaronson, Ricardo Pepi or Alejandro Zendejas could also slot into the formation without too much of a loss in quality.
Dest will most likely be replaced on the right side of the defense by the young Scally, if a direct swap is deemed the best course of action. However, Callaghan could take a cue from Lille head coach Paulo Fonseca and shift Weah into the more wingback role. This would free up another of the front attacking spots for one of the aforementioned options, and would arguably be one of the more aggressive lineups that American fans have seen in several decades.
Regardless that side of the defense will surely be a target point for the likes of Davies and David on the Canadian side, all the more so because the rest of the American back line is as rock-solid as they come.
Barring any unexpected, and ill-advised twists, Miles Robinson will start in central defense, alongside either Chris Richards, who was adequate versus Mexico, or the more, experienced but less mobile Walker Zimmerman. This leaves Antonee Robinson in his traditional left-back role, and Arsenal understudy Matt Turner in goal.
The game will kick off at 5:30pm local west-cost time, 8:30pm eastern US time, at the Allegiant Stadium near Las Vegas.