Cyle Larin was a thorn in the U.S. side again. (Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
Forget about first place.
It’s all about survival in the Concacaf Octagonal and just reaching the World Cup for the U.S. men’s national team.
The U.S. Men’s National Team’s quest to finish atop the Concacaf qualifying group hit a major roadblock on Sunday as it dropped a 2-0 decision to Canada at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton, Ontario.
Cyle Larin scored early and Sam Adekugbe added a late insurance goal for the Canadians (6-0-4, 22 points), who extended their Concacaf Octagonal lead. They also defeated the USA for the first time in qualifying since 1980.
The second-place Americans (5-2-3, 18) fell four points behind their northern neighbors with four matches remaining in their quest to qualify for Qatar this November.
In fact, they were in danger of falling into third place, pending the outcome of third-place Mexico’s (5-2-2, 17) home match against Costa Rica (3-3-3, 12) later on Sunday.
— Canada Soccer (@CanadaSoccerEN) January 30, 2022
Almost 12,000 fans – 50 percent of stadium capacity – watched the game in person as attendance was kept down due to local COVID-19 protocols.
Still, they were an enthusiastic bunch and had plenty to cheer about.
The first time came in the seventh minute when goalkeeper Matt Turner booted a goal kick to midfield, the Canadians struck off a quick counterattack in the seventh minute.
Kamal Miller won the ball with a header that went directly to Larin, who performed a quick give-and go with Jonathan David. Larin raced toward the net and fired a 10-yard shot past Turner for a 1-0 lead.
Larin leads all goal-scorers in Concacaf qualifying with 12 goals. It also was his Octagonal-best fifth goal.
The Canadians did a superb job of marking U.S. players as they closed in well when the Americans had possession. That limited dangerous opportunities for the visitors.
Forward Christian Pulisic, who endured his second consecutive underachieving performance, was involved in both of the visitor’s first-half scoring opportunities. After Mark-Anthony Kaye fouled him 24 yards out, the Chelsea forward sent a free kick over the crossbar in the 37th minute.
Six minutes later, Pulisic floated in a corner kick from the left side to Weston McKennie, who headed a close-range shot that goalkeeper Milan Borjan swatted away with his right hand.
The Americans continued their inability to score in the first half. In their first 10 qualifiers, they have tallied but twice in the opening 45 minutes, surrendering four goals.
The visitors almost equalized in the 87th minute on a bicycle kick by second-half Paul Arriola that sailed wide left.
Five minutes into stoppage time, however, Adekugbe latched onto Miller’s long ball and scored off the counter to give Canada an insurance goal.
The Americans lost captain and midfielder Tyler Adams to an injury in the 69th minute.
The USA will look to rebound against Honduras at Allianz Field in St. Paul, Minn. on Wednesday night.