Battle of Orlando: The individuals and battles to watch in Canada vs USA (Tactical Preview Part 2) 

After looking at the profiles of both Canada and the US in the 1st part of our tactical preview, we now take a look at some individuals and battles that will shape the game, as both teams look to gain a massive victory in the quest for the Nations League knockout stages. 

Canada vs USA in-depth tactical preview part 1: What to expect from both teams in Orlando

Midfield magic can go a long way. 

After a tense 2-0 victory over the US last month, Canada is now looking to repeat some of that magic, as they aim to earn qualification to the CONCACAF Nations League Finals early next year. With a spot in the ‘Hexagonal’ also hanging in the balance, it’s a huge game for the Reds, who look to reach the final phase of World Cup Qualifying for the first time in this Millenium. 

So while the 1st game of this matchup got a lot of hype, and understandably so, this one arguably dwarfs the other one in terms of importance for Canada. Les Rouges need at least a draw to make it through to where they want to be, while a loss completely opens things up, which is why it would be huge for Canada to get at least a point in Orlando. 

To do so, they’re going to have to hope for at least a repeat of what we saw in Toronto last month, if not more, as the US looks to avoid back-to-back embarrassing defeats against their rivals. In order to facilitate that, Canada will have to nail the gameplan tactically once again, as they try and show that what they did was no fluke. 

Part of that will come down to winning certain duals, as well as ensuring that certain players complete integral tasks, as the game will once again come down to a game of battles. In a game where 22 players take each other on over a period of 90 minutes, a handful of players can completely influence the complexion as a game, as we see every weekend all around the world. 

With that in mind, here are some of those players and battles to watch out for later this week in this one. 

Players to watch tactically:

While the US suffered a couple of big blow recently, as star winger Christian Pulisic and dependable midfielder Michael Bradley were forced to withdraw due to injury concerns, a few days after goalkeeper Zack Steffen had to back out as well, there are still plenty of stars to watch out for on their end. With the absences, Canada will now be expected to bring the upper hand, but the US still has some dangerous players that could easily shift the game in their favour. 

The US’s tactical profile will suffer from the absence of Bradley and Pulisic, who are two of the key cogs of Gregg Berhalter’s system, which means that some new players will have to step up to fill that void. Whether that means a deviation from some of the principles that Berhalter employs is yet to be seen, but it’s clear that this US side is going to have to pony up and bring some bravado, countering some of the big-game experience missing with both Pulisic and Bradley out. 

On Canada’s side, they bring a mostly full slate of their players, giving John Herdman free-range over the kind of tactical approach he chooses to employ. Don’t expect to deviate much from the midfield heavy approach, as the US will struggle to match them in that regard, but besides that, what else they do will be completely up in the air.  

So, given the situations of both teams, here are some players that will be counted onto shape the game tactically on Friday:

Canada: Alphonso Davies, two-way improvements come in handy

After a tip-top performance last time out against the US, as he caused headaches all game en route to his second-half opening goal, expect more of the same this time around. After earning a run of games in the Bayern Munich lineup, Davies comes into this one in-form, with his performances in Germany opening up chatter all around the world. 

For Herdman, it gives him a deadly weapon, one that he’ll aim to utilize in areas all over the field. While his biggest role will be on the offensive end, as he and Jonathan David are relied upon to carry the mail for Canada in that regard, he will also bring a lot to the table defensively. 

Deployed as a left back for Bayern, he has shown a heightened improvement in defending transition areas, something that dogged him in previous stints at the position. Along with an ability to pick up tackles in tight spaces, and his relentless stamina, he showed glimpses of being able to play as a modern full back for Bayern.

While he is unlikely to see the field in Orlando as a left back, he’ll be expected to use those defensive chops quite often, most likely in a similar role as the one he held in the last US clash. In a front 2 with David, defensively one of them often dropped to shadow the US #6, while the other roamed and offered support in needed areas. Considering David’s excellence at playing off the shoulder of opposing defenders, and Davies’s ability to run from in deep, expect them to interact in a 1-1, with Davies supporting David from underneath him when Canada is without the ball. 

If Canada starts to get beat up on their left side, as the US’s right side looks to be their best offensive area right now, Davies can also fill in as a defacto left-sided midfielder. If DeAndre Yedlin/Reggie Cannon and Jordan Morris run rampant against Kamal Miller and Canada’s central midfielders, Davies could push out onto that left side, allowing him to play in front of Miller and nullify some of that space given. 

Either way, he’ll be expected to be a two-way ace for Herdman, and there’ll be no doubt about his ability to handle that kind of assignment now. While he will be deadly in transition, torching what is expected to be a mid-to-high US defensive line, the reinforcements he brings defensively will be crucial as Canada chases at least a point. As seen in his most recent Bayern performance against Borussia Dortmund, he has the stamina to bring that energy on both sides of the ball for 90 minutes, so expect much of the same against the US. 

Canada: Samuel Piette, the heart of the midfield

Piette enjoys a snack at training this week (Canada Soccer)

Considering this game will be won and lost in the midfield, Piette may be one of Canada’s most important players once again in this one. While Mark Anthony Kaye will also be huge, as his ability in transition cannot be understated, Piette will be expected to marshall things defensively. Against the Americans in leg one, he was everywhere, tackling everything that moved, making things difficult for his opponents. 

In this one, he’ll be expected to shut down creativity originating from the Americans in the middle, forcing them to the flanks. Over his 3 years in MLS, he averages 2.4 tackles and 1.8 interceptions per game, and that’s exactly what he’ll bring to Canada down in Orlando. Along with his ability to pass the ball, best shown by his 95 pass % against the US last time out, and he’ll be relied on to jump-start the deadly Canadian transition game. 

As Canada will be likely to sit in a low to mid defensive block, Piette will be expected to provide protection for his defenders, who play best with the game ahead of them. As seen by their performances for Canada, Doneil Henry, Steven Vitoria and Derek Cornelius are excellent at winning aerials and blocking shots, so Piette will be expected to ensure that the ball does not reach them along the floor, in space. While that won’t be an easy task, having Kaye in the midfield will help him, and Piette does have the stamina to shield the back 4 for a full 90 minutes. 

Fresh off turning 25, Piette still has lots to give, so expect him to bring that energizer bunny presence to Orlando once again. 

Canada: Scott Arfield, midfield multitasker

While Piette will be shielding the defenders, Arfield will be deployed further up in the midfield, and he will be key to unlocking Canada’s transition game. An excellent dribbler of the ball, he will be expected to get the ball moving forward when Canada wins the ball in space, either using his fellow midfielders to keep possession, or launching the ball forward to the speedy Davies and David up top to push back the Americans. 

Along with his astute passing ability, as seen with the assist on the Davies opener in Toronto, he also is an excellent shooter of the ball. While he won’t be expected to do much of that against the US, as his role will be mostly to start transition moments instead of finishing them, he is a weapon for Canada to have up their sleeve if needed. 

But despite all his offensive ability, his biggest contributions will come on the defensive side, however. An excellent presser, he will be expected to nullify the US #6, while also dropping back to make life hard for the US #8s if needed. In Toronto, he did that excellently, as he quietly played a big part in Canada’s ability to nullify space for their American counterparts to play in. 

As the captain of this Canadian side, Arfield will be counted upon for a big performance in Orlando, and look for him to bring his best on both sides of the ball. If he does, it’ll go a long way to Canada succeeding in shutting down the Americans on Friday. 

USA: Sergino Dest, a new look left back

For the Americans, with the loss of Pulisic, Dest will have to take a big step forward in his first competitive camp with the US. It was first expected that the pair would have fun overlapping each other down the left side, but with Pulisic staying in England, that joy will have to come with Jordan Morris or Paul Arriola for now. 

After employing Daniel Lovitz last time out against the Canadians, Dest will bring something new to the US backline, as his offensive skills will instantly change the complexion of the US attack. In the friendly against Mexico in September, Dest loved to get forward and challenge defenders, and he is good at both crossing and shooting the ball. 

While many American fans are wary of his bombastic nature leaving too many gaps for the Canadians to counter into, they’ll need some of that offensive juice in Orlando, as they need at least a win to stay in Nations League contention. Having a double attacking full back presence of Dest along with Cannon/Yedlin on the right will instantly give the US a more balanced attack, something often lacking in the first round of action against the Canadians. 

In his first full camp since committing to the Americans, he’ll bring his A-game to Orlando, and will be a key cog in Berhalter’s system. With full backs already being so important to the former Columbus Crew manager, Dest will only give him another jewel to plot his plan around, so watch for him to do some damage against the Canadians. 

USA: Josh Sargent, frontman 

As Sargent’s growth in the Bundesliga for Werder Bremen continues, he aims to take bigger steps forward with his National Team, starting with this game. He was quiet against Canada last time out, nullified by the midfield block, so he’ll want to do his best to ensure his team can generate more offence this time out. 

One big issue was that he was often too static up in Toronto, as he pressed too passively, and didn’t drop enough to help the US combat the overload the middle. Had he been receiving the crosses and passes that a striker needs to stay involved, he wouldn’t have needed to drop, but he’ll need to be more involved this time out. 

While most will point out that a team needs a striker to be closest to goal at all time, the US are a team that likes to build slow, so having as much support as possible boosts them massively. If Sargent can drop more, get involved in helping suck in defenders and midfielders, before helping funnel the ball into wide areas, it will benefit him and his team massively. 

Along with having plenty more crossing opportunities, it’ll also disorganize what was a very well-drilled Canada team in the 1st game, as they’ll likely be set-up similarly this time around. After a quiet game in Toronto, it’ll be a good way for Sargent to get into this game, showing some of the skills expected from the modern striker. As seen in his time in Germany, he is more than capable of flaunting those skills, so don’t be surprised if he does down in Orlando. 

USA: Weston McKennie, versatility reigns king

McKennie goes in for a tackle against Davies in Toronto (Martin Bayzl/Canada Soccer)

Speaking of young US players playing in the Bundesliga, McKennie will also be looking to bounce back from a quiet 1st game, as he was unable to impose himself on Canada last time out. A talented midfielder, it was surprising to see him so snuffed out in Toronto, as he was invisible for most of the evening. 

This time, he’ll be expected to bring more to the table, as he will be counted upon in a big way. A versatile player, it seems like he has played every position bar goalkeeper for Schalke this season, and he’ll need to bring that flexibility to Orlando for the US to succeed. Against Canada the first leg, they looked rigid, as they lacked the creativity to break down a resolute defensive side. 

Based on the scenario, there is no reason for Canada to deviate from that, so the US will need to find a way to break them down. Given his position as a midfielder, as well as his pedigree, McKennie will be one of the players relied on to do that, so keep an eye out for the young American. For the Americans to succeed, they’ll need their midfielders to be controlled in possession, unafraid to go tit-for-tat with Canad in the middle of the park.

As he continues to have a good season in Bundesliga, there will be no reason for him to not have an impact in Orlando, so keep an eye on him as he and his teammates look to unlock Canada. After a quiet performance last time around, he’ll be wanting to bring more to the game, and he definitely has the pedigree to do so. 

Battles to Watch:

While those players will be huge for both sides from an individual standpoint, they are but cogs in each team’s respective systems, with battles being another big aspect to keep an eye from. Both teams have talented players, so it’ll be up to who works best together, winning their respective duals and pushing their teams towards success. 

Last time out, we took a look at 3 battles to watch out for, citing that the team that won 2 or more of them would win the game. Much to our surprise, that actually proved to be true, as Canada took care of business in the midfield and in the press, shaping the foundation for their 2-0 victory. 

So with that in mind, here are the 3 battles to watch for in this game, as both teams look to apply some of the lessons learned in the last game. 

Midfield showdown part 2

Club teammates Jonathan Osorio and Michael Bradley in action at BMO Field (Martin Bayzl/Canada Soccer)

Once again, the midfield battle will prove to be key between both teams, after Canada commanded proceedings last time around. This time, with the US missing key cog Michael Bradley, the advantage stays with Canada, who have 7 solid midfielders to count upon among their 23 players called in. 

Against a US team that emphasizes controlled build-up from the back, Canada will be unlikely to waver from that midfield-heavy strategy, especially considering that they only need a draw to get where they need to be. With Pulisic also missing, Canada will be less bothered by the US using the flanks, so they’ll be content to clog the middle and let the Americans try and find a way through. 

For the US to win this battle, they’ll need to flood more bodies into the middle of the park, either by having players tuck in from out wide when in possession, or by altering their formation to use more of a midfield presence. If they are able to control the middle, it would free up room for them to operate more on the flanks, the area of the pitch they did the best in last time around. 

For Canada to win this battle, they’ll just need to make sure that the US doesn’t string together more than 2 passes in the midfield at a time, on top of closing down space whenever a US midfielder gets a ball. Out wide, they’ll be content to sit back and protect the flanks, but in the middle, they’ll need to be ruthless with how they close down the ball from all angles. If they can do that, we may see a lot of what we saw last time, which for the Canadians, would be exactly what they aim to have happen. 

The US backline/midfield vs Canada in transition

No matter the set-up, this battle is going to be huge. Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David feast in transition, and they already showed that last time, doing a lot of damage against a US mid-block. If the US sets up in a similar mid-block, Canada will be happy, as they can still transition, and it’ll make it easier to control the midfield. If the US goes with a higher line as expected, it’ll mean more work for Canada to control the middle, but they’ll have a lot of room to cause damage on the break. 

So no matter the set-up Berhalter uses, they’ll have to watch out for Canada when they lose the ball. With Canada playing compact without the ball, always putting two blocks of 4 no matter if they play with the 4-2-2-2 or the 4-3-3, the US will have to be wary of what happens if they lose possession. 

Canada will invite the US to send plenty of men forward to break down their wall of 8, which would leave David and Davies to run wild, so if the US cannot be controlled in possession, it’s going to be a work out for their midfielders and defenders to keep up with the speedy Canadians. 

USA wingers against Canadian full backs

Last time out, the US struggled to impose themselves in wide areas, as they only had a handful of moments where they truly broke away into space. While partly that was due to the Canadians set-up, they often seemed unable to spray the ball into space for the wingers to operate into, so they’ll be looking to find a way to do that more often in this game. 

Against the full back duo of Richie Laryea and Kamal Miller, US wingers Jordan Morris and Paul Arriola will be expected to have a good matchup, as they try to take advantage of Herdman’s emphasis on his full backs being aggressive. If Arriola and Morris can make Laryea and Miller work defensively, isolating them for one on ones, or sucking them in by cutting into the middle, it’ll tire out the pair of Canadians, which would help the US immensely. If the US wingers instead get isolated, it’ll be a long night, especially if Canada cuts off their supply lines through the middle. 

So for the US, they’ll benefit massively from getting their wingers into space. While the Canada set-up won’t allow that, if they can win the midfield battle as we alluded to earlier, it’ll open up space for their wingers. Winning 2 out of 3 battles will give one team a great chance to win the game, so Berhalter should be putting plenty of emphasis on that, because if not, another game of midfield control from Les Rouges will likely spell the end of their Nations League hopes. 

Looking Forward:

While the game will ultimately be won or lost by the full team and coaching staff, these battles and individuals may end up putting their stamp on the game, much like we saw last time. These teams matced up a lot closer in talent that most people would have thought, and with key US players missing for this one, the margins are even finer between these two CONCACAF Nations. 

That means that tactics will play a big role in this one, as both teams take what happened last game, and use it to try and break down the other in this one. Canada carries the advantage heading in, as they only need a point, but that could quickly turn on its head, as the US know what they’ll have to improve on if they’re to win. 

So like in the last one, we’ll be keeping an eye on those different battles over the course of the 90 minutes. In a game of ‘Fine Lines’, it’ll be those margins that mark the difference between elation and heartbreak on the ‘Road to 2022’. 

Up Next: Canada vs USA, Friday, November 15th, 2019, 16:00 PST, 19:00 EST (Exploria Stadium, Orlando)

Cover photo by: Martin Bayzl/Canada Soccer

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