The United States men's national team may have defeated El Salvador on Thursday, 1-0, but if they are to beat Canada away from home on Sunday (on Paramount+), the road to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar becomes a little clearer. While the U.S. recorded 17 shots and an xG of 2.98 at home, they could rarely put together something substantial despite having the space to do so. Missed pass after missed pass, missed chance after missed chance, it was far from their cleanest performance. It was a combination of what the U.S. failed to do along with the solid play from El Salvador centrally.
A similar outing against Canada likely won't be enough. The Canadians are in first place in Concacaf and are also close to punching their ticket to Qatar as well.
Freezing temps are expected in Hamilton in what could be the coldest USMNT qualifying game since 1999. The low for Sunday is 10 degrees Fahrenheit, but the forecast calls for 23 degrees and a 15% chance of precipitation around kickoff. For reference, Thursday's win over El Salvador in Columbus, Ohio, was officially record at 29 degrees, according to Paul Carr.
How to watch and odds
Date: Sunday, Jan. 30 | Time: 3:05 p.m. ET
Location: Tim Hortons Field -- Hamilton, Canada
TV and live stream: Paramount+
Odds: Canada +185; Draw +175; USA +160 (via Caesars Sportsbook)
So, ahead of Sunday's frigid showdown on Paramount+, here are three keys for the U.S. against their neighbors north of the border.
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1. Get Pepi and Pulisic's confidence back
No pieces are as important to the United States' attack as Christian Pulisic and Ricardo Pepi. Both, however, are largely out of form and aren't filled with the most confidence that we've seen. Pulisic is a second-choice player at Chelsea who gets a start every now and again. He's called it a tough season and seems to be thrilled to be getting a break with the national team. But against El Salvador, he did not look good. He was the first player Gregg Berhalter took off in the second half, and despite producing a couple solid balls in, he wasn't close to being his usual self.
Pepi, on the other hand, didn't even play against La Selecta and hasn't scored in over three months.
Getting them the ball often, having both play high and hoping they can combine to create could be the key to not just winning, but also getting them back to their best.
2. Continue with Zimmerman and Richards
Walker Zimmerman and Chris Richards made their second consecutive start together in the win over El Salvador, and boy do they look like the pairing to go with moving forward. Sure, Miles Robinson may be the long-term choice over Zimmerman, but having some experience next to Richards is key. Both Zimmerman and Richards are dominant in the air, they both play with intelligence, and they understand how to find the feet of their teammates with balls on the ground or over the top.
Now, they haven't really been tested all that much, receiving just 12 shots in the last two games, but only two of those were on goal, and their positioning and aggressiveness in defense has a lot to do with it.
If this is indeed the early front-runner duo that Berhalter would like to use at the World Cup, he might as well give them a chance in a tough environment like this one.
3. Give Cannon another chance
With Sergino Dest's status up in the air after pulling up lame against El Salvador, this could be a spot for Reggie Cannon to get back in the grove of things with the Stars and Stripes. After a failed move away from Boavista, the former FC Dallas man finds himself looking for consistent minutes, having played in just nine of his club's 19 league games so far. But he offers something that Dest doesn't, and that is stability in a defensive position. While Dest is more about his flair and going forward, Cannon has an admirable discipline about him that will be needed against a team in Canada that can do serious damage down the wings. If he does start, expect him to keep a consistent position near midfield when the U.S. attacks so that he is in a better position to transition defensively when they lose possession.