Canada took a giant step towards their first World Cup qualification in 36 years on Sunday after scoring an upset 2-0 victory over arch-rivals the US in CONCACAF qualifiers.
A Cyle Larin goal after just seven minutes and an injury time effort from Sam Adekugbe secured all three points for the Canadians at a frigid Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton to extend the home side’s lead at the top of the CONCACAF standings.
The unbeaten Canadians now have 22 points from four games with four fixtures remaining, pulling four points clear of the USA who are second with 18 points.
Canada have emerged as the surprise package from the Central America, North America and the Caribbean qualifying region, and are now firmly on course for only their second trip to the World Cup after reaching the Mexico finals in 1986.
“We’re turning into a football country,” Canada’s jubilant English coach John Herdman said afterwards.
“[The USA] are a great team, a very good team, they had great quality today. But we matched their spirit.
“And that’s what I said to our lads – we’ve got our own quality, and it came through.”
Goalscorer Larin admitted a World Cup berth was within reach. “We’re almost there,” he said. “But we never settle for anything. We’ll keep pushing.”
Mexico are third in the standings level with the US on 18 points after drawing 0-0 with Costa Rica in Mexico City on Sunday.
The top three sides in the eight-team round-robin table qualify automatically for this year’s finals in Qatar.
But the defeat piles pressure on US coach Gregg Berhalter, whose team face Honduras at home on Wednesday before a tricky final three games in March which includes away trips to Mexico and Costa Rica and a home game against Panama.
“It’s hard for me to remember a performance away from home this dominant without getting a result,” Berhalter said afterwards. “The result hurts, the performance doesn’t hurt.”
The US, aiming to atone for their shock failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, dominated possession and territory on Sunday but fell behind after a defensive lapse that allowed Turkey-based striker Larin to fire the hosts into the lead.
A Matt Turner goal kick was won by Kamal David who headed forward.
Larin gathered all too easily just outside the US penalty area and played a neat one-two with Lille forward Jonathan David before brushing off US defender Miles Robinson and rifling a finish past Turner.
It would be Canada’s only meaningful chance on goal for the rest of the half with the US enjoying the lion’s share of possession thereafter.
But for all the US territorial dominance the Americans were unable to make it count, failing to find the incisiveness in attack to trouble the Canadian defence.
Chelsea forward Christian Pulisic looked the likeliest source of invention for the US, but was often isolated and on the receiving end of a some rugged Canadian tackling.
The Americans finally got a shot on goal two minutes before half-time.
A Pulisic corner was met with a firm glancing header from Weston McKennie but Canada keeper Milan Borjan reacted superbly to tip the effort onto the underside of the bar.
The similar half followed a similar pattern, with the US having plenty of the ball without really testing the Canadian defence.
As the game wore on, the US became more ragged and deep into injury time the hosts broke clear, with defender Adekugbe skipping clear and racing towards goal before blasting past Turner for 2-0.
In other games on Sunday, 2018 World Cup qualifiers Panama moved into the qualification reckoning with a 3-2 home win over Jamaica.
Panama are fourth in the standings with 17 points, one behind the USA and Mexico.