Canada leapfrogs USMNT in FIFA World Cup qualifying 'Octagonal' standings

When FIFA World Cup qualifying resumes for the Concacaf region next year, it will be Canada – not the U.S. men's national team – in control of the eight-nation qualifying group for North and Central American, and the Caribbean.

The USMNT tied Jamaica, 1-1, in Kingston Tuesday to close out its qualifying matches for 2021, with the final six match days on the "Octagonal" to be played over two separate three-match windows during the winter and in March.

The Americans went ahead through Tim Weah, of French champions Lille, in the 11th minute.

Weah also started Friday's match against Mexico and assisted on Christian Pulisic's game-winning goal at TQL Stadium. Head coach Gregg Berhalter named him the coach's man of the match in the "dos a cero" victory.

On Tuesday, the Americans were pegged back 11 minutes after Weah's opener on a 34-yard missile of a strike from Michail Antonio in the 22nd minute.

Antonio plays for the English Premier League's third-place team, West Ham United, and has seven combined goals for the club in the league and UEFA Europe League play.

The goal salvaged a point for the "Reggae Boyz" on a night of somewhat disjointed, choppy play for the Americans.

Ultimately, though, the consensus opinion on the result for the USMNT was that it was good enough. The old adage of "win at home, draw on the road, qualify for the FIFA World Cup" seemed to be reflective of how pundits viewed the outcome.

But back to Canada, which later on Tuesday ran out to a 2-0 lead against Mexico and managed to hang on for a 2-1 victory in Edmonton, allowing the Canadians to move into first place in the Octagonal.

Concacaf World Cup qualifying standings:
1. Canada (4-4-0, 16 pts., plus-five goal difference)
2. USMNT (4-3-1, 15 pts., plus-seven)
3. Mexico (4-2-2, 14 pts., plus-four)
*** ***
4. Panama (4-2-2, 14 pts., plus-two)
*** ***
5. Costa Rica (2-3-3, nine pts., minus-one)
6. Jamaica (1-4-3, seven pts., minus-four
7. El Salvador (1-3-4, six pts., minus-six)
8. Honduras (0-3-5, three pts., -10)

The top three teams advance to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. The fourth-place finish plays an intercontinental playoff in order to reach Qatar.

United States soccer fans watch the game during the first half of a 2022 World Cup CONCACAF qualifying match against Mexico, Friday, Nov. 12, 2021, at TQL Stadium in Cincinnati. United States won against Mexico, 2-0.
United States soccer fans watch the game during the first half of a 2022 World Cup CONCACAF qualifying match against Mexico, Friday, Nov. 12, 2021, at TQL Stadium in Cincinnati. United States won against Mexico, 2-0.

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On a snowbound night at Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium, Canada's Cyle Larin scored twice to install the hosts' 2-0 lead.

Hector Herrera pulled a goal back for Mexico in the 90th minute and the Mexicans scrapped furiously for an equalizer but couldn't find it as Canada protected arguably the greatest win in the history of its men's senior national team program.

The result saw Canada leapfrog the U.S. in the Octagonal standings, which are still tightly-bunched at the top with just two points separating Canada from the fourth-place playoff spot currently held by Panama.

The top three teams in the Octagonal will qualify automatically for the FIFA World Cup group stage at the 2022 event in Qatar, which is just over a year away.

The fourth-place finisher in the group will face another country in a two-leg, intercontinental playoff as its last chance for qualifying.

So, with eight matches down in the final round of Concacaf World Cup qualifying and six to go, Canada leads the group after the two-match November window for international matches.

At the outset of the window, Mexico led the group on an undefeated record but now finds itself in unenviable territory having taken nothing from its matches in Cincinnati and Edmonton.

Clearly, there is everything still to play for considering how tight the standings are.

For the USMNT, the road ahead is not an easy one and Berhalter might feel his team needed to get more points out of the first eight matches considering the gauntlet that awaits his side in 2022.

The Americans still have to travel to play on foreign soil in Canada, Mexico and Costa Rica – all big challenges in their varying ways.

The Americans resume qualifying during a window that will see them play Jan. 27, Jan. 30 and Feb. 2 at home to El Salvador, away at Canada and home to Honduras, respectively.

The Washington Post on Wednesday reported the Canadian soccer federation was strongly considering a Canadian Football League venue in Hamilton, Ontario as the venue for what will be a much-hyped Jan. 30 qualifier between the U.S. and Canada.

The destinations for all remaining U.S. home matches are also still to be determined. The preference of U.S. Soccer is to not use a venue more than once in a qualifying cycle but it has been discussed for the games coming up in 2022.

The final window of qualifying commences March 24, and continues March 27 and March 30.

The Americans' first match day in that sequence will see them travel to Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, which has historically been a house of horrors for the U.S.

The final home match for the USMNT takes place March 27 in what could be another match of great consequence against Panama.

The final match day for the USMNT will see it travel to Costa Rica, which has also proven to be a tough away test for the Americans in the past.

Pat's picks: The best of WCQ so far

Eight match days in the Concacaf Octagonal have provided plenty of fodder.

For instance, Cincinnati's hosting of USMNT-Mexico at TQL Stadium will live long in the memory of anyone that was in town for the match, locals and otherwise.

But Cincinnati and TQL Stadium don't necessarily have the market cornered on special moments up to this point in qualifying. Here's our (well, my) take on the best of the best so far in the Octagonal:

  • Best result: Panama 1, USMNT 0 (Oct. 10) – Panama managed a draw against Mexico but also got pounded by Canada, so how have they managed to hang tough in qualifying and put themselves in line for the intercontinental playoff? Well, its 1-0 home win against the USMNT – the Americans' only qualifying loss so far – is a huge part of their equation so far. And Panama's work is far from completed but they're in fine standing due to that upset victory. They might need a few more stunners to ensure a top-four finish to make their math work, though. Honorable mention: Canada 2, Mexico 1 (Tuesday) – We'd all like to flatter ourselves and say USMNT-Mexico at TQL Stadium was the best, and it was a truly fantastic night in U.S. Soccer Federation history, but Canada deserves its due and proper credit for the spectacle they staged against Mexico this week. Friday's USMNT-Mexico match reverberated around the globe but Canada's win, combined with the snowy scenes in Edmonton, sent shock waves in every direction.

  • Best goal: Michail Antonio vs. USMNT (Tuesday) – Yeah, it's fresh in the memory but there's no bias in saying this smashing goal from the West Ham star was the best goal not only in Concacaf World Cup qualifying, but one of the best in any World Cup qualifying process anywhere in the world this year. His 34-yard bomb was the longest goal distance-wise from the net in the Octagonal so far. World-class hit from a world-class player. Honorable mention: Hirving Lozano vs. Honduras (Oct. 10). Video.

  • Octagonal MVP (so far...): Cyle Larin – Best/most impactful player on the first-place team, right? Larin's scored 14 goals for his country this year, which is stunning (that includes last summer's Concacaf Gold Cup and a group-stage qualification process to reach the Octagonal). Larin has a team-best four goals in the Octagonal and book-ended the qualification process with a goal in both of Canada's first two "Ocho" matches, including one against the USMNT in Nashville. Then, Larin closed out November with his brace against Mexico. All huge goals, all helped Canada be in the position it's in today. Honorable mentions: Brenden Aaronson, USMNT; Ricardo Pepi, USMNT; Jonathan David, Canada.

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Canada leapfrogs USMNT in FIFA World Cup qualifying 'Octagonal' standings