How the USMNT's first World Cup qualifying loss to Canada in decades unraveled in 10 seconds

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HAMILTON, ON - JANUARY 30:  Cyle Larin #17 of Canada celebrates his goal with Richie Laryea #22 during a 2022 World Cup Qualifying match against the United States at Tim Hortons Field on January 30, 2022 in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Canada's Cyle Larin celebrates his goal that put the U.S. in an early hole on Sunday in Hamilton, Ontario. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

The U.S. men's national team's first World Cup qualifying loss to Canada in 32 years was a product of 10 disastrous seconds.

It was 90 minutes and thousands of decisions and wonderfully complex, as every soccer game is. And the U.S. had chances to turn it around. But it was decided less than seven minutes in by seven touches and a goal that yielded countless questions about how such a significant game could unravel so quickly.

And the answer, while nuanced, was also devastatingly simple.

It was, in a nutshell, a goalkeeper and, perhaps, the freezing cold.

It won't cost the Americans a World Cup berth. They remain on track to qualify for Qatar 2022. Sunday's scoreline, 2-0, didn't reflect broader flaws that threaten to derail the campaign. "It’s hard for me to remember a more dominant performance away from home that didn’t produce a result," head coach Gregg Berhalter said.

That performance, though, was undone by an early mistake.

Six minutes into Sunday's match between CONCACAF's top two teams, the U.S. set up for its second goal kick of the afternoon. It tried to do exactly what it had done on its first. It dropped its center backs next to goalkeeper Matt Turner, pushed its fullbacks wide, and waited to see how Canada would react.

When the Canadians positioned themselves to press, pushing strikers and midfielders high, preparing to pounce if the U.S. played short, Turner assessed his options, and went long.

A few minutes later, he and his teammates did precisely the same thing — until Turner swung his leg and didn't go nearly long enough.

He aimed for striker Gyasi Zardes. His goal kick reached neither Zardes nor midfield. An unchallenged Canadian defender, Kamal Miller, easily won it, and one touch later, the hosts had a 2-v-2, strikers against American center backs, in the middle of the field. Why?

Because, by design, the Americans weren't in a defensive shape. They had the ball. They prepared to either possess it or take their chances with a 50-50 ball — if Canada's aggression gave them favorable numbers further down the field. When they chose the latter 70 seconds earlier, the ploy went exactly to plan. Turner's long ball led to a U.S. attack.

(Original video: Paramount+)
(Original video: Paramount+)

The problem was that this time, Turner didn't hit a 50-50 ball. He hit a 0-100 ball. Why?

"I think it might have been a little bit of a mishit by Matt," Berhalter said.

Or, perhaps it looked that way because the ball was frozen.

Turner wasn't the only player who failed to lift a long ball into 20-degree air in Hamilton, Ontario, on Sunday. In the first five minutes alone, Canadian keeper Milan Borjan hit an even worse goal kick; and Christian Pulisic failed to beat the first man with a free kick aimed at Canada's box.

When temperatures get cold, soccer balls get rock hard, and become more difficult to control, to caress, to curl, and to pump downfield. Wind can also kill them in the air. "There was a bit of wind there," Berhalter said.

"Yeah, the wind killed the ball flight," Turner said, according to a U.S. Soccer spokesman.

Whatever the reason, Turner's clearance fell 20 yards short. It appeared, to some, that Zardes had been beaten to the ball, but he'd positioned himself next to Canada's right center back, Steven Vitoria. Turner's ball was so underhit that Vitoria never even stepped toward it. His defensive partner, Kamal Miller, waltzed to it ahead of Zardes, uncontested.

And instantaneously, the U.S. was exposed, unprepared for an unexpected defensive transition. The middle of the field was gaping.

Screenshot: Paramount+
Screenshot: Paramount+

What happened next looked like weak defending. "It was a one-two combination, and they got around us," Berhalter said, matter-of-factly. "I think it's avoidable."

It was all a function of the weak goal kick, which left U.S. midfielders and defenders scrambling. Mere seconds after they switched into scramble mode, before they'd a moment to pause and think, the ball was in the back of their net. A comeback was required. It never came.

Instead, Canada iced the game with a second goal in second-half stoppage time, and the U.S. fell to the new kings of CONCACAF.