Concacaf World Cup Qualifying winners and losers: Canada on verge of clinching; USMNT forwards struggle

Canada are kings of Concacaf after beating the United States during a three-win qualifying window in the last week. John Herdman’s team is now one win away from qualifying for the 2022 World Cup. As this would be their first World Cup berth since 1986 and only their second ever, it is a monumental moment for the team. They’ve opened a four-point lead on the United States for second place, and played these games without top player Alphonso Davies.

A shoutout is also needed for Atiba Hutchinson as the 38-year-old Canadian midfielder is still going strong. Against El Salvador, he also scored one of the most bizarre goals that I’ve ever seen.

Before heading into the final three games of Concacaf World Cup qualifying, it is a good time to reflect on the international break with some winners and losers.

You can catch most Concacaf World Cup qualifying matches — including USMNT away games — on Paramount+.

Winner: The Concacaf big three

While Canada get the headlines for good reason, Mexico and the United States collected seven and six points, respectively, to sit in a great position to qualify for the World Cup. All three teams can clinch World Cup qualification during March as they ahead of fourth-place Panama. Mexico and the United States have been less than convincing at times during qualifying rounds but thanks to a little help from Costa Rica, they sit in a good position now.

Six Concacaf teams are still in contention for qualifying for the World Cup with three games remaining.

Loser: Jamaica

The Reggae Boyz came into qualifying with high hopes. Strong pushes for dual nationals saw Michail Antonio, Ethan Pinnock, Andre Gray, Leon Bailey, and Bobby Reid join the team. But talent can only get you so far playing against more experienced opposition, and Jamaica were officially eliminated from World Cup contention recently. 

Antonio, Reid, and Pinnock have made large impacts on the team since joining but injuries have stopped Bailey from getting things going — which is a similar issue at Aston Villa. Jamaica are seeing that dual national recruitment is only half the battle of taking the next step in Concacaf which could see the team move on from Theodore Whitmore and appoint Paul Hall ahead of the next qualifying round.

Winner: Joel Campbell 

Costa Rica stormed back from the dead during this qualification window, allowing no goals and scoring two while collecting seven points over their three matches. The excellence of goalkeeper Kaylor Navas is to be expected but the streaky Joel Campbell was involved in both goals which meant the world to the team.

He has struggled for Monterrey with only two assists in his 18 matches, but for Costa Rica, Campbell is a different person. Creating six chances, Campbell was only behind Joe Corona and Christian Pulisic for chance creation during this window. He also scored a goal while ripping off seven of Costa Rica’s 22 total shots. 

Loser: Matchday conditions

Two Honduras players being treated for hypothermia highlights the potential danger of scheduling matches in frigid February conditions. Matches where it is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit have mandated water breaks, but something similar can’t be done for cold matches. Even equipment standards are inconsistent as Matt Turner’s additional handwarmer was confiscated after being approved prior to the match. 

As Turner didn’t have much to do with Honduras having no shots on target he had to huddle in a blanket during a stoppage in play.

Winner: Qualifying drama

After Panama lost two of their three games, a top four that looked settled is anything but heading into March World Cup qualifiers. El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Panama all still have hopes of qualifying while the United States and Mexico also have to make sure they don’t slip up and fall into a playoff spot.

Qualifying going down to the final matchdays is a hallmark of a balanced region as only Honduras haven’t been competitive in matches. The March international window kicking off with Mexico hosting the United States will only add to the drama as well while a lot could be on the line on March 30 when the United States heads to Costa Rica. While Gregg Berhalter will have hoped to secure qualification by then, it’s a game that will likely decide a playoff spot for Costa Rica as things stand.

Loser: The United States forward rotation

Another international window with no goals from United States forwards. WIth Daryl Dike and Josh Sargent left in England, this was a time for someone to step up and show that they could be the solution for the team’s scoring woes. Berhalter didn’t help things by starting a different forward in each game but Jesus Ferreira, Ricardo Pepi, and Gyasi Zardes combined for no shots on goal, one assist, and produced an expected goals total of 1.38.

Ferreira was the only forward to create a single chance of the three as he was responsible for four in his 86 minutes played. Berhalter either needs to let Pepi play out of his scoring slump, or give the nod to Ferreira who brings more than the other options when he isn’t scoring. If Josh Sargent can get more goals under his belt at Norwich City he could reenter the picture, but he also needs confidence and consistency.

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