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U.S.-Canada from Toronto tonight: why it matters

Jun 3, 2012, 12:30 PM EDT

us soccer

I know everyone wanted to see Wednesday’s friendly against Brazil as something more than it was. Yes, a contest against the five-time World Cup champs is a wow-wow moment to be marveled, an exciting and joyous occasion worth breaking out the funny foam fingers and all.

And, yes, an exhibition with Brazil is a bigger moment than say, a barely noticeable U.S. friendly in January against Norway or Venezuela.

But U.S.-Brazil is more “happening” than “meaningful moment.”  You simply cannot say that a match devoid of collective pressure, a.k.a. a “friendly,” is more than an exhibition.  It is what it is.

As for tonight’s happening: I can make a case that Sunday’s match against Canada at BMO Field in Toronto is a more important than Wednesday’s. (And no, not just because it’s on NBC Sport Network, my partners in media; Kickoff is 7 p.m. ET.)

These final tune-ups before a tournament (or in this case, before World Cup qualifying begins) typically land a little further along the continuum of significance. Who’s healthy and fit? Who’s worked out the kinks? What’s the final, first-choice lineup arrangement look like? The shot clock is running out on these questions, so the answers, though still fluid, do gain added weight.

And there’s this: win, lose or draw against Brazil … and they are still Brazil. And we are still the United States, and there really isn’t a bigger significance past that.

But …

Sunday’s contest contains slightly more regional resonance. That’s because Canada is a CONCACAF rival … as much “rival” as our northern neighbors can be when they just haven’t kept pace developmentally with the United States.

Canada last went to a World Cup in 1986.  Not exactly coincidentally, that 1986 World Cup in Mexico was the last tournament for which the United States did not qualify.

So there’s a question of regional superiority here. Right now it’s Mexico, the United States and everyone else in CONCACAF. But if Canada rises, there’s suddenly a third big fork competing for bites of the CONCACAF pie. And given the rise of African soccer and other complex politics of the way World Cup spots get divided among continents, this region’s allotment won’t grow anytime soon.

So, there is surely some value (limited, admittedly, but “some”) in maintaining dominance over Canada.

Nobody around U.S. Soccer wants Sunday’s match in Ontario to be the one that finally gets Canada going into the right direction. And neither team wants to go into World Cup qualifying, which begins later this week, with the bloody nose of a bad loss.

(Check back later on the blog for more on tonight’s United States match, and what you might see on the BMO field.)

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