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Canada aim to end trophy wait in Nations League final with USA
For over three decades, Canada went into clashes with the United States as the clear underdog against their bigger and better resourced neighbor.
Not any longer.
On Sunday, the pair meet in the final of the CONCACAF Nations League at Allegiant Stadium with the Canadians looking to follow-up their top spot in the region's World Cup qualifying with their first trophy in 23 years.
The US lineup turned in one of its most impressive displays in recent years with a 3-0 dismantling of Mexico in Thursday's semi-final, which saw two red cards for each side, while Canada had little trouble in getting past Panama 2-0.
On paper, the Americans still look to have a stronger squad but the last time they met, in a World Cup qualifier last January, the Canadians ran out 2-0 winners in Hamilton, having drawn on the road in Nashville in September 2021.
Canada right-back Alistair Johnston, who plays for Scottish club Celtic, says John Herdman's side are happy if some still consider them outsiders despite ending a 36-year wait to get to the World Cup with last year's appearance in Qatar.
"For me, it's perfectly fine sticking with the underdog story. Do we truly feel like underdogs? I don't think so. On paper, yeah, maybe. But at the same time, I think that we've earned the respect of everyone in this region," he said.
"They don't view us potentially how they previously viewed us. But (being underdog) does help. We probably don't have the same media pressure as Mexico or the US. We'll get there eventually. So while we're still at that lower level of pressure, to a degree, we're going to enjoy it."
Englishman Herdman has injected a refreshing self-belief into the Canada squad and that, says Johnston, means they generate their own high expectations.
"We put that pressure internally on ourselves," he said. "We expect ourselves to go out there and win every match. And we do believe that we have the talent and the system to beat anyone."
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The Americans, however, benefit from a return to form by Christian Pulisic, who scored twice against the Mexicans, and look fired up and determined to retain their title.
Pulisic and Tim Weah ripped Mexico apart down the flanks with new addition Folarin Balogun in the middle and Gio Reyna hovering behind the front three.
It was a high-octane game in front of a largely Mexican-supportive crowd and featured a number of mass scuffles, with red cards for midfielder Weston McKennie and fullback Sergino Dest meaning they will be suspended.
Weah doesn't expect Sunday's clash to have the same level of needle but hopes to see greater discipline if temperatures do rise again.
"Obviously, every game there is a lot of passion," he said. "But I think against Mexico there is always a bit more due to the history. We just have to stay focused, focus on the goal, not do anything, not get sucked in and just play our game."
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The US squad will again be led by interim head coach B.J. Callaghan despite the announcement on Thursday that Gregg Berhalter, whose contract ran out at the end of last year, had been re-appointed.
'We're here to stay'
While the Americans strength is on the wings and in attack, the same can be said of Canada with Bayern Munich winger Alphonso Davies and Lille forward Jonathan David particular dangers in a three-pronged attack with the team's all-time top scorer, Cyle Larin.
The last time Canada raised a trophy was in claiming the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2000 and veteran skipper Atiba Hutchinson says the team relishes the chance to end that barren run.
"We've already put messages out there that we're here now, we're here to stay," he said. "Qualifying for a World Cup was huge for us, but now it's just that we're missing trophies.
"We want to start winning trophies. This is our first chance at winning one for a very long time."