The two nations have a long and proud history of participation in Under-20 World Cups -- the U.S. has been to 12, while Canada has participated in eight. But both are playing the qualifiers with renewed purpose this time out, as neither qualified for the 2011 tournament in Colombia. This means that Tuesday's do-or-die matchup in Puebla will likely be even more intense than the usual installments between these neighbors, whose soccer rivalry is growing by the year.
"I don't want to take away the fact that the players should enjoy that we won the group, so we want to do that for a little bit," said U.S. head coach Tab Ramos after Friday's Group A win over Costa Rica. "But at the same time we have to recognize that we're here for Tuesday's game. Everything we've done so far for the past year and a half has been for Tuesday's game, and we have to get there. Today was just another little step toward our goal."
After dropping a 2011 quarterfinal to Guatemala, 2-1, and failing to make the World Cup, the U.S. won't come into Tuesday's matchup taking anything for granted. Canada's youth soccer has been on the up of late, boosted by a growing number of players from Canada's three Major League Soccer teams, and an influx of talent from young players plying their trade overseas.
"The history with the Canadians and the Americans is that it is always one of the big battles," said Canada head coach Nick Dasovic. "We know the Americans well. We played them in Marbella, Spain in October of 2011. We respect them as a country and as a team. It is going to be an interesting match."
In that match in 2011, Canada upended the U.S., 2-1. Canada can also draw inspiration from its two regional under-20 crowns, which came in 1986 and 1996.
The U.S. has never won the CONCACAF championship at the under-20 level. To change that, the players know they'll first need to clear the difficult hurdle represented by Canada on Tuesday afternoon.
"It's a go-hard-or-go-home game, so we're just going to come out here and train harder and get ready for that game and make it to the World Cup," attacker Daniel Garcia told the USSF website.
The U.S. won Group A with a 2-1 victory over Haiti in the opener, followed by a 1-0 win against Costa Rica last Friday. Canada finished second in Group B behind Cuba, dropping its opening match 2-1 but cruising past Nicaragua 5-1 to clinch a spot in the knockout phase.