Canada extends lead while Mexico treads water

Canada's Cyle Larin sent this shot into the net in minute 7 to keep the Canucks on top of the Concacaf qualifying table. (Photo by GEOFF ROBINS/AFP via Getty Images)
Canada's Cyle Larin sent this shot into the net in minute 7 to keep the Canucks on top of the Concacaf qualifying table. (Photo by GEOFF ROBINS/AFP via Getty Images) /
Concacaf, Canada top
Mexico continues to underwhelm in its World Cup qualifying campaign. El Tri is in third place in the Concacaf standings after a scorless draw visiting Costa Rica. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images) /

In Concacaf, ugly is in the eye of the beholder. On Sunday, Canada won ugly and stretched its lead atop the qualifying table while El Tri played ugly and squandered a chance to move into second place.

The Canucks scored early and late in a rough-and-tumble match (loosely refereed by Mexican César Ramos who seemingly forgot to bring his caution cards with him), defeating Team USA for only the second time in nearly 37 years.

Meanwhile, in Panama City the host Canaleros held off a feisty Jamaica side to narrow its gap with third-place Mexico, setting up a humongous clash in Estadio Azteca on Wednesday.

After 10 rounds – with four more to go – Canada tops the Concacaf standings with 22 points, trailed by Team USA and Mexico at 18, with Panama another point back at 17.

Surprise Concacaf leader

Just 7 minutes into the match at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton, Ontario, Cyle Larin and Jonathan David worked a perfect give-and-go, and Larin beat USA goalie Matt Turner to put the home side up early.

Eighty minutes of physical football followed with Canada keeper Milan Borjan preserving the lead with a fantastic reflex save off a Weston McKennie close-range header. The Americans only managed two other shots on net and neither tested Borjan.

With seconds remaining in the match, Canada left back Sam Adekugbe broke behind the U.S. defense and slotted home from just outside the box, sending the home crowd into a tizzy.

The 2-0 win was the first victory over Team USA in a Concacaf qualifier since 1980 and has the Canucks on the verge of its first World Cup appearance since 1986 in Mexico. Canada can punch its ticket to Qatar on Wednesday with a draw at El Salvador or a Costa Rica loss or tie at Jamaica. The U.S., meanwhile, must wonder what has gone wrong.

El Tri continues to flounder

Mexico dropped to 2-2-0 at home in the current Concacaf tournament, settling for a scoreless draw against the visiting Ticos. Costa Rica parked the bus most of the game – conceding El Tri possession (72%) – but still got more shots on goal (3-1) as Mexico fired wildly throughout the contest. Twenty-five shots in all for El Tri and nothing to show for it.

Coach Gerardo Martino continues to play a conservative 4-3-3 without a true playmaker to pull the strings. Out wide, “Chucky” Lozano and “Tecatito” Corona worked hard but ineffectively and striker Rogelio Funes Mori seemed more intent on perfecting his diving technique than presenting as a target.

A Mexico win would have lifted the Aztecs to 20 points and second place. Instead, their meager +5 goal differential through 10 matches has them a rung below Team USA (+6 differential).

Panama’s gritty 3-2 win over visiting Jamaica lifted the Central Americans to 17 points and a dream chance to put a scare into Mexico. If the Canaleros can steal a win at Estadio Azteca on Wednesday, they would leapfrog El Tri into third place with an invitation to Qatar ever nearer.

Costa Rica, in fifth place with 13 points, visits seventh-place Jamaica (7 points) on Wednesday in a must-win game for both teams.

The top three teams in the Concacaf table after 14 matches qualify for the World Cup and the fourth-place team is sent to an inter-confederation playoff against the Oceania representative.

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In the fourth Concacaf qualifier of the day, visiting El Salvador defeated last-place Honduras 2-0 to remain mathematically alive for the inter-confederation playoff berth. To maintain their Qatar hopes, the Salvadorans must defeat Canada on Wednesday and hope Panama loses to Mexico.