HOUSTON, TEXAS – For nearly an hour, everything was going to plan for the Canadian women’s soccer team against the defending world and Olympic champions from the United States.
Under pressure for large stretches, Canada was resilient and the Reds were a few minutes away from introducing some of their big-name players it had starting on the bench to try to tip the game in their favour. But the Americans had other ideas.
Lindsey Horan and Tobin Heath scored eight minutes apart in the second half as the U.S. beat Canada 2-0 in the final of the CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship on Sunday afternoon.
Horan gave the Americans the lead in the 53rd minute after they had been pressing and had been kept at bay by a Canadian team that saw five changes to their starting lineup from their semifinal win over Costa Rica.
Canada had veterans Christine Sinclair, Diana Matheson and Sophie Schmidt in reserve and to be deployed in order to grab the winner. Starting Sinclair was never an option, and a calf injury limited her to about 30 minutes. Matheson and Schmidt could have started but they were two days removed from a 90-minute performance against Costa Rica. Balancing their effectiveness against fatigue was always a tough task.
“We were three minutes away from holding out and changing our game plan and we just couldn’t hold out until the 60th. That’s what stuck in my throat at the minute,” Canadian coach John Herdman said in his post-match press conference.
“Sinclair had 30 minutes in her and bringing Schmidt and Matheson on at the same time, we hoped that was going to be the game-changing moment. Three minutes, that’s as far as it was but we wilted and broke, which is a shame.”
The result extends a winless run for Canada against the United States that will reach 15 years without a Canadian win next month.
Herdman pointed out the trend of the U.S. getting their results against Canada in the second halves of games. In the four meetings since the famous meeting at the 2012 Olympics, the Americans have scored equalizing or winning goals in the second half—almost always in the last 20 minutes prior to Sunday night.
“We held our own for large parts of the game but they always seem to find a way to win,” admitted Sinclair, who took an injection before the game. She said the injury isn’t that serious and she’ll be back “before you know it.”
The breakthrough at BBVA Compass Stadium came after Canada partially cleared a U.S. corner kick and Becky Sauerbrunn swung in a cross in between the penalty spot and the edge of the six-yard box. Horan timed her run perfectly and was largely unmarked after a slight slip from Canadian defender Kadeisha Buchanan, and it was a lovely little flick from the American to open the scoring.
The Americans were overpowering in stretches and 17-year-old Mallory Pugh set up the second goal with a low cross from the left that got all the way through the penalty area. Heath had time to control and hit a curling left-footed shot to seal the result eight minutes after Horan’s opener.
Canada used some high pressure in the early going that led to some success with the Americans pinned into their half and unable to get too far forward.
“They were doable, we absolutely knew they were doable tonight,” Herdman said with a smile that covered some obvious feelings of a missed opportunity on the evening. “We missed a great chance. It kills us.”
After the initial pressure from the Canadians, the U.S. started to work their way out of trouble with some lovely close passing in tight areas before sending the balls out to the wings where they really started to trouble the Reds in the attacking third.
Carli Lloyd had a few chances with her head in the 14th and 22nd minutes. Each time they went wide of the goal but the American’s bright play exposed the Canadians on the wings.