HOUSTON, TEXAS – It’s a rivalry based on geography, and for the last decade and a half the Canada-United States series in women’s soccer has been lopsided in favour of the team from south of the 49th parallel.
The two nations meet in Sunday’s final of the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament, with Canada looking for its first win over the Americans since 2001 at the Algarve Cup in Portugal.
Of the 20 players on the Canadian roster in Texas, only captain Christine Sinclair has savoured the taste of beating the U.S. There’s an assembly of veterans in this Canadian team who, despite all their accomplishments in their careers, are still looking for a first win against their most heated foes.
“It’s the final of a CONCACAF tournament and we get to play the U.S.,” midfielder Sophie Schmidt told Sportsnet prior to the team’s training session on Saturday.
“It’s an opportunity to play the best team in the world and it’s a huge rivalry so we’re going to throw everything we can at them and try to get a result. The Olympics is a couple of months away and [Sunday’s] the game and that’s our biggest focus—just getting the win.”
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American goalkeeper Hope Solo said on Friday night after they beat Trinidad and Tobago to get to the Olympics that games against Canada are always “bloodbaths.” Schmidt agreed with that assessment and added that there’s always extra physicality in these matches.
What may be different this time is the infusion of young talent who don’t bring that baggage of futility against the Americans. It rubs off on the veteran players and alters the attitude heading into a game that really is all for pride with passage to the Olympics already secured for both sides.
Some of the players have never played the Americans at the youth level, never mind carrying years of negative results that could affect their mentality.
“We have London 2012 and the history of playing the Americans and never beating them. With our young ones coming, they bring that fearlessness,” said midfielder Desiree Scott, who will be going for her second Olympics this year. “They don’t have that baggage. They can just come out and be fearless and play free and that’s what I’m excited to see [on Sunday].”
There are many similarities between the two squads with the Americans also bringing in the next generation with the expectation to perform. They still have most of their big names such as Solo and Carli Lloyd, but they have highly talented youngsters, too.
Just as Canada brought in 16-year-old Deanne Rose, the Americans have their fresh faces such as 17-year-old Mallory Pugh who started against Trinidad in the semifinal and didn’t look at all out of depth.
Still, Canadian coach John Herdman expects his counterpart Jill Ellis will go with a veteran-laden lineup for the final.
“I don’t think she’ll go back-to-back with younger players,” Herdman said in his pre-game press conference. “I think you’ll see the big guns out there. It will be the typical players that have led them to World Cups. I hope she does play the young players [Sunday] but I think they’ll be going back to the tried and tested and give Canada the respect for a game like this.”
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It would be easy to tell the players to just pack it in after already qualifying for the Olympics. With bigger international games ahead and club seasons to worry about, it would be understood if players looked past this game.
But given Canada’s record of failure against the U.S., there’s no way the Reds are going to take its foot off the gas in this one.
“When we put all the emotion in there, we have to play smart against these teams. They can hurt you,” Scott said. “The rivalry is there but focusing on us and knowing what threats are there that the U.S. team can bring and just sticking to our game plan and putting our bodies on the line for each other. I think it will be a good match.”
Four years ago the same two teams played in the final at the Olympic Qualifying tournament in Vancouver with the Americans coasting to a 4-0 win a BC Place.
The closest Canada has come to beating the Americans (other than the semifinal game at London 2012) was in May of 2014 when Kadeisha Buchanan scored her first career international goal. Sydney Leroux tied things to make the final 1-1 in a friendly in Winnipeg.
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