3 thoughts: Canada falls short vs. U.S. in Concacaf final

The Canadians couldn't get on the board, falling 2-0 to the United States at the Concacaf Women's Championship. (Courtesy: Concacafgo.com)

Both Canada and the United States booked their respective tickets to the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup earlier this week, but there’s always extra motivation whenever they meet.

Players from both sides never seem to have any trouble getting up for games against one another, even when there’s nothing on the line.

Here are my observations from Canada’s 2-0 loss to the U.S. in the Concacaf Women’s Championship final on Wednesday night from Frisco, Texas.

In like a lion, out like a lamb

Canada cruised to the final of this Concacaf tournament, posting four wins and outscoring the opposition 24-1 through the group stage and semifinals. The U.S. easily racked up four victories, didn’t concede a goal and scored 24 times themselves, so something had to give on Wednesday.

The Americans were buzzing from the opening whistle, and midfielder Rose Lavelle needed only two minutes to sink a left-footed dipper behind Canadian goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe. The U.S. attack came in waves, with the hosts often switching the point of attack, which sometimes left the Canadians standing still because they hadn’t seen this kind of play from any of their previous opponents.

The U.S. also used a lot of accurate long-range passing, particularly via centre-back Abby Dahlkemper to keep Canada’s defence on its toes. The Americans’ bag of offensive tricks is diverse and potent, and always keep you wondering what’s next.

“I was definitely pleased with the majority of our play, but letting in a goal that early was definitely not part of the plan and I think that the team bounced back well,” Canadian coach Kenneth Heiner-Møller said.

“I’m confident looking forward as I think we created chances and that in those opportunities we just need to make the final pass and we will be rewarded. We definitely put in a solid performance.”

Take advantage of set pieces

For the Canadians to close that gap between themselves and U.S. and other elite sides, they’ll need to make the most of their set piece opportunities. The Reds’ best chance of the night came in the opening half when defender Kadeisha Buchanan narrowly headed in a corner kick, forcing American goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher to stretch and push the ball out of danger.

Scoring opportunities are few and far between when facing a side such as the U.S., and as Canada prepares for next year’s World Cup, there will have to be a focus on making set pieces count.

I like what I’ve seen with Heiner-Møller’s variety when it comes to who takes free kicks. We’ve seen deliveries from Adriana Leon, Julia Grosso, Sophie Schmidt, Janine Beckie and Diana Matheson throughout the Concacaf competition. Now it’s about taking that next step and making the opposition fearful when Canada has a set piece.

Beckie vs. O’Hara / Chapman vs. Heath

Canada’s Janine Beckie and Kelley O’Hara of the U.S., one-time NWSL teammates at Sky Blue F.C., battled hard down the left side. Beckie is always one of the most competitive players on the pitch, and the Canadian was having none of O’Hara’s looks to the referee to potentially get a call in her favour.

As a fullback, O’Hara was all over the field, pushing up high to provide delivery to her midfielders and forwards. A tactical shift came for Canada at about the 25-minute mark when Beckie was brought over to the right side, and teammate Nichelle Prince slid over to the left striker spot. Beckie returned to the left in the second half when Prince exited for Leon.

Another duel that piqued my interest brewed between Canada’s Allysha Chapman and Tobin Heath. Both finished the first half with a yellow card to their name. The tackles, as well as the pushing and shoving, weren’t pretty, but par for the course when these two countries meet.

Just how chippy was this match? A total of 27 fouls were committed – Buchanan had the most for Canada with three, and Heath led the way for the Americans with five. In total, five yellow cards were dished out, certainly a number indicative of a physical and intense affair.

Notes: Adriana Leon finished with six goals to lead Canadian in scoring… Alex Morgan snagged the Golden Boot award as the tournament’s tops scorer with her seventh goal on Wednesday. But she was offside on the play, which is another reason for VAR to be used at the Women’s World Cup…

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