After both teams had already punched their tickets to Tokyo this past Friday, both Canada and the US met in LA on Sunday, with a chance to win some silverware on the line. And despite a strong Canadian push, it would be the US who would triumph over 90 minutes, keeping the Canadian winless run against their neighbours at 19 years and running.
It was close, but against the World Champions, that is never enough.
Despite a strong Canadian first half push in Carson on Sunday, the US rode a wave of second-half goals to an eventual 3-0 victory, as they continued their long run of success over their northern neighbours, while also winning their 5th consecutive Olympic qualifying crown.
“I think this is an expectation we go into every tournament with,” US midfielder Christen Press said after the game. “The pressure to win, I think the most important thing is to qualify, and we’re super proud and excited for that, and then to top it off with this game is excellent for us.”
With both teams already qualified to the Olympics, it wasn’t quite sure how this one would play out, especially with the US deploying a heavily-rotated squad. But instead, it proved to be a thrilling contest, with both teams trading punches en route to a strong US finish.
“Yeah, we were really happy with our first 60 minutes,” Canada striker Jordyn Huitema said to OneSoccer after the game. “We kind of talked about it in the circle right there (after the match). We were with them for the first 60, but it’s just about that last 30, keeping up with them and pushing to that final whistle.”
“Obviously, we didn’t do that this game, so we’re a little disappointed with that, but we’re ready to come back stronger and we’re ready to play them in the Olympics and get a different result.”
Heading into what looks to be an intense Olympic slate later this year, it was a nice way to end what has been a solid tournament for both sides, as they both rose to the top of the CONCACAF crop for the 4th Olympic qualifying competition in a row.
Both teams started out the game looking evenly matched, with Canada sitting deep into their makeshift 3-5-2, while the US looked to try and play through them. The US would be the more lively team offensively from the get-go, with Lindsay Horan causing Stephanie Labbe trouble in the Canadian goal with a nice 8th-minute header, but the Canadian did well to punch away from danger.
As Canada started to warm up into the game, both teams started to trade chances, with Canada looking very much up to the occasion. Jessica McDonald came close for the US in the 23rd minute, but she hit her chance well wide, before Jessie Fleming came inches away from silencing a lively LA crowd minutes later, as she hit a volley just over the bar after a nice Jayde Riviere ball into the box found her at the back post.
Spurred on by this chance, Canada started to look more confident in possession, finding a way to break through some holes in the US backline. Fleming would do just that in the 31st minute, finding Janine Beckie behind the defenders with an excellent ball, and Beckie would do well to set up a left-footed shot, but she was unable to put enough juice on it, making it a comfortable save for Alyssa Naeher in the US goal.
That would kickstart a wild couple of minutes for both teams, as both teams started to trade chances, with the game opening right up through the middle. Noted US sharpshooter Christen Press found half-a-yard of space a good 30 minutes away from goal, and she elected to go for it, only finding herself denied by the fingertips of Labbe and the crossbar, much to the obvious discomfort of the pro-US crowd.
At the other end, Sinclair would find herself denied by the chest of Naeher less than 5 minutes later, as her chipped attempt would get saved by the onrushing US goalkeeper, after Sinclair had done well to get behind the American defenders thanks to a lovely Janine Beckie through ball.
That would be all both teams had to muster up before half time, as they would conclude an entertaining 45 minutes of play. Despite a step up in the calibre of opponent, Canada looked pretty comfortable early on, quelling early doubts that they wouldn’t be able to hang with their American opposition.
They had set up to execute a gameplan, and they had done just that, mostly stifling the American threat. There were a few breakdowns, but with a makeshift backline, that was to be expected, but they did relatively well to avoid getting punished by them. Offensively, they looked better when they took the time to play forward, as the movement off of the ball and decision making looked a lot more confident then it did in their semi-final against Costa Rica.
Fired up after their quiet end to the first half, the US came out flying in the 2nd, racking up a number of chances. Lynn Williams would find herself denied by Labbe in the 47th minute, as she made an excellent run to get on the end of a defence-splitting Jessica McDonald pass, before the US found what felt like a half-dozen different chances in the 10 minutes that followed, with none somehow reaching the target despite the relentless pressure.
The pressure would eventually pay off for the US, however, as their breakthrough would come soon after in the 60th minute. In a rare moment of indecision from Canada, Jayde Riviere gave away the ball right to Williams, who found herself in a pocket of space between the Canadian centre backs just inside the box, and she had time to look up and curl one back post, sticking the ball into the top corner after glancing off the tip of Labbe’s fingertips.
That would seem to push the US to another gear, as they showed why they’re defending world champions, as they ramped the pressure right up a notch. Christen Press came close with a failed half-breakaway in the 67th minute, before the US would find their next breakthrough in the 72nd minute, as Lindsay Horan found a half-yard of space in the Canadian box, finding the back of the net via the post off of a low left-footed strike.
Despite the goal, Canada wouldn’t completely lie down, however, as they started to push more and more bodies forward. Jessie Fleming would play Janine Beckie behind the US defenders onto a half-breakaway in the 76th minute, and the Manchester City star would play a low and hard ball into the back post, but it was just too far ahead of an onrushing Deanne Rose, as it would slide harmlessly out for a goal kick.
But that would be all that they could muster up in that spell of positive possession. The US would soon find their 3rd of the game in the 86th minute, as Williams would play second-half substitute Megan Rapinoe behind the Canadian defenders, and the current Women’s player of the year would make no mistake with her finish.
And that would be all the game would have to offer, as the US cruised to the finish line at that point, continuing their winning streak over their northern neighbours. After weathering what was a solid first half from Canada, the US showed why they’re the defending world champions, as they were ruthless when they needed to be, capitalizing on Canadian mistakes.
For Canada, it provides plenty of valuable teaching moments heading into their preparations for this year’s Olympics, as they showed that they can hang with the best, but that they need to work on doing it consistently. In a year that they feel that they can realistically reach the podium for a 3rd consecutive Olympic tournament, they’ll now have to keep on working to push towards the level that they know they can reach, starting with the games that are going to be coming up shortly.
As said by the tournaments Golden Boot winner, Huitema, who finished with 7 goals, there is a lot of positive to take, so once they get over the disappointment of this one, they can look forward to good things.
“I said it at the beginning of the tournament,” Huitema said. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them, just perfect assists, I was just in the right place at the right time, so that enabled me to get here. But yeah, good tournament for our team, obviously looking to push forward because we wanted the win here, but a little disappointed (that we didn’t get it).”
In the Mixer:
- Canada showed glimpses of the kind of team that they can be offensively. For a patch of play in the first half, as well as a tiny bit in the second, they had movement off of the ball, efficient forward passing and quick decision-making. Despite being up against the world’s best, they showed that they can indeed play up to the level of their opponents, but they just couldn’t do it long enough to find the time needed for a winner, but the fact that they hung in there is at the very least a positive sign.
- While this tournament being as busy as it was certainly didn’t do them any favours, the difference in stamina between the two sides was rather stark. The US looked very physically fit over the course of the game, maintaining a good pace of play, whereas Canada dropped off significantly in the second half, which arguably was the cause of the goals that they eventually conceded. To beat teams like the US, Canada needs to be able to maintain both a good defensive and offensive work rate throughout the 90 minutes, and while they mostly did that defensively, bar the 3 goals, they didn’t have that effort enough on the offensive end to get the goals that they needed.
- Even though they conceded 3 goals, Canada continues to be solid defensively, as they did a good job in keeping a cohesive unit throughout the game. Despite seeing wave-after-wave off US pressure, Canada coped well with their task, really only being undone by some unfortunate individual errors and clinical US finishing. Had they been more ruthless in attacks of their own, it could have made for a whole different game.
- Jessie Fleming showed some of her class today in the midfield, giving Canada life offensively, as she showed why many have high hopes for her going forward. She played a couple of dangerous through balls, she looked assured in possession and was just overall one of Canada’s better offensive players. As Canada figures out the best way to transition the ball from defence to attack, you’d figure that Fleming plays a key role in Canada improving their offensive game ahead of the Olympics.
- Canada looked as good as they have so far in their uses of a 3 at the back formation, which is positive for Kenneth Heiner-Moller. With Ashley Lawrence and Jayde Riviere being strong attacking full backs, having this sort of defensive success gives Canada some more juice offensively, with Lawrence having an especially strong performance down her flank, showing why Heiner-Moller tipped her as the ‘best full back in the world’ a couple of days back. With Riviere continuing her ascension as a player, it gives Canada a good full back combo, and in a 3-5-2, it gets them both further up the pitch, where they can both be at their best.
Luckily for Canada, they have nearly half a year until the Olympics get underway in Tokyo, giving them plenty of time to work on their shortcomings. They definitely appear to have the talent required, but they still need the cohesion, the stamina and the efficiency to compete with those at the top of the game.
It’s not an easy loss to take, especially considering their continued streak of futility against the US, but with their Olympic qualification already secured, it’s a loss they can afford, especially if they can learn from these lessons.
And the possibility of a rematch in the Olympics is always on the table, so who knows, this might not be the last time we see these 2 face-off in 2020 competitive action. After the debacle of 2012 Olympics, where Canada looked to be robbed by some questionable refereeing in a semi-final against the US, a rematch of that game would be must-watch TV, so who knows, maybe fate will have something to say about that…
But until then, there remains lots of work to be done. Canada will have a couple of windows to tune up their squad, giving them a chance to work on the many things that they learned over the course of these past few weeks.
Heading into what promises to be a huge Olympic tournament for this program, there is still a lot of football to come, and it should prove to be quite the ride.
Cover Photo via: Canada Soccer/MexSport