The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox have had a rivalry that dates back to 1901. This weekend, the two teams will face off in their first game since the Boston Marathon bombings, which has led to some controversy on social media.
It would be tempting to look at Monday’s semifinal versus Canada (4 a.m. ET) as a chance to relax after the US women’s national team beat the Netherlands, the defending European champions, in a tough 120-minute slugfest and penalty shootout. Isn’t Canada the USWNT’s reward after being thrashed by Sweden and landing in probably the hardest quarterfinal of the Tokyo Olympics?
Not so fast, my friend.
“We know this is going to be our toughest game; we’re preparing for it that way,” US coach Vlatko Andonovski said on Sunday. “It’s a semifinal,” he said, “and it’s four of the greatest teams in the world.” “It will be a tough game regardless of who plays who.”
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Whether Andonovski really believes it or not (cynics will doubt it), the United States should know better than to dismiss Canada. Here’s a look at the history of these two teams, as well as why Monday’s semifinal may be a thriller:
The USWNT fought hard to defeat the much favored Netherlands in the quarterfinals, but there are no easy games in the Olympics, and Canada will be no exception. Getty Images/Laurence Griffiths
Is this going to be another Olympic classic?
It will be tough to equal the thrills of the USWNT’s quarterfinal victory over the Netherlands, but the semifinal versus Canada has plenty of promise, particularly given what occurred the last time these two teams met in an Olympic game.
If you haven’t watched the 2012 Olympic semifinal, do yourself a favor and prevent spoilers by blocking off 212 hours and going to see it. If you need to refresh your memory, it was the crazy shootout in which Christine Sinclair scored a hat trick and the USWNT fought back three times to win 4-3. In the 123rd minute, Alex Morgan scored the game-winning goal at the final possible time.
That encounter is remembered as a testimony to the USWNT’s grit and never-say-die mentality, but it’s also remembered as the moment when Canada established itself as a top-tier squad on the international scene. It was surprising to see the Canadians compete so closely with the Americans at the time, but the Canadians won bronze in 2012 and then bronze again in 2016.
“We were sort of on a hope and a prayer in 2012,” Desiree Scott, a Canadian veteran, said on Sunday. “We were hoping to make that match, but now we really believe in ourselves and what we can do on a soccer field, and we think we can make it to the gold medal game.”
The way Abby Wambach enthusiastically counted into the ear of the Norwegian referee every time Canada’s goalkeeper, Erin McLeod, handled the ball is probably the most remembered aspect of the 2012 semifinal at Old Trafford. Wambach counted to ten and the referee blew her whistle, giving an indirect free kick at the place McLeod was standing after McLeod had been cautioned for time-wasting at halftime — there is a six-second restriction on goalkeepers keeping the ball that officials rarely seldom enforce — The referee then penalized a Canadian player for a handball on the unusually tight free-kick inside the area, enabling Wambach to score a vital penalty.
It was a rough victory for the USWNT, but it was owing in large part to Wambach’s gamesmanship and shamelessness in teasing the referee. That referee has never refereed in any major tournament since, but does the USWNT have another player like Wambach who is prepared to be a nuisance in order to win?
After the US defeated New Zealand, the players attributed defender Kelley O’Hara with being the one who pulls out the most anger on the pitch — “I believe we could all hear her voice the entire game,” Rose Lavelle remarked, as nicely as she could. O’Hara also delivered a post-Sweden pep talk about being “extremely brutal” in the future.
Megan Rapinoe, on the other hand, is a force to be reckoned with. Given her recent performances in Japan, it’s doubtful she’ll repeat her heroic act from 2012, although she could dazzle just for fun.
In the 2012 Olympic semifinals, the United States defeated Canada in a seven-goal thriller that tested the USWNT to its limits. Expect the same thing to happen in Monday’s game. Getty Images/FIFA/FIFA/FIFA/FIFA/FIFA/FIFA/FIFA/FIFA/FIFA/
Rapinoe’s career highlight will undoubtedly be the quarterfinal against France in the 2019 Women’s World Cup — it’s hard to argue with a president of the United States who tries to pick a fight with you and then scores two goals to silence him — but her 2012 Olympic semifinal against Canada is a close second. She had two spectacular goals, including an Olimpico (in the Olympics! ), and was an all-around threat to Canada.
Another element of the game that stands out? Canada’s ferocious aggression, which featured Melissa Tancredi stamping on Carli Lloyd’s head after she was brought down on a set piece prior to the VAR.
The game strategy for Canada was simple: do everything necessary to irritate the USWNT and prevent them from getting into an offensive rhythm. The semifinal on Monday will almost certainly be a rough encounter, but Canada is also capable of adding some finesse.
“Our squad is totally different today than it was in 2012,” Scott remarked. “We’ve grown as a program, and the kind of soccer we play has changed. We’re no longer simply defensive Canadian grit; we’ve evolved into an offensive danger.”
As the USWNT progresses to the Olympics semifinals, Ali Krieger responds to Vlatko Andonovski’s choice to start Lynn Williams.
The one-sided rivalry is about to resurface.
The preceding USA-Canada game was notable for being the first time in 20 years when the North American rivalry between these two teams seemed genuine. This is due to the fact that Canada has not defeated the United States since 2001. The USWNT has won 30 of their previous 36 encounters and tied in six.
Canadians believe that the USWNT’s victory at the 2012 Olympics should be marked with an asterisk due of the strange officiating, and they are correct. However, it seems that optimism has fuelled the competition at times. Following Canada’s loss to the United States in 2019 Women’s World Cup qualification, then-coach Kenneth Heiner-Mller was asked what it would take to catch up to the Americans. What was his response? “There isn’t a chasm.” He didn’t go on to say anything more.
Canada, on the other hand, has been steadily improving since 2012. After back-to-back group stage exits, they reached the quarterfinals of the 2015 World Cup and the knockout stage of the 2019 edition, in addition to their two bronze medals in the previous two Olympics. It doesn’t matter whether Canada wants the rivalry more than the Americans do; if one team acts like it’s a rivalry, the other will have to act like it’s a rivalry as well.
“Because of the rivalry, it’s simple to get up for it,” USWNT defender Casey Krueger remarked on Sunday. “We know they’ll give it their all, and we’ll have to do the same.”
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Although the Americans have had the upper hand in this rivalry and are the favorites going into Monday’s semifinal, tournament soccer is unpredictable, and Canada, in particular, seems to have learned how to turn it up on the international stage. The USWNT has played Canada more than any other team in history, and although that may be a benefit to the Americans, it is also a benefit to the Canadians.
Bev Priestman, Canada’s coach, stated that the previous time the United States played her team, she, a non-Canadian, was more motivated. In February, the United States narrowly escaped with a 1-0 victory following a tense encounter in which Canada did a good job of stifling the Americans’ opportunities for the most of the game.
“I see the same possibilities that we saw in February accessible, so I’m thrilled,” Priestman said. “In places where they don’t, we have some freshness, which is crucial in a game like this. The competition between Canada and the United States exists — I don’t even need to mention it; it’s a given. But, more significantly, this is the game that changes the color of the medal when it comes to having a strong vision and that driving everything.”
Sinclair, on the left, is crucial to Canada’s success, even if she doesn’t score the goals. (Though she does it all the time.) Getty Images/Koki Nagahama
Christine Sinclair’s tale had a happy ending?
There’s one other thing about that 2012 semifinal that sticks out: Christine Sinclair’s pure brilliance. She placed the Canadian team on her back by scoring three goals despite the fact that her supporting cast lacked quality.
That remains a potential concern for this Canada team: will the goals continue to come as often after Sinclair, 38, retires? Janine Beckie and Nichelle Prince are excellent strikers for the squad, while fullbacks Ashley Lawrence and Alysha Chapman provide offensive danger when they bomb forward. Sinclair, on the other hand, is irreplaceable.
Christine Sinclair, who has 187 goals for Canada, is the most prolific international goal scorer on the globe. (She’s also two goals short of matching Christiane Amanpour’s record for most goals in Olympic women’s hockey.) Sinclair, on the other hand, isn’t simply a goal scorer; she’s also the attack’s glue. It’s obvious to notice in the center of the field in Portland, where she plays for the Thorns: her distribution vision is perfect, she’s great at maintaining possession in transition, and she sets up her teammates as much as she scores.
Sinclair’s influence, in whatever shape it takes, will have to be limited by the USWNT. If not, Sinclair, who may be competing in her last Olympics, may end her international career with a gold medal.