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Confident Canadians aim at USA
by Ridge Mahoney, June 21st, 2007 7AM

TAGS:  gold cup


[GOLD CUP PREVIEW] Two decades ago, the U.S. team beat Canada, 3-0, in an Olympic qualifying match and began to shed the label of underdogs. In the Gold Cup semifinals Thursday at Soldier Field in Chicago, it will be the Canadians seeking an upset. From Chicago, Ridge Mahoney previews the semifinal clash ...

Canada had played in its first World Cup in 1986, and though it lost all three games it had achieved something the Americans hadn't done since 1950. By eliminating Canada in that 1987 Olympic qualifier, the U.S. began the process of building its own program toward qualification for the next World Cup.

Canada hasn't been to a World Cup since that 1986 competition and despite winning the Gold Cup in 2000, hasn't advanced to the final round of CONCACAF qualifying in the last two campaigns. Yet right back Paul Stalteri, who has played in Europe with Werder Bremen and Tottenham Hotspur for nearly a decade, believes this group of Canadian players can use its success at the Gold Cup as a foundation for a bigger prize.

"There are still a few guys around from the 2000 team," says Stalteri, who is one of that group. "Not to take anything away from that team, but the team now is completely different: style-wish, formation-wise, system-wise.

"We have guys with a lot of experienced mixed in with some good youth players. It's a good blend."

The Canadians reached the semis by belting Guatemala, 3-0, which is two goals more than the Americans managed in their Group B opener against the Guatemalans. Canada stunned Costa Rica, 2-1, in its opener and won Group A despite losing its second match to tournament darling Guadaloupe, which plays Mexico in the other semi Thursday.

"I think we surprised Costa Rica," says Canada keeper Pat Onstad, who was summoned from his MLS duties with Houston as an emergency replacement when two goalies suffered injuries. "I think they thought when we threw 6-foot-4 Rob Friend out there we were just going to play long balls but we actually have players who like to keep the ball on the ground and attack people that way."

The mobile, fluid Canadian midfield often features five players behind a lone forward, either Friend or Ali Gerba. Martin Nash holds the center, Atiba Hutchison and Julian de Guzman roam the middle, Dwayne De Rosario drifts out to the left flank, and Patrice Bernier runs the right channel.

De Rosario's dribbling and thirst for spectacular goals is no secret, and playing the left flank enables him to cut inside to his stronger right foot. But he's fast enough and skilled enough to loop outside to cross with his left or turn the corner.

Most of the Americans haven't seen much of De Guzman and Hutchison. De Guzman, who plays for Spain's Deportivo Coruna, is a slasher who likes to go at people and can control the ball in traffic. Hutchison is also good on the ball, and tough to knock off of it. Bernier is a speedster who plays an inside position for his club, so he too, can veer inside and leave the flank open for right back Stalteri, who set up the first goal against Panama with a run up the right side and penetrating pass.

After winning the 2000 Gold Cup, Canada reached the final of the 2002 competition and waged an epic, if goalless, standoff with the United States in Miami. The U.S. prevailed on penalty kicks, 4-2.

"I remember Lars Hirschfield in net played a fantastic game," recalled Stalteri. "He kept us in it with some great saves. We lost on penalties but Thursday perhaps we can have that same kind of battle with some nicer football being played."

The nations last met in a 0-0 tie in San Diego in January, 2006. The U.S. leads the all-time series 11-8-9 and hasn't lost to Canada since 1985.

DaMarcus Beasley, Frankie Hejduk, Tim Howard and Oguchi Onyewu are carrying yellow cards from quarterfinal win against Panama. Nash is the only Canadian to be cautioned in the quarterfinal with Guatemala. Another card in the semi means suspension for the final.

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