[USA-CANADA PREVIEW] As the tale is told north of the border, the narrowest escape for the USA at the 2007 Gold Cup came not in the final with Mexico, but rather in a semifinal squeaker against Canada.
At Soldier Field in Chicago, the same venue at which they would edge past Mexico three days later, the Americans prevailed, 2-1, with a goal by Frankie Hejduk and a Landon Donovan penalty kick just before halftime. After Ian Humepulled a goal back for Canada, an apparent equalizer by Atiba Hutchinson that would have forced overtime was disallowed for offside.
How close -- or incorrect -- that call was depends on who’s describing it, but the Americans who were on the field that day acknowledged they’d been in a tough battle.
The stakes for their rematch Tuesday at Ford Field in Detroit (8 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer Channel and TeleFutura) aren’t nearly so high – this is the Group C opener for both teams – yet in addition to past encounters including the one four years ago, the players know each other from club play in MLS as well as abroad.
The Canadian roster is dotted with players from leagues in Scandinavia, England, Germany and the Netherlands and other leagues whose clubs have employed American players for the past two decades. Dwayne DeRosario (New York), Andre Hainault (Houston), Julian de Guzman (Toronto FC) and Terry Dunfield (Vancouver) play in MLS, as does D.C. United defender Dejan Jakovic, who has been sidelined by a hamstring injury and will miss the tournament.
The loss of Jakovic could weaken the middle of Canada’s back line, which instead will probably feature Kevin McKenna(FC Cologne) and Hainault. An injury deprives Canada of European veteran Paul Stalteri, whose experience at outside back will be sorely missed. In the past year, Canada coach Stephen Hart has used Nikolas Ledgerwood, Michael Klukowski, Marcel de Jong and Jaime Peters on the corners with limited success.
Canada’s strength is in its midfield, where RSL veteran Will Johnson and former TFC teammates De Rosario and Julian de Guzman help form a powerful unit with Hutchinson, who leads the supply lines to massive (6-foot-5) striker Rob Friend, a Chicago selection in the 2004 SuperDraft out of UC Santa Barbara who opted for Europe instead and currently plays for German club Hertha Berlin.
Hart may opt to pair Friend with a partner up top, or use a five-man midfield with wingers in support of his lone striker. On his roster is former TFC forward Ali Gerba, who now plays for Montreal, but the coach has favored Josh Simpson, Tosaint Ricketts and Simeon Jackson in supporting roles.
Jackson, 24, is coming into the tournament off a strong showing during Norwich City’s capture of the NPower League Championship and an automatic place in the English Premier League next season. He scored 13 goals in 20 league games for the Canaries and at 5-foot-5, is the antithesis of Friend in more ways than one.
Gerba is one of five starters from the 2007 Gold Cup match that returns this time around for Canada. Another of those returnees, DeRosario, can trace his Gold Cup lineage all the way back to Canada’s capture of the 2000 competition, as well as a 2002 semifinal against the USA that ended 0-0 and went to the USA via penalty kicks.
After getting stuffed by Spain, coming back just three days later might be the best way for the USA to shake off bad memories.
“We will just have to try to look closely at ourselves,” said midfielder Michael Bradley, one of several halftime subs against Spain who subdued the carnage of a 4-0 defeat that dropped the USA record in 2011 to 0-2-2. The U.S. has not lost to Canada since 1985, with a 7-0-6 record since then, and has blanked its neighbors in six of the last seven encounters.
“Obviously, they’re a good team and they don’t need much in little situations to make passes and then give themselves a chance,” said Bradley. “Certainly, as we move forward not only in the Gold Cup but also in qualifying and hopefully the World Cup down the road, these experiences will help us.”