USA-Canada: Old rivals meet again in Olympic semifinals

On the surface, USA-Canada in women's soccer would appear to be one of the most one-sided rivalry games in sports.

When they will meet on Monday in the women's soccer semifinals at the Tokyo Olympics, it will be the 62nd time the USA has faced Canada, more than against any other team.

It has lost three times and not since 2001, a span of 36 games.

But no one is expecting anything but a close match in Kashima.

In the early days of the national team program, the USA rarely played at home and only in Blaine, Minnesota.

Canada was the first team the USA hosted, playing two games in 1986 at the National Sports Center as part of the USA Cup youth tournament. The teams split those two games.

Here is Game 1 from Blaine and the USWNT's debut on U.S. television:

It was another 14 years before Canada won again, taking two games in a row, 3-1 in Columbus in November, 2000, and 3-0 at the Algarve Cup four months later.

But the USA's record against Canada doesn't tell the entire story of how close the matches have often been. They have met twice in knockout play of a world championship, both times at the Olympics and both times the USA won in overtime (2-1 in 2008 and 4-3 in 2012).

Holdovers from 2012. Nine starters in the 2012 semifinal match at Manchester's Old Trafford are at the Tokyo Olympics: Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd, Tobin Heath, Kelley O'Hara and Alex Morgan for the USA; Desiree Scott, Christine Sinclair, Sophie Schmidt and Erin McLeod.

Three times Canada led on goals by Sinclair, and three times -- twice on Rapinoe goals -- the USA came back to tie the game before Morgan won the game for the USA in the third minute of overtime stoppage time with the latest goal scored in FIFA and Olympic history.

All of Canada has been talking ever since about the third U.S. goal -- in the 80th minute -- which came on a penalty kick by Abby Wambach awarded for a handball after a Rapinoe free kick. The penalty decision wasn't the issue -- the ball hit the arms of both Diana Matheson and Marie-Eve Nault -- but it was the indirect free kick awarded in the penalty area for time-wasting by McLeod, the Canada keeper. A rare call at any level but especially in the semifinals of a world championship.

"It was taken from us," said Canada coach John Herdman, now the Canada men's coach.

Rematch in Toronto. A year later, the USA and Canada played a rematch in Toronto and tickets sold out within hours. The crowd of 22,453 -- then a record for a soccer game at BMO Field -- watched the USA win again, this time 3-0, and not without controversy.

Sydney Leroux, who was born in Canada and represented Canada at the youth level, scored the third goal, then pulled tightly on her jersey to show off the U.S. Soccer logo and put her finger to her lips to try to silence the booing Toronto fans.

“I probably wouldn’t have done the same," said Sinclair, "but you move on.”

Teammates at home and abroad. Despite everything, the U.S. and Canadian players are close. Sinclair played at the University of Portland with Rapinoe and at the NWSL's Portland Thorns with Heath and Morgan. Nine Canadians play in the NWSL and four more are currently at U.S. universities.

Colorado native Janine Beckie, who has scored two of the four Canadian goals at the Olympics, played with Sam Mewis, Rose Lavelle and Abby Dahlkemper this past season at Manchester City, while Shelina Zadorsky and Morgan were teammates briefly at Tottenham and Kadeisha Buchanan and Catarina Macario played together at Lyon for the last four months of the 2021-21 French season.

Road to Kashima. The USA and Canada have taken common roads to Kashima. They have been -- well -- bumpy.

The USA and Canada both have just one win in four games. And both needed shootouts to survive their quarterfinal games, the USA against the Netherlands and Canada against Brazil.

Both teams have hot goalkeepers to thank for their victories.

Alyssa Naeher saved Lieke Martens' penalty kick that could have given the Dutch the win late in regulation, and she stopped two more attempts in the shootout.

Courage keeper. Former UConn keeper Stephanie Labbé dug Canada out of a hole in its shootout against Brazil. Sinclair missed Canada's first attempt, and Canada trailed 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 before tying 3-3 and pulling ahead. Labbé stopped the Brazilian shooters in the fourth and fifth rounds to give Canada a 4-3 win and send it the semifinals for the third straight Olympics.

Labbé will know all about the USA and the tendencies of some of its biggest stars.

She was in goal for the North Carolina Courage when it won the 2019 NWSL title. Her teammates included four U.S. starters against the Netherlands, including both goalscorers, Sam Mewis and Lynn Williams.

1 comment about "USA-Canada: Old rivals meet again in Olympic semifinals".
  1. R2 Dad, August 1, 2021 at 10:47 a.m.

    I can't remember who the official was for the match where Canada was punished for time-wasting, but that was some shrewd gamesmanship by Abby to get that call. Pays to know the LOTG, players! 

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