Time flies in international soccer.
Almost a year ago, Canada ended the USA's bid for an Olympic gold-medal, winning, 1-0, in the semifinals of the Tokyo Olympics.
On Monday, the USA and Canada meet again, this time with berth in the next Olympics on the line.
The winner of the Concacaf W Championship final will be headed to Paris in 2024 while the loser will move into a playoff against the winner of Monday's third-place game between Costa Rica and Jamaica to determine Concacaf's second representative in Olympic women's soccer.
Canada's victory over the USA in Kashima was followed by a shootout win over Sweden in the gold-medal game. The semifinal win was just Canada's fifth over the USA in a 63-game series and first win since 2001, a span of 37 games.
That included a 4-3 overtime victory by the USA over Canada in the semifinals of the 2012 Olympics, one of the greatest games in the history of women's soccer. The Canadians took the loss hard — star Christine Sinclair was handed a four-game suspension by FIFA for remarks directed at the match officials after the loss — so last year's victory over the USA was extra sweet.
Desiree Scott, one of six Canadians at the Concacaf W Championship with more than 100 caps, says her team's confidence is at an all-time high.
"Obviously, after Tokyo," she said on Sunday, "there's going to be a little bit [more] of fire and fight there."
Goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe, the star of Canada's shootout wins over Brazil and Sweden in the knockout stage at last summer's Olympics, is the only one of the 16 Canadians who played in the semifinal against the USA and is not in Monterrey. (She retired earlier this year.)
USA's loss to Canada followed a 3-0 defeat to Sweden in Japan. The two losses matched the total number of losses the USA had suffered in the six previous Olympic competitions.
The setbacks signaled it was time for a change within the U.S. national team -- more than half the core players were 30 years old or older -- and Vlatko Andonovski's youth movement was accelerated by a wave of injuries and other absences. Of the 16 players who played in the 3-0 semifinal win over Costa Rica, just five played against Canada a year ago. Becky Sauerbrunn, Lindsey Horan, Rose Lavelle and Alex Morgan started while Megan Rapinoe came off the bench against Las Ticas. Alyssa Naeher and Kelley O’Hara were unused subs on Thursday night.
There has little talk on the U.S. side about making Monday's game a revenge match, though.
"We haven't really talked about it a lot," said Andonovski, "and probably one of the reasons why is because if you look at the group of players that is here there's no more than four or five players that were on the field in the [Olympic semifinal] game."
It's rare that the USA loses — the two Olympic defeats are the only losses in 46 games since Andonovski took over as head coach at the end of 2019 — so each loss takes on added focus.
"I look at every loss or every failure a little bit deeper," added Andonovski, "and I will use that as a learning opportunity going forward, whether it's against Canada or any other national team that we're facing."
Morgan, who scored a hat trick in the 2012 semifinal and started in Kashima, agreed the USA-Canada rivalry has heated up but it hasn't changed the USA's focus.
"It will be a great game," she said following Thursday's win over Costa Rica. "But it’s really not about looking back, it’s about looking forward."
Lavelle photo: Concacaf.com