Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe

The development of a rivalry: U.S. women face Canada in ‘The Rematch’

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‘Rivalry’ is a funny word. It instantly sparks an emotional reaction; it’s polarizing. A rivalry exists between two parties that not only don’t get along, but have a history of encounters.

To get technical, a rivalry is a “competition for the same objective or for superiority in the same field.”

By nature, rivalries can’t be fabricated or contrived – they have to occur naturally and they have to be developed over time.

In sport, the most organic foundation for a rivalry is geography. Across the world intra-city derbies and other closely stationed teams play in these sort of matches every year, some more devout and dangerous than others.

Stateside, the still-growing sport of soccer has rivalries in their infancy with the making of something great. We see it in the Pacific Northwest, where Portland-vs.-Seattle-anything produces a host of fanfare in the stands and distaste on the field. It exists elsewhere, too, like when some of Major League Soccer’s Northeast teams play (most notably still New York and D.C. United).

So it’s only natural that two bordering nations should be nemeses, which is where the United States and Canada find themselves in women’s soccer.

Canada, the bronze medalists at the 2012 London Olympics, plays the role of little sister. They stand in the shadows of their neighbors to the south and they absolutely hate that. Canada strives to be on an equal level with the U.S., which isn’t an achievement far from reality for the Canada team ranked No. 7 in the world.

For its part, the United States is the typical big sister – wins a lot, gets all the attention, and kind of gets a chuckle out of all the commotion little sister causes trying to steal the spotlight.

On Sunday in Toronto, these two teams play for the first time since the United States won that epic 2012 Olympic semifinal at Old Trafford, a 4-3 victory stolen in extra time on Alex Morgan’s header.

Sunday is, as Canada’s marketing arm tells us, literally “The Rematch.”

A win won’t make up for the gut-wrenching loss in Manchester last year; it won’t make bronze turn into gold or silver and it won’t exact enough revenge to heal a country of fans still recovering from a loss they’ll be telling their grandchildren about.

But Sunday is another step in building the rivalry, particularly if Canada wins.

One of the most important caveats of a rivalry is that it cannot be one-sided. Dominant teams and lopsided records don’t make for the tense drama required in a matchup of two old foes. This is where the USA-Canada matchup loses its case as a well-established meeting of enemies.

The United States owns a commanding 44-3-5 record all-time vs. Canada. The Americans haven’t lost to Canada in over 12 years, and even that came in an Algarve Cup game in which the U.S. brought a young, inexperienced team to Portugal as to not disrupt the first preseason of the Women’s United Soccer Association.

A game like Sunday’s, particularly in a friendly, is just another game the U.S. expects to win, just as they would against any team in the world. A match against Canada doesn’t contain much bite or emotion than one against Sweden or Germany, two teams that still sit in the elite tier for which Canada strives.

Don’t be fooled, this is a rivalry, but the roots of it don’t run as deep as the hype may suggest. Not for the Americans, anyway.

The Canadians openly admit that Sunday’s matchup is more important to them.

“I think this one will mean more to us more than anything because of the fans,” Canada midfielder Diana Matheson said.  “We want to give back to the fans that were so behind us at the Olympics.”

No reminder is needed regarding what happened at Old Trafford. A Christine Sinclair hat trick was negated by Megan Rapinoe’s brilliance, Abby Wambach clock-counting to the referee and Morgan’s 123rd minute header, the latest goal in FIFA history and the comeback that outdid the comeback kids themselves.

It’s that drama that built the anticipation to this rematch for so many months. It’s that wild, controversial ending at the Olympics that caused this match to sellout the 20,000-plus seat BMO Field in less than an hour. And it’s that sort of drama that should make for a great rivalry moving forward (with the next major tournament being the 2015 World Cup…in Canada, don’t forget).

But for all the angst – for the 52 meetings and all the buzz – this rivalry still seems contrived, for lack of a better word. Rest assured, Canada carries that chip on its shoulder as overshadowed and underdog, and likely reads words such as these in somewhat agreement, but with motivation to change the trend of American dominance.

The U.S. has sat on its perch as the No. 1 team in the world for over five consecutive years.  The Americans are the three-time defending Olympic gold medalists. But they are not invincible, and to repeat a line whispered and then shouted across the globe over the past three years, the rest of the world is catching up. That world includes Canada, right in their backyard, taking on the ambitious, fighting nature of its coach John Herdman to climb the ranks to challenge the best teams in the world.

Canadians have put in some of the most impressive performances in the opening seven weeks of the National Women’s Soccer League. Matheson, with the Washington Spirit, and Sophie Schmidt, with Sky Blue FC, are two off the best midfielders in a league that gives 16 Canadians a professional team on which they can develop on this continent.

In a down year for women’s soccer in North America (Euro 2013 is the big event), this matchup is more about the marketing and the growth of women’s soccer – both in interest and for two of the world’s best teams to get better – than it is about winning the game on Sunday.

Just don’t tell Canada that Sunday’s result doesn’t matter.

“In the last eight or nine games we have given a lot of opportunities to new players,” Herdman said. “But now this is a time to face in the world No. 1.”

Allardyce on Palace’s “great victory” over Boro

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 25:  Sam Allardyce manager of Crystal Palace signals during the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Middlesbrough at Selhurst Park on February 25, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images)
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Big Sam got a big win, and he knows it.

Two days after tearing into his players for not adapting to his system, the Crystal Palace boss was glowing with praise after the Eagles knocked off visiting Middlesbrough in a relegation six-pointer on Saturday.

[ MORE: Palace 1-0 Middlesbrough ]

The win lifts Palace out of the drop zone, a point ahead of Leicester City who plays Monday. Allardyce is shaping his own Premier League table and he’ll try to lift a sort of Bottom Seven trophy after the season

From the BBC:

“It’s a great victory. I think the two-week break helped us refocus and that showed – today they made a lot of very good decisions.

“The three points are important as it puts us in amongst the pack, out of the bottom three and a bit closer to Bournemouth.

“I see the bottom seven as the Premier League table we need to try and win. If we can achieve more then that would be great but we need to make next week’s game against West Brom a game to win.”

Crystal Palace have too much talent to be in this spot, and Allardyce’s acumen as a “never relegated” manager has not been questioned much despite the Eagles falling into a worse spot than they were when Alan Pardew was fired. Is this finally their move out of trouble, or just a clean sheet against a Boro team that can’t score?

Conte delighted with his ruthless Chelsea machine

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Chelsea are a machine.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

The Blues beat Swansea City 3-1 at Stamford Bridge on Saturday to extend their lead at the top of the Premier League to 11 points as the likes of Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal are all on a weekend off due to the EFL Cup final.

Facing a stubborn Swansea side, Chelsea went ahead through the excellent Cesc Fabregas and even when they were pegged back right on half time through Fernando Llorente’s header you expected them to kick on win the game.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

They did just that as Antonio Conte‘s men were relentless throughout and goals from Pedro and Diego Costa late on made it 20 wins from 26 games this season as their title procession continues.

Speaking after the game, Conte was asked if this win was simply another step on their way to winning the title.

“Yeah, I think it is another step,” Conte said. “For sure a good game, a good win and it wasn’t easy to play against them because I watched Swansea’s games against Liverpool and City and they played very well. I think today we deserved, a lot, to win the game. We created many chances in the game, we dominated the game in the first half.

“It is a pity for the goal we conceded at the end of half time. In the second half we started again and created chances with Hazard and then Cesc hitting the crossbar. I am pleased because now, to play the ball is not easy because the season is going to end. In this moment it is very important to have the performance of my players.”

The Italian manager also admitted that a pivotal moment in the game went Chelsea’s way. With the score still locked at 1-1 with 20 minutes to Gylfi Sigurdsson‘s trickery saw Cesar Azpilicueta handle in the box. Referee Neil Swarbrick waved away the penalty calls but Conte admitted the ball hit Azpilicueta’s hand despite it being very close to Sigurdsson and perhaps unintentional.

Moments later Pedro scored to put Chelsea ahead as they powered to yet another victory, their 10th straight at home in the Premier League.

Nobody looks like catching this Chelsea side as Eden Hazard and Fabregas dazzled in the drizzle at Stamford Bridge and Costa was at his clinical best.

A brief defensive lapse aside, this was a dominant and well-deserved win against a dogged Swansea outfit.

In the words of Jay Z – “On to the next one.”

That’s a trip across London to West Ham on Mar. 6, as games against Stoke City and Crystal Palace follow. The way Conte’s side are playing and finishing teams off, they could have this thing all but sewn by April 1 when they face Manchester City at Stamford Bridge.

Men In Blazers podcast: Pochettino, Lloris discuss “To Dare Is To Do”

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - AUGUST 13: Hugo Lloris of Tottenham Hotspur and Mauricio Pochettino, Manager of Tottenham Hotspur after the goalkeeper was substitued during the Premier League match between Everton and Tottenham Hotspur at Goodison Park on August 13, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Rog speaks with Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino, goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, and head of coaching and development John McDermott in a preview of his film, “Premier League Download: Tottenham Hotspur: To Dare is to Do” which airs Sunday at 11 a.m. ET after Spurs vs. Stoke City on NBCSN.

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Watch Live: Watford vs. West Ham (Lineups, Stream)

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10: Troy Deeney of Watford (L) struggles to hold off Michail Antonio of West Ham United (R) during the Premier League match between West Ham United and Watford at Olympic Stadium on September 10, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Vicarage Road is the scene for a Saturday afternoon clash between top half hopefuls West Ham United and Watford (Watch Live at 12:30 p.m. EDT on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

The Irons have 32 points and the hopes of continuing an upward climb to the position they wanted back when this season began in August.

The Hornets are two points below West Ham, having dealt with a woeful stretch in form to climb back to within sight of 10th.

LINEUPS

Watford: Gomes; Janmaat, Kaboul, Britos, Holebas; Cleverley, Behrami, Capoue; Zárate, Deeney, Niang. Subs: Arlauskis, Prödl, Cathcart, Zúñiga, Doucouré, Success, Okaka.

West Ham United: Randolph, Cresswell, Fonte, Reid, Antonio, Obiang, Kouyate, Noble, Snodgrass, Lanzini, Feghouli. Subs: Adrian, Byram, Masuaku, Collins, Fernandes, Ayew, Calleri.