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.”

Jovic could see himself in Premier League, Serie A

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Maybe Luka Jovic’s presumed move to Real Madrid won’t happen this summer.

Or at all.

[ MORE: Real, Chelsea debate Hazard price ]

The Eintracht Frankfurt striker has been tipped for a move away from the Bundesliga after another strong campaign, and taking the center forward reins from Karim Benzema at Real Madrid.

Several outlets reported the deal as done, but Jovic isn’t speaking that way (or at least the Serbian is throwing us off the scent.

From Goal.com:

“In terms of the physique, the Bundesliga is very demanding, but after the games against Chelsea or Inter Milan, I personally had the feeling that I could feel even better [playing] in the Premier League or Serie A. … The way the teams play there suits me better.”

Jovic scored 27 times in 48 appearances for Frankfurt, adding seven assists at the tender age of 21. Ten of those came in the Europa League, and we’re not talking about flooding the nets of minnows; Jovic scored against Chelsea (twice), Marseille (three), Lazio (two), and Inter Milan (once).

Report: Chelsea, Real $38M apart on Hazard

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How much for Hazard?

Real Madrid are willing to pay $127 million, no small fee, to bring Eden Hazard from Chelsea, but that’s well off the Blues’ evaluation according to Sky Sports.

Chelsea sees Hazard’s price as $165 million. Belgian writer Kristof Terreur told Sky that Hazard wants his future sorted by June 4.

[ MORE: Bayern wins double ]

The Blues’ superstar is entering the final year of his contract, and could begin negotiating with other clubs in January and leave on a free transfer.

Hazard turns 29 in January. He recorded 19 goals and 16 assists in 51 matches this season, his best output in a Blues uniform.

The report says Chelsea feels no pressure to sell Hazard, but it would be a surprise if it dug in its heels too deeply considering the state of the Belgian’s contract.

Even for Chelsea, letting over $100 million walk out the door is wild, and for all Hazard’s won with Chelsea there’s also been consternation under several managers and a more than occasional habit of disappointing on the table.

MLS roundup: Timbers end road trip with emphatic win in Philly

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in MLS…

[ MORE: USA topped by Ukraine in U-20 World Cup opener ]

Philadelphia Union 1-3 Portland Timbers [ HIGHLIGHTS ]

Just when everyone had begun to take the Union seriously — to give them the respect befitting a first-place team — Jim Curtin’s side fell flat on its face and fell out of the Eastern Conference’s top spot. Saturday’s defeat to the suddenly streaking — and homeward bound — Timbers snapped Philadelphia’s six-game unbeaten run (four wins).

24-year-old attacker Brian Fernandez, signed as a Designated Player earlier this month, made his first MLS start and marked the occasion with two first-half goals (31st and 36th minutes). Diego Valeri added the third (87th) after Kacper Przybylko pulled the Union back to 2-1 in the 47th.

Now, with 14 points from their 12-game road trip to start the season, Portland heads home for 17 of their final 22 games to be played inside a newly renovated — and expanded — Providence Park. The gap between themselves and a Western Conference playoff place is just four points.

New England Revolution 1-1 D.C. United [ HIGHLIGHTS ]

With the Union slipping up and dropping all three points, D.C. United made the most of their opportunity to return to the top of the East on the back of Wayne Rooney‘s 90th-minute penalty kick to snatch a 1-1 draw with (what will soon be) Bruce Arena’s Revolution.

Juan Agudelo put the home side ahead with a header in the 61st minute, and the lead held firm for nearly the final half-hour. Alas, video review reviewed a handball late in the game, which presented Rooney the chance to play the part of hero. He duly obliged and hammered his spot kick past backup goalkeeper Brad Knighton, who replaced Matt Turner following his 56th minute red card for cleaning out Rooney.

Arena is expected to take charge of Revs training this week and make his debut as head coach next Sunday, when his new side visits… his old side, the LA Galaxy.

Colorado Rapids 3-2 Columbus Crew SC [ HIGHLIGHTS ]

Don’t look now, but the Rapids have won two straight games under interim head coach Conor Casey and appear set on clawing their way out of the league’s basement.

Sure, they blew a pair of leads at home, but they also hit back with another goal of their own every time Crew SC drew level, culminating in a stunning winner from Nicolas Mezquida.

The gap between Colorado and 23th place is now just three points, as expansion side FC Cincinnati come closer and closer on the horizon.

Elsewhere in MLS

Chicago Fire 1-1 New York City FC [ HIGHLIGHTS ]
Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 FC Dallas [ HIGHLIGHTS ]
FC Cincinnati 0-2 New York Red Bulls [ HIGHLIGHTS ]
Minnesota United 1-0 Houston Dynamo [ HIGHLIGHTS ]

Sunday’s MLS schedule

Sporting Kansas City v. Seattle Sounders — 6 p.m. ET
Toronto FC v. San Jose Earthquakes — 7:30 p.m. ET

Will winning the double be enough to keep Kovac at Bayern?

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BERLIN (AP) Niko Kovac is the first to win a domestic double in Germany as a player and coach, yet it may not be enough to keep his job as Bayern Munich coach.

[ MORE: Valencia end Barcelona’s four-year hold on Copa del Rey ]

Kovac, whose side defeated Leipzig 3-0 in the German Cup final on Saturday, a week after clinching the Bundesliga title, is yet to be given assurances in public from the club that he will remain in charge, despite bringing a successful end to what had been a testing season.

The pressure and uncertainty appeared to cast a shadow on what was Kovac’s second successive German Cup win — he was Eintracht Frankfurt coach when the side defeated Bayern in the final last year.

“Last year I was leaving the team. This year everything is a little less emotional, no tears, but still, I’m happy,” Kovac said.

“Sometimes I would really wish that things went a little differently. It’s difficult to turn the wheel back. We should all work on it, we’re all human. We should make sure that we get along with each other.”

[ U-20 WORLD CUP: Ezequiel Barco’s golazo paces Argentina to big win ]

Kovac, who won the double as a player in 2003, acknowledged the cup win on Saturday was “very important” as “it shows that we have worked well.”

Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge was again coy when pressed on the coach’s future.

“At the end of the day, we have to get titles. Of course the coach plays a central role,” Rummenigge said. “It was never an issue for us with the term that he has until 2021, that he would simply not be there anymore as coach beforehand.”