HOUSTON (AP) U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo says playing Canada always “tends to be a bloodbath.”
OK, so that’s an exaggeration, but there is a real rivalry.
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The World Cup-winning U.S. women will face Canada on Sunday in the final of the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament. The teams secured the region’s berths in the Rio Olympics with victories in the semifinals Friday night.
So the game Sunday is basically meaningless, right? Not to Solo.
“I love playing Canada. It always tends to be a bloodbath,” Solo said. “It’s a physical game, I get to be involved a little bit more. So, I don’t think it’s necessarily the most prettiest of games when we play Canada, but hopefully with this new group of players, we’ll find a way around that, we’ll find a way around their kind of American football style of play.”
Probably the best example of the intensity of the rivalry came at the 2012 London Olympics. The United States won the hard-fought semifinal match 4-3 on Alex Morgan’s goal in the 123rd minute. The match featured a controversial call when Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod was whistled for holding the ball too long, sparking a wild sequence that led to a questionable handball call against Canada and Abby Wambach’s penalty kick to tie it late in regulation.
“We feel like it was taken away from us,” Canada’s Christine Sinclair said afterward. “It’s a shame in a game like that, which is so important, that the ref decided the result before the game started.”
The United States went on to win the gold medal with a 2-1 victory over Japan, and Canada took the bronze with a 1-0 victory over France.
It was the third straight gold medal and fourth overall for the Americans, who have never missed qualifying for the Olympics since women’s soccer was introduced in 1996.
Canada earned its third straight trip to the Olympic Games with Friday night’s 3-1 victory over Costa Rica. Sinclair scored twice. The Canadian captain ranks second on the international career list for most goals with 161, behind Abby Wambach’s 184. Earlier in the tournament, Sinclair passed American Mia Hamm (158).
She was bothered by a sore calf in the victory over Costa Rica, so it remains to be seen whether she’ll play.
“We’re going to give them one hell of a fight as we always do and (we’re) looking forward to it,” Canada coach John Herdman said about Sunday’s match.
Following the meeting in London, the rivalry was fueled a bit by Canadian-born Sydney Leroux’s presence on the U.S. national team. Leroux holds dual citizenship.
Having been taunted by Canadian fans, Leroux scored in stoppage time against Canada in a 2013 match in Toronto. In celebration she seized the U.S. crest on her jersey, then held a finger to her lips to shush the crowd.
Leroux, who was on the U.S. team that won the World Cup in Canada last year, is taking time off from the national team because she’s having a baby.
In its semifinal Friday, the United States beat Trinidad and Tobago 5-0. Alex Morgan had her third career hat trick.
All told, Canada and the United States have met 55 times, with the Canadians coming out on top for just three matches. The last Canada win came in 2001 at the Algarve Cup, a 2-0 shutout. The last meeting was a 1-1 draw in 2014 in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
“I think they have more of a rivalry with us than we do with them because I think they always want to prove that their growing the game in their country – and they’ve come a long way. I think that they want to be the best and they want to beat the Americans,” Solo said. “But I think we get frustrated because it tends to be such a physical game that it takes us out of the quality of soccer that we want to play, so it is definitely a rivalry for us in that respect.”