Canada loses 2-0 to U.S. women's team at CONCACAF soccer final
United States’ Julie Johnston (8) keeps Canada's Nichelle Prince (15) from the ball during the first half of the CONCACAF Olympic women's soccer qualifying championship final Sunday, Feb. 21, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo / David J. Phillip)
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press
Published Sunday, February 21, 2016 7:10PM EST
Last Updated Sunday, February 21, 2016 9:34PM EST
HOUSTON -- After rolling the dice with his lineup, Canadian coach John Herdman was left wondering what might have been in the final of the CONCACAF Women's Olympic Qualifying Championship.
He did it without his runner's-up medal, having wasted little time donating it to a fan in the crowd in the aftermath of Sunday's 2-0 loss to the U.S. before 9,363 at BBVA Compass Stadium.
"It's nice to be able to give a medal like that to someone in the crowd, that maybe you inspire them to do something good in their lives as well," Herdman said diplomatically when asked about the giveaway. "So I don't play this (game) for medals. Not silver ones anyway."
He may change his tune this summer in Rio, where a silver would represent an upgrade on the treasured bronze Canada won four years ago in London.
Goals by Lindsey Horan in the 53rd minute and Tobin Heath in the 61st lifted the U.S. to the win as Canada's record against its southern neighbour fell to 3-48-6.
While Herdman saw it differently, the top-ranked Americans were full value for the victory despite a game effort from 11th-ranked Canada
Herdman's plan was to keep the game scoreless and then send on limping captain Christine Sinclair and fellow veterans Sophie Schmidt and Diana Matheson, with their 551 caps and 194 goals, in the 60th minute.
Canada started strongly, harassing the Americans and restricting their buildup. But as its pressing game subsided, the U.S. midfield started pulling the strings.
"Man, we just couldn't hold out until the 60th. That's what's stuck in my throat at the minute," said an emotional Herdman.
"We wilted and broke, which was a shame," he added.
Herdman can be good theatre at the best of times. After Sunday's loss, his emotions ran the gamut from diplomatic to defiant and feisty to frustrated.
He missed his stars. Sinclair, nursing a calf injury, only had 30 minutes in her and needed an injection to do that, according to Herdman. No. 1 goalkeeper Erin McLeod sat out still feeling the effects of a knee injury suffered in December.
"You can stay that close to the U.S. without McLeod and Sinclair, Matheson and Schmidt on the pitch, I think we did all right," said Herdman.
The Canadian braintrust had seen Canada stay close to the U.S. in the past and then burn out its stars so the tank was empty at the end.
"This time it was just about trying something different. Dare to lose to win and we lost," said Herdman.
The Americans, who have bossed the confederation that covers North and Central America and the Caribbean for years, fielded an unchanged lineup.
U.S. coach Jill Ellis said she was not surprised by Canada's starting lineup given the injuries and the fact she expected Herdman would use size and pace against them.
Having secured Olympic qualification with semifinal wins Friday, both teams had already accomplished their tournament missions. Sunday's game was about bragging rights.
After a scoreless first half, the U.S. went ahead when captain Becky Sauerbrunn, celebrating her 100th cap by carving open the Canadian defence with her accurate passing, sent a ball into the box that goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe came out for but was beaten by Horan, who headed it in. Defender Kadeisha Buchanan slipped on the play.
Herdman sent in Matheson and Schmidt in the 58th minute with Sinclair warming up.
Heath, from just inside the penalty box, made it 2-0 in the 61st minute by sinking a sweet left foot into a fine ball from 17-year-old Mallory Pugh that made its way through a scattered Canadian defence. That brought Sinclair on the pitch.
Canada showed more attacking flair with its stars on the field. The Americans defended and launched counter-attacks.
The margin of victory could have been more. Fullback Allysha Chapman stopped a sure U.S. goal in the 88th minute with her foot and American Carli Lloyd shot wide moments after.
"I think we deserved the win tonight," said Ellis. "I thought we created more chances."
Herdman saw a different game. "To be honest, I didn't think the U.S. troubled us massively ... They were doable tonight and we missed a great chance on home soil."
He said he had no complaints about Labbe's performance, but still talked up McLeod's talents.
"McLeod is, in my opinion, the best goalkeeper in the world. There's no one comes for crosses like her," said Herman, with the first goal no doubt going through his mind.
It has been almost 15 years since Canada beat the U.S. -- 2-0 at the Algarve Cup in March 2001. Since then, the Americans have won 27 and drawn five. The teams tied 1-1 the last time they met, in May 2014 in Winnipeg.
"We held our own for large parts of the game," said Sinclair, the only player on the Canadian roster who has beaten the Americans at this level. "They just always find a way to win and that's something we have to change."
The U.S. literally is the gold standard of women's Olympic soccer. The Americans have taken part in all five Games that have featured women's soccer, winning gold four times (1996, 2004, 2008, 2012).
The U.S. (18-0-1) has never lost a game in Olympic qualifying, but did tie Canada 1-1 in the 2008 final before prevailing in penalty kicks. The Americans have blanked the opposition in their last 10 CONCACAF Olympic qualifying games -- since Melissa Tancredi scored in the 116th minute of the 2008 final.