Canada, U.S. renew rivalry after securing Olympic qualification
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press
Published Saturday, February 20, 2016 12:04PM EST
Last Updated Saturday, February 20, 2016 8:48PM EST
HOUSTON -- Fresh from securing Olympic qualification, Canada and the U.S. renew their rivalry Sunday when they meet for CONCACAF women's bragging rights.
There is little else on the table at BBVA Compass Stadium. With wins Friday over Costa Rica and Trinidad & Tobago, respectively, Canada and the U.S. have accomplished what they set out to do at the CONCACAF Women's Olympic Qualifying Championship -- earn places in the 12-team Olympic field.
But the two CONCACAF heavyweights relish their scraps, even if the top-ranked Americans have traditionally dominated. It has been almost 15 years since Canada beat the U.S. 3-0 at the Algarve Cup in March 2001. Since then, the Americans have won 26 and drawn five.
Both sides downplayed the history book although Canadian coach John Herdman said any team playing the U.S. comes in as an underdog.
"I think we're that confident it can happen, but I think you've got to realize the enormity of the task for a country like Canada to turn over a giant like the U.S.," he told a news conference Saturday.
Veteran fullback Rhian Wilkinson did not shy away from Canada's losing record. But she said it did not belong to the new blood in the side. Players like Nichelle Prince, who turned 21 on Friday, have never played the Americans at this level.
"Our record is fact," Wilkinson said. "And it's a bitter pill to swallow. But that's that.
"You have to start looking at the games we've had with them in the last couple of years with John as our coach, with the new team, and it's a whole new dawn. We've got very close, we've had a bunch of ties but we've haven't won yet and that's fact.
"I think we have a fantastic group of new young players and so do they and rivalries are changing. It's evolving, and (Sunday) will be great test of how we are."
U.S. coach Jill Ellis agreed.
"It's always weighed heavily in the U.S.'s favour but we're a new team, different coach, new players," said Ellis, who took over the U.S. squad in May 2014. "Every time we play Canada it's a fantastic match."
A feisty Herdman says his 11th-ranked squad is up for the challenge against "the team that pumps millions of dollars into their program, that has a depth of talent deeper than four countries put together, who have won everything, who always win everything."
"We're looking forward to it," he added.
The Canadian mantra was summed up by fullback Allysha Chapman.
"We've done the expected. Time to do the unexpected Sunday!" she tweeted after the Costa Rica win.
With Houston as his backdrop, Herdman has used a space analogy -- flying to the moon and back -- with his players.
"Qualifying for Rio is the moon landing but it means nothing if you don't get back," said Wilkinson. "And that's how we look at this U.S. game."
Sunday marks the fifth game for both teams since the tournament started Feb. 10 (Feb. 11 for Canada).
Carrying a calf injury, Canadian skipper Christine Sinclair limped off in the 82nd minute Friday after a stellar two-goal performance. Veteran goalkeeper Erin McLeod played the whole game but is nursing a knee injured in December at a tournament in Brazil.
Both players watched from the sidelines during the part of Saturday's practice open to reporters. It was the same prior to Friday's game.
Herdman said everyone was available despite some knocks.
Herdman, whose roster has been deepened by the addition of some talented youngsters, has rotated his roster throughout the tournament. He fielded his strongest lineup in both the opener and semifinal, with nine veterans of the World Cup plus 16-year-old Deanne Rose and 23-year-old Shelina Zadorsky.
He promised some new twists Sunday.
Both teams have been dominant en route to the final. Canada outscored the opposition 24-1 with 11 different players getting goals while the U.S. blanked its opponents while piling up 21 goals.
The Americans have never lost a CONCACAF Olympic qualifier, going 17-0-1 while outscoring opponents 96-4. Canada is 15-2-1 with a 68-11 goals advantage.
Canadian veterans will have not forgotten their 4-3 extra-time loss to the Americans in the Olympic semifinal four years ago. Canada went on to earn bronze -- thanks to a Diana Matheson stoppage-time goal -- while the U.S. won gold for the third Games in a row and fourth in five Olympics.
The teams have played each other three times since the Olympics with the Americans winning 3-0 and 1-0 before a 1-1- tie last time out in Winnipeg in May 2014.