The Canadian and U.S. women’s soccer teams are set to meet for the first time since their classic encounter at the London Olympics, where Abby Wambach’s penalty kick helped send the U.S. to a controversial semifinal win. (Stanley Chou/Getty Images)
Sunday's women's soccer game at BMO Field in Toronto is a friendly international -- only without the
friendliness. And while Canada surely wants to beat the rival U.S. team, it must also start thinking about its future.
It is being billed as The Rematch. Let's be clear -- it isn't.
There is no Olympic medal at stake. That ship sailed long ago. True, there is pride and bragging rights to play for. But more importantly, this is about the future.
Rivalry comes as standard when Canada meets the U.S. in just about any sport. Women's soccer is no exception, and after the events at the London Olympics that hostility reached a whole new level.
Officially, Sunday's game at BMO Field in Toronto is a friendly international -- only without the friendliness. There is no love lost between the Canadians and the Americans, who like nothing better than putting their northern cousins in their place.
They are pretty good at it. The Canadian women's team hasn't beaten its American counterparts in more than a decade. The stats make ugly reading from this side of the border. In 52 meetings all time, Canada has won just three, tied five and lost a whopping 44. That 44th defeat was perhaps the cruellest and most painful of all.
You remember: Canada versus America for a place in the gold-medal game at the 2012 Olympics. Christine Sinclair scores a hat-trick to put Canada ahead on three separate occasions, but they are controversially forced into extra time by the U.S., and ultimately beaten 4-3 with virtually the last move of the match.
Hence, the "rematch" tag, which has helped the Canadian Soccer Association sell out the stadium in record time. That, in itself, is encouraging. The Canadian team can only benefit from playing in front of a partisan home crowd as it begins the serious preparation of hosting the next Women's World Cup in two years' time.
Canada needs to shift this monkey off its back. It hasn't beaten the U.S. since 2001 and a victory would garner much-needed media attention. More importantly, it needs to prove to itself and the world of women's soccer it has a chance to compete with the best.
Head coach John Herdman understands the importance of this encounter. The man, who ultimately led Canada to the Olympic podium, wants his players to make a statement and demonstrate that performance against the Americans was not a one off. He is likely to select a team largely comprising tried and trusted senior internationals.
The old guard will be out in force. Sinclair, Diana Matheson and Karina Le Blanc will form the spine of the team. Even Melissa Tancredi has been coaxed out of retirement for the occasion. Herdman will need every bit of experience he can find to try and keep the Americans at bay. They are too good, too fast and too clinical to be underestimated in any way.
But Herdman is facing a dilemma. He knows, sooner or later, he has to give youth its head. At some stage the younger, quicker, but less experienced players have to be exposed to exactly this kind of opponent in readiness for the Women's World Cup in 2015.
Herdman watched from close quarters as Canada self-destructed in Germany two years ago. At that tournament he was coaching New Zealand -- a team with lesser ability than Canada but which acquitted itself far more ably than Carolina Morace's demoralized and deflated troops.
Herdman has to blood the likes of Adriana Leon, Kadeisha Buchanan, Tiffany Cameron and others against the elite women's teams to assess their true potential. Only by doing so can he obtain a clear idea of what he has to work with in the build up to 2015.
Such a policy may yield disappointing results in the interim. At a time when the CSA wants its women's team to be as successful, and thus as marketable, as possible, Herdman is caught between a rock and a hard place.
From the big-picture perspective, the annual Four Nations Cup in China and the Cyprus Cup don't matter. The end game here is for Herdman to produce a well-balanced, competitive roster in two years' time so that Canada is not the first team to be eliminated from its own World Cup.
If and when Canada faces the U.S. at the FIFA Women's World Cup in 2015, then, and only then, can we talk about a rematch.
Nigel ReedNigel brings his extensive experience, passion and knowledge of the game of soccer to his role as play-by-play announcer and soccer analyst on CBC. Reed has spent more than 20 years covering the game, most notably a five-year stint from 1999 to 2004 where he was a host and producer for the English Premier League for BBC.
Since moving to Canada, Reed has become the voice of Major League Soccer on CBC. He was part of the CBC broadcast team for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games, covering weightlifting, taekwondo, and equestrian in addition to soccer. He was a member of the CBC 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa panel. During the tournament he proudly became a Canadian citizen.