Canadian women to take on U.S. in Olympic soccer
CBC analyst questions Canada's style of play at elite level
If there's ever a time for the Canadian women's soccer team to conquer the United States, it's now.
The two teams have been archrivals for years, meeting for championship battles all over the world with the U.S. collecting victories most of the time.
In 43 meetings between the two countries, Canada has managed just three wins and four draws to go along with 36 losses.
For Canada, no triumph would be as sweet as one over the top-ranked Americans.
Canada has a chance to turn the tables when it counts the most. The rivals will meet in the quarter-final of the Beijing Olympics on Friday at 6 a.m. ET (CBC, CBCSports.ca). With everything on the line, the loser will be sent packing, their 2008 Olympic dream over.
While the U.S. has almost always ended up on top, Canada has come close, especially in their two most recent confrontations.
At the 2008 Peace Queen Cup in late June, the Americans defeated their cross-border rivals on a free kick in injury time, and in April, at the CONCACAF Olympic qualification tournament in Mexico, the U.S. needed penalty kicks to take the crown.
Those close calls have made an impression in the mind of star striker Christine Sinclair. During a pre-Olympic interview with CBCSports.ca, the Canadian team captain closed her eyes, tilted her head backward, and said, "God, it would be nice to beat the U.S."
CBC analyst Jason DeVos isn't so sure that can happen — and not because the Canadian women aren't capable.
During Canada's match against Sweden, their third match of group E preliminary play, Sinclair and her teammates were overpowered and lost 2-1. Their inability to keep up with the Swedes prompted DeVos to be highly critical of Canada's kick-and-run style of play, a style DeVos says has been enforced by head coach Even Pellerud.
DeVos, a former professional defender and member of the Canadian men's team, said at this elite level, Canada's outdated method can't compete with the cream of the crop.
"If you play against teams that are maybe tactically naive, who are in their infancy … that will work for a period of time," he said. "But against the best in the world — the likes of Sweden, the United States, Norway, Germany and Brazil — that's not going to work."
He maintains that Canada's direct, long-ball game must be rehashed into one that's more possession-focused.
DeVos noted the Canadians could adapt to a different type of game, but that Pellerud refuses to change the squad's approach.
It's a system that will likely fall flat against the U.S. on Friday, DeVos suggested, even with the absence of injured American star Abby Wambach. It might be one controllable factor that could end Canada's Olympic soccer dream.
Before heading to China, Sinclair spoke to the different approaches employed by Canada and the U.S.
"They're more possession-oriented. They're more willing to pass the ball around and make us chase," she said. "We're more focused on getting the ball forward."
"There's such a huge rivalry between us. We're always so close, but they always manage to win it… Most teams who play the U.S.A. say we can beat them, but again, they keep winning," she added.
In their last match against the U.S. in the 2008 Peace Queen Cup final in South Korea, when the U.S. won in the 90th minute, goalie Erin McLeod said even U.S. players thought their time was up.
"I had a few friends on the U.S. team say, 'You almost had us.' We really could have won the game," she said.
Canada advanced through the qualifying round of the Beijing tournament with a 1-1-1 record.
They defeated Argentina 2-1 in their opening match, tied China 1-1, and lost to Sweden 2-1.
It was only thanks to Germany's triumph over North Korea in group F that pushed Canada through to the quarter-final as one of the top third-place teams.
Soccer fans could argue Canada's victory over Argentina was deserved, and their draw with China even more deserving — perhaps even unjust since Canada controlled the game. Many would agree that against Sweden, Canada didn't look good.
Now, the Canadians have a chance to elevate their game and prove their style can beat their long-time rivals on the Olympic stage.