Canada set for Gold Cup showdown with U.S.
Opening match in Detroit a tough test
Canada has waited a long time for the opportunity to exact a bit of revenge on the United Sates in men's soccer.
The last time the two sides faced off, at the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup, the Americans squeaked out a 2-1 win in the tournament semifinals in a memorable match. The Canadians saw an injury-time goal by Atiba Hutchinson controversially ruled out on an offside call.
Four years removed from that evening in Chicago, Canada will get another crack at the U.S. — on Tuesday night in Detroit in the opening Gold Cup match for both teams.
Emotions run high for Canadian players whenever they play the Americans, especially after what happened last time and with a record of only fleeting success against the U.S. According to the Canadian Soccer Association website, Canada has not defeated the U.S. since 1990.
But Canadian coach Stephen Hart warned that his players have to keep their emotions in check and remember they have two tough first-round matches after the showdown with the Americans.
"The United States game is one of three," Hart said. "It's important to get out of the group stage and get into the knockout stage in a competition. If we want to play at the highest level consistently we have to learn to manage [our emotions] in every game that we play. That's our task [as coaches] but it's also the players' task. They have to be aware of that."
After Tuesday's game, Canada plays Guadeloupe in Tampa Bay (June 11) and Panama in Kansas City (June 14). The final of the 12-team tournament is scheduled for June 25 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
The top two teams in each of the three round-robin groups, plus the two best third-place teams overall, advance to the quarter-finals, so a point against the U.S. would make Canada's passage through to the knockout stage a lot easier.
Hart maintains that he isn't using the memory of the 2007 match to motivate his players ahead of Tuesday's encounter.
"No, that's in the past. We don't dwell in that too much," Hart said. "You do tell the players that refereeing is something that is not in their control and you try to get them to discipline their minds around that. You do remind them of various incidents and things that have happened.
"But really and truly, that had nothing to do with the fact it was against the United States, it's a referee's decision, and we're getting on with this game as a brand new game and a brand new tournament."
Hutchinson echoed the "take it one game at a time" sentiment espoused by Hart but isn't hiding the fact that he's looking forward to the U.S. match.
"That's a very important game for us," he said. "We always enjoy playing against the States. We want to do the best we can, we want to go out and get a win. It's going to be important to focus on that game and then from there take on our opponents as they come."
Canada and the U.S. enjoyed different results in their final Gold Cup tune-up games.
The Canadians came from behind to a earn a 2-2 draw against Ecuador in Toronto last week, while the Americans were hammed 4-0 by World Cup champions Spain on the weekend in Boston.
But it would be foolish to read too much into these results. The U.S. will be buoyed by the fact that they have never lost a group stage game in Gold Cup play and the return of midfielder Landon Donovan, who sat out the Spain match because of illness.
What's more, Canada will be without central defender Dejan Jakovic. The DC United star was ruled out of the CONCACAF competition after suffering a hamstring injury in the first half of the Ecuador match.
Jakovic's absence is a big blow for a Canadian team thin on quality and depth in defence.
The 25-year-old defender, who was born in Croatia, has become an increasingly important player for Canada ever since he made his national team debut in an international friendly against Martinique in 2008. Since then, Jakovic has earned 11 caps, including three at the 2009 Gold Cup, where Canada reached the quarter-finals.
Burnley defender David Edgar has replaced Jakovic on Canada's 23-man squad. Midfielder Issey Nakajima-Farran and goalkeeper Haidar Al-Shaibani are also on the roster, but like Edgar they will not join the team unless there is an injury to another player.
Hart told reporters Monday he is dealing with other injury problems ahead of the U.S. match, but declined to say who is ailing.
"We have a couple of injury concerns," admitted hart. "We're just waiting on some fitness tests which we'll conduct later today and decisions will be made."