Olympic Semi Preview: Canada v USA

By Catherine Paquette

Above: Canadian football icon Christine Sinclair. Photo: Canada Soccer.

The first of the two matches tomorrow will be an all-CONCACAF affair.  The confederation’s two strongest women’s programs will meet again for their second semi-final confrontation in the last three Olympics. 

The last one was a contentious one. Canada led 3-2 in the 72nd minute of the 2012 London Olympics semi-finals.  It had been a wonderful display from the Canadian captain Christine Sinclair who put her team ahead with a hat trick.  However, a controversial referee call several minutes later opened the way to an American equalizer.  The USA won the match in the 122nd minute after Alex Morgan headed the ball in for the 4-3 win.

The memory of 2012 is still vivid.  There are players from both squads who participated in that end-to-end 120 plus minute match.  However, the current teams are very different from those that played nine years ago.  Both squads are now almost completely made up of professional players, whose full time job is now football both internationally and at club level.  Both teams have very different composition of players, as would be expected with nearly a decade of time elapsed.  Entering the semi-final team they can also be described as two very difficult teams to beat, who have also been underperforming for most of this Tokyo Olympic tournament. 

While the US had a very positive buildup entering this women’s football tournament, their Olympic performances have seen the USA contending with a football world that has caught up to them.  Overall it is a team that is just not playing well in nearly every area of the pitch. They were outplayed by Sweden, won against New Zealand but with questions remaining, and finished their group stage with a stagnant display against Australia.  They did not show the dominance they had two years ago in the most recent match against the Netherlands, winning the game on penalties.

The Canadians for their part have had issues in the final third.  They have suffered from disjointed play in the final attacking phase, which has also lacked ruthlessness at times and shots on goal in general.  They enter this semi-final with seven accurate shots on goal for the entirety of the tournament. They drew two of their group stage matches, against Japan and Great Britain, late in the game after being in the lead.  The Chilean group stage game was a better performance but one where we would have expected more offensive Canadian threats.  The quarter-final match against Brazil continued this lack of final third lethality, with Canada also proceeding to the semi-final on penalties.

Above: Canada’s Jessie Fleming takes on Alex Morgan (right). Photo: Getty Images.

Overall both teams have strengths and weaknesses.  The Americans have a team packed with talent that can individually lift the squad during disjointed team performances.  Canada have a very strong defensive back grouping that can minimize the opponent’s chances and lethality.  However, as a whole unit neither team has fully clicked this tournament.

Both have had players who have stood out individually.  Goalkeeper Steph Labbé kept her team from losing in two matches for Canada.  The Canadian backline has been quite solid with Ashley Lawrence really standing out as an offensive threat throughout the tournament.  American keeper Alyssa Naeher’s two incredible saves in the quarter-finals put the Americans through to the semis.  

Both teams also have players that have either been inconsistent or quite silent at times but who can be game changers.  Canada’s Janine Beckie was the game changer in their second match, despite her missed penalty.  The US’s Christen Press also had a good second match against New Zealand.  Desiree Scott and Julie Ertz both performed well in the defensive midfield positions when they started, but without solid offensive performances in front of them their potential has been minimized.

Canada’s Jessie Fleming, Quinn and Nichelle Prince have had moments in the tournament but never together.  The same goes for the US’s Sam Mewis, Rose Lavelle and Lindsey Horan. Of course no conversation of either team can occur without mentioning Christine Sinclair, Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan or Carli Lloyd.  None have been able to be the game changers we know them to be so far in this tournament, but they are also not players you can ever count out.  

The reality of the upcoming game is you will have two talented teams, who have demonstrated disjointed play in this tournament and who are not living up to their potential.  If both show up for the upcoming match then we could see an incredible game like the 2012 London Olympics semi-final.  If only one team shows up and is finally able to click, then they will likely win.

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