Thursday night in Winnipeg the Women’s National Team hosts a friendly against the United States, an occasion that always hearkens back to one of the more passionate rivalries in Canadian sport.
The word “friendly” generally loses its meaning when the two women’s soccer powers of the Americas come together, be it in cup competition or in exhibition capacity as they will on Thursday.
A few lightning rods that make Canada-USA a stormy encounter:
Shortly after calling a controversial free kick on the Canadian goalkeeper for time wasting, Norwegian referee Christina Pedersen awarded the United States a penalty at the semifinals of the London 2012 Olympic Summer Games.
The ball hitting off Marie-Eve Nault can be seen as legitimate shout for a penalty. But minutes earlier a far more apparent handball call against the Americans was ignored. As for the initial free kick decision that resulted in the play that had Pedersen pointing to the spot, even the American coach Pia Sundhage had to admit she had “never seen that before.”
The free kick-to-handball-to-penalty levelled the encounter at 3-3 with 10 minutes left in regulation, the Americans matching Christine Sinclair’s hat-trick for Canada. The U.S. went on to win 4-3 after extra time, advancing to the Olympic gold medal game. Canadian players didn’t mince words following the match, openly questioning Pedersen’s judgement for the strange decisions.
Canada won a measure of redemption by taking the Olympic bronze medal.
The Vancouver-born forward plays for the U.S., choosing the stars and stripes over the maple leaf. This resulted in Leroux being roundly jeered at BMO Field during a June 2013 friendly in Toronto. Leroux scored the final goal in a 3-0 American victory, then made her allegiance clear as if embracing the role of a heel in a pro-wrestling program.
A larger controversy surrounding Leroux erupted the next day when she made a twitter allegation of racial abuse by Canadian fans, which was later clarified by her and U.S. Soccer to assert that it did not occur during the match in Toronto. The Canadian Soccer Association condemned any act of racism, but also noted that no complaint was ever filed by Leroux at any time playing against Canada.
Inaugural Youth Championship
Ten years before London 2012, another Canada-USA classic played out on Canadian soil at the youth level. The 2002 FIFA U-19 Women’s World Championship was the first youth tournament for women at the highest level of sanctioned international football.
The whole tournament became an emotional affair for Canadians as they got behind their team. The final was level after 90 minutes in front of nearly 50,000 at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium, but the U.S. edged Canada for gold 1-0 after sudden death extra time.
The tournament was a nation-wide introduction for many of Canada’s soon-to-be women’s soccer superstars, including Sinclair, who led the tournament with 10 goals and 15-year old future Olympian Kara Lang, whose career was shortened by a knee injury.
By 2006, the youth tournament mimicked the men’s side as an U-20 competition and it returns to Canada – where it all started – this summer, a year before the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup is also slated to hit Canadian cities.
Long Time Coming
Canada hasn’t beaten the United States since March 11, 2001 at the Algarve Cup in Portugal. That is a long time since beating a chief rival.
Charmaine Hooper (above) bagged a brace for Canada with a 17-year old Sinclair also striking in a 3-0 win over the United States in Lagos.
With 30,000 expected at Winnipeg on Thursday – one year ahead of the Women’s World Cup and two prior to a potential Olympic rematch in Rio – ending the 13-year winless streak against the Americans would give Canada a huge boost in confidence.
Canada-USA can be seen live from Winnipeg on Sportsnet 360 (8 p.m. ET).