TORONTO-If Canadian striker Christine Sinclair is looking for a reminder of how close her team came to making the gold medal match last summer at the London Olympics then she doesn’t need to look far. Her Portland Thorns FC teammate Alex Morgan headed in the winning goal that propelled the Americans past Canada in one of the most exciting games in women’s soccer history.
The 4-3 loss in extra time for the Canadians featured three goals by Sinclair and the U.S. squad seemingly gifted by a couple of questionable calls. A penalty kick off of an unintentional hand ball by Canada allowed Abby Wambach to tie the game 3-3 and forced an extra 30 minutes of playing time. Morgan’s goal came in the third minute of stoppage time and undoubtedly left a bitter taste for the nation that will host the FIFA Women’s World Cup in just two years time.
This Sunday a rematch will be held in Toronto that will display more than just the reigning gold and bronze medalists. For Canada it is an opportunity for the 7th ranked team in the world to prove that their level of play last summer wasn’t a fluke and that they can challenge their North American neighbors.
After a disappointing run in the 2011 World Cup which saw the Canadians fail to even muster a draw in their three games, the Summer Olympics put the Canadian national team back on track as one of the better teams in the world. Although a bronze medal at the time may have felt a bit empty considering they were minutes from advancing to the gold medal game, it did show how far the team had come in only one years time after their early dismal from the World Cup.
For the U.S. women’s national team this weekend will also represent more than just a string of summer international friendlies that are slated for the next month. With a 44-3-5 record against Canada, last summer was a rude awakening for the American players that came within minutes of being bounced into the consolation match. ‘Friendly’ may not be the best way to describe the rivalry that has formed between the two countries.
The dynamics for the Americans are also very different this year. With a new coach on the sideline who is looking to shake up a mostly veteran squad this team is also starting to look towards next year and the qualifying rounds that await them enroute to the World Cup. Coach Tom Sermanni continues to bring youth into the national team training camps as he is looking to bringing more of a balance between the veteran players and the up and coming younger players looking to find a spot on the team.
The U.S. will be without two popular players as midfielder Megan Rapinoe is still in France wrapping up her season with Lyon and goalkeeper Hope Solo will be given a few more weeks to rehabilitate an injured wrist. Solo did make her first start in nearly four months with her National Women’s Soccer League team the Seattle Reign last weekend and is training in Toronto with the national team this week.
Last year’s game at times became heated as the stakes were obviously very high. That isn’t expected at the same level this weekend and it should be noted that many of the players are now teammates like Sinclair and Morgan playing side by side in the new professional league. But those friendships will be put away as the teams lace up to represent their countries and while Sinclair and Morgan have led their Portland team into a tie for first place, this weekend it will simply be about which player can lead their country to a win.
Coverage of the game: Sunday June 2nd, ESPNews at 4:30pm ET