USWNT, Canada meet for trophy – and pride

USWNT celebrates

by TOM SLATER

With both Canada and the United States already clinching their spots in the Rio Olympic Games this summer, the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament championship is being played simply for the trophy – and regional pride.

And the latter might be a bigger incentive than the former.

Geography and history play into the rivalry. And since both national teams supply players to the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), there’s sure to be some personal boasting at stake.

Here’s everything you need to know about the match, which will be televised at 5 p.m. (EST) today on NBC Sports Live.

The goal-scorers and their milestones: Canada’s Christine Sinclair is the player to watch for her side. She scored twice against Costa Rica and has 161 goals on her career, just 23 short of recently retired US star Abby Wambach. Sinclair’s second goal against Costa Rica was a thing of beauty. About 15 yards out, Sinclair juggled the ball over her shoulder with her right foot and volleyed the ball into the net.

The Americans have their own superstar — Carli Lloyd. She has scored 12 times in Olympic qualifying matches and is only two goals behind Wambach, who holds that record too. Of course, the United States have had two other players score hat tricks in the qualifying round in Alex Morgan and Crystal Dunn.

The kids: Each team has a teenage phenom. The Americans have Mallory Pugh, the 17-year-old midfielder who will enter UCLA next year. She has come on strong in 2016, seeing more time in each match during the tournament. Her ability to break down defenses with the dribble and accelerate into space has helped change the way the United States approaches the opposition.

Canada counters with Deanne Rose, a 16-year-old striker. She started the semi-final win in a 4-3-3 lineup along Sinclair and veteran Diana Matheson. She scored the eventual game-winner against Costa Rica and has three goals in the tournament.

The playmakers: Lindsey Horan and Morgan Brian have been playing well in the midfield for the United States. Both have been able to serve long or work combinations when the situation has called for it. The 21-year-old Horan has made a smooth transition to midfield from her natural striker spot. Brian benefited from extensive play in last summer’s World Cup.

For Canada, Josee Belanger has been the mainstay in midfield. She has three assists for Canada.

History: The two national teams are always at the top of the CONCACAF table, be it the Olympics or World Cup.

The United States has not lost a CONCACAF Qualifying match ever with a 17-0-1 record — but that one tie was 1-1 draw with Canada in the 2008 qualifying championship game. That’s also the last time the US has given up a goal in qualifying competition.

They’ve met in some close games since then, including the instant classic in the semi-final match of the 2012 London Olympics. Canada had the lead three different times before the United States pulled out the match 4-3 in extra time. The game was marred by a controversial indirect free kick after the Canadian goalkeeper was called for holding the ball too long. The free kick led to the game-tying goal and left a bad taste with Canadian players and fans.

Overall, the United States holds a commanding 46-3-7 edge against their neighbors. The last victory by Canada came 15 years ago in the Algarve Cup.

The two teams met last in 2014 where the match ended in a tie.

The United States is ranked 1st in the world. Canada is ranked 11th.