CanWNT looks to end lengthy winless run vs. U.S. in Concacaf final

The Canadian women’s team is riding high after securing qualification for this summer’s Tokyo Olympics.

If history is anything to go by, though, the Reds could come crashing down to earth Sunday when they meet the United States in the finale of the Concacaf Olympic qualifying tournament in Carson, California.

Canada has lost to the U.S. in the finals at the previous three Olympic qualifying competitions, and is winless in 35 consecutive games (with 29 losses) overall against the Americans.

Canada’s all-time record against the U.S. is 3-49-7, and it hasn’t beaten its southern neighbour since March 11, 2001. The last time they met, the U.S. earned a 2-0 win in the final of the Concacaf World Cup qualifying tournament in Texas in October 2018.

Both teams are already through to the Tokyo Olympics, with the U.S. claiming a berth with their semifinal win over Mexico, so nothing is on the line on Sunday.

But this isn’t a “nothing” game for Canada – it badly wants to beat the U.S. and bring an end to a winless run that has been going on for close to 19 years.

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“On the surface, this game is just a technicality. Both sides have qualified for the Olympics. But when you dig down deeper, Canada will always be looking to stop that lengthy winless streak against the Americans. For the veterans of this group, it’s almost a weight on their shoulders. Players such as (Christine) Sinclair, (Desiree) Scott and (Sophie) Schmidt want to get that win,” contributor Sandra Prusina said.

Canada cruised to first place in its pool in the group stage, winning all three games by a combined scored of 22-0 against Saint Kitts and Nevis, Jamaica and Mexico. The Reds followed that up with a 1-0 win over Costa Rica in the semifinals on Friday night to stamp their passport for Tokyo.

Ranked eighth in the world, Canada easily brushed aside Saint Kitts (No. 127) and Jamaica (No. 51), before having a bit harder of a time of it versus Mexico (No. 26) and Costa Rica (No. 37).

But the U.S. will a whole other matter for the Canadians to contend with in California. The U.S. are the reigning World Cup champions and ranked No. 1 in the world at the moment. Like Canada, they’ve yet to lose at this Concacaf competition (four wins from four games) and have yet to concede (they’ve outscored the opposition 22-0).

Sunday will mark the fifth game for both sides in less than two weeks. Canadian coach Kenneth Heiner-Møller has rotated his squad throughout the Olympic qualifiers, including giving Sinclair a rare day off in the group stage versus Jamaica. His American counterpart Vlatko Andonovski has also gone to his bench.

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Expect both coaches to experiment with their player selections in the final.

“I’m interested to see the lineups for Sunday’s game. Both teams have experimented throughout the tournament with different formations and starting 11s that fans aren’t used to,” Prusina said.

“This would be an ideal opportunity to give Canada’s depth players a chance to see minutes against the world’s best team. With nothing to lose, why not? Give (Julia) Grosso, (Jayde) Riviere and (Jordyn) Huitema a chance to see what it takes to keep up with the World Cup champs. After all, they are the future of this Canadian team.”

If Canada is to end its winless streak on Sunday, it will have to find a way to deal with the American players’ ability to rapidly change positions in a fluid formation, according to former national team member Carmelina Moscato.

“The U.S. are the masters of positional rotations, with players playing across multiple positions, except their centre backs. The higher they progress up the pitch, the more numbers and rotations Canada will see, making it at times virtually impossible to track. I have not yet seen another team with that level of fluidity,” Moscato offered.

NOTES: Canada will make its fourth consecutive appearance at the Olympics when it travels to Tokyo, having previously won bronze medals in 2012 in London and 2016 in Rio. The Reds reached the quarter-finals of the 2008 Games in Beijing after failing to qualify of the Athens Olympics in 2004…