February 21, 2016
BORDER CLASH FOR THE TITLE
With Olympic berths already secured, USA, Canada vie for CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Championship
By Michael Lewis
|Hope Solo: "I love playing Canada. It always tends to be a bloodbath."
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
HOUSTON, Texas -- Just leave it to Hope Solo to stir the pot just a bit before the CONCACAF Women's Olympic Qualifying Championship between the United States and Canada Sunday.
"I love playing Canada. It always tends to be a bloodbath," the USA's standout goalkeeper said. "It's a physical game, I get to be involved a little bit more. So, I don't think it's necessarily the prettiest of games when we play Canada."
Maybe not the prettiest, but it certainly could become an intense confrontation at BBVA Compass Stadium.
"The word bloodbath is kind of rough," veteran Canada forward Melissa Tancredi said. "But its going to be a battle. Everyone wants to win the game. The girls on the pitch have one thing on their mind is just to beat the U.S. If you call bloodbath intensity, it's going to be an intense game."
Though both sides have qualified for the Rio Olympics, the encounter has the potential to be the best game of the competition, given the quality of the teams. Both sides are unbeaten in the competition at 4-0-0.
The world champions lost only three times to Canada in 55 games. Those meetings include the USA's 4-3 semifinal victory at the 2012 London Games. The Canadians' last win came at the 2001 Algarve Cup, a 2-0 result. The rivals’ last match was a 1-1 tie in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 2014.
"Yes, it has always weighed heavily in the U.S.'s favor, but we're a new team, different coach, new players,” USA head coach Jill Ellis said. “Every time we play Canada it's a fantastic match."
In an effort to upset his rivals, Canada head coach John Herdman indicated that he had some new strategy planned.
"We know some of the formula for the U.S.," he said. "I have been working on this for a while. It's We'll be trying something a little bit different. We'll keep them guessing and hopefully there'll be a little surprise."
Ellis has been impressed by this younger Canadian side.
"It's probably the most athletic team that I've ever seen with Canada and it's got some bright young players that are very good," she said.
So does the USA. For example, 17-year-old forward Mallory Pugh acquitted herself well in the 5-0 semifinal win over Trinidad & Tobago Friday.
Herdman indicated that he would deploy his full lineup if everyone was healthy.
"I expect in the morning people will wake up and they'll want to play," he said. "I expect a full roster to choose from."
Ellis kept her Starting XI close to the vest.
"I think you'll see their big guns out there," Herdman said. "It'll be the typical players who led them to World Cups. I think they'll go back to their tried and tested and probably give Canada the respect for a game like this."
Ellis said that she already was preparing for Rio as next month the USA will host the SheBelieves Cup that includes England, France and Germany.
"So trying to start to get into a rhythm of players and building relationships is important," she said. "In this tournament, this is going to be our most contested match. To get the players playing against a top quality opponent like Canada before these games is going to be beneficial."
Still, Solo felt the game was a bigger deal for the Canadians than for the Americans.
"I think they have more of a rivalry with us than we do with them because I think they always want to prove that their growing the game in their country — and they've come a long way," she said. "I think that they want to be the best and they want to beat the Americans. But I think we get frustrated because it tends to be such a physical game that it takes us out of the quality of soccer that we want to play, so it is definitely a rivalry for us in that respect."