Canada out to prove it can usurp U.S. women in CONCACAF

The names and faces have changed over the years, but for the US women’s national soccer team, results have rarely changed. That’s especially true of CONCACAF, the 41-nation confederation that American women have ruthlessly ruled for four decades.

On Monday night at the Estadio BBVA, a new-look USA team has a chance to top the agenda of yet another World Cup and Olympic qualifying tournament when they take on Canada in the final of the CONCACAF W Championship, with the only automatic place in the Region in 2024 Olympia in Paris at stake.

It’s the final everyone was expecting when the tournament started two weeks ago, and it’s a repeat of last summer’s Tokyo Olympics semi-finals, the last game the United States lost.

It’s also a final that Canada must win to prove that victory in Japan was no fluke.

“Of course, before this tournament, we knew that if both teams played the way they can, we would face them in the finals,” said Christine Sinclair, Canada’s captain and only player on the team to have made it to the United States twice beaten.

“Every time we play USA it’s a fight. And it’s the game both sides are looking forward to,” added midfielder Desiree Scott. “After Tokyo, there’s going to be a bit of fire and fighting there.”

And more than just a bit of history and tradition on the US side.

The Americans, world No. 1, have won 30 consecutive CONCACAF qualifiers, losing to Mexico in 2010, and all 30 came by shutout. Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan, the only women in the squad from that game in 2010, have seen their US opponents play 148-0 in CONCACAF since that defeat, taking their qualifying record to 59-1-1 overall .

But sixth-ranked Canada, one of only two CONCACAF countries to ever beat the USA, poses a different challenge. After beating the Americans last summer, Canada took the gold medal, becoming the only women’s team to have won on the podium at the last three Olympic Games.

US forward Carli Lloyd sits alone on the field after the team's loss to Canada at the Tokyo Olympics last August.

US forward Carli Lloyd sits alone on the field after the team’s loss to Canada at the Tokyo Olympics last August.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

That changed the way players think, Scott said.

“Our confidence for this game is at an all-time high,” she said. “Nothing is ever given, it is earned. And we’ll know that when we get to this final.

“But I think the squad’s mental space is confident.”

The United States, meanwhile, brought home a bronze medal from Japan and then began a reconstruction project. As a result, 10 women who played for the US team in this Olympic semifinal are not in Mexico, while 13 of the 23 who are here are attending a World Cup or Olympic qualifier for the first time.

It’s a level of inexperience that’s rare for a US women’s team.

“They’ve obviously changed a bit since the Olympics and gotten some new, young, fresh faces,” said Sinclair, whose goal in her side’s tournament opener marked the 190th of her international career. “I think both teams will probably be tactically smart. Obviously, the USA is not a team that is going to sit back and defend. And neither do we.”

Both sides qualified for next summer’s Women’s World Cup by easily finishing in the last four of the CONCACAF W Championship and scoring nine goals each in three shutout wins in the group stage before beating the USA against Costa in the semifinals Rica and Canada won 3-0 over Jamaica.

Still, CONCACAF has only one automatic spot at the next Olympics, and that goes to Monday’s winner. The loser has to fight his way to Paris in a playoff next year.

There’s more at stake in the final than just a trip to France.

Canada’s men finished first in their World Cup qualifiers last spring and if the women win it it would be the first time the country has won both CONCACAF tournaments in the same cycle. More importantly, it would be evidence that Canada posed a serious threat to the region’s longtime rulers.

“There’s a new mindset from this team in the United States,” said Canada coach Bev Priestman. “It has given the players a level of confidence but not a level of arrogance. We have evolved since Tokyo.

“The team now sees itself as one of the best teams in the world. We don’t want to be an individual team. We want to be a team that can consistently win on the world stage.” Canada out to prove it can usurp U.S. women in CONCACAF

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