Canada had the better of the U.S. en route to winning Olympic gold in Tokyo last summer. Now the Canadian women look to build on that success by taking the CONCACAF title away from the top-ranked Americans.
The North American rivals blazed an identical trail in reaching Monday's CONCACAF W Championship final, each winning four games while outscoring the opposition 12-0. The U.S. and sixth-ranked Canadians dispatched No. 37 Costa Rica and No. 51 Jamaica by identical 3-0 scores in semifinal play Thursday.
Canada and the U.S. rank 1-2 in shots (Canada 59, U.S. 54), assists (Canada 11, U.S. seven) and corners kicks (Canada 39, U.S. 29) at the eight-team tournament. The Americans lead in passes with 1,652, compared to No. 2 Canada's 1,573 (next best was Mexico at 864).
Nine different Americans have scored at the tournament, compared to eight for Canada.
It's the two teams' first meeting since Aug. 2, 2021, when Canada won 1-0 on a Jessie Fleming penalty in the Tokyo Olympic semifinal. Canada went on to claim gold in a penalty shootout win over Sweden while the Americans settled for bronze after beating Australia.
"I definitely think our confidence going into this match is at an all-time high," Canadian midfielder Desiree Scott said Sunday. "You know you obviously have that confidence coming from the Toyko Olympics.
"Obviously nothing is ever given, it's earned. And we know that coming into this final. But I think the mental space of the squad is a confident one and we're really pumped for this final."
U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski said he remembers the Olympic loss, as he does all setbacks to use them as a "learning opportunity going forward." But he said the semifinal in Kashima has not been a topic for conversations among his players.
"Probably one of the reasons why is if you look at the group of players that is here, I don't know if there's more than four or five players that were on the field in that game that are here," he said.
In fact only four American players who started against Canada at the Olympics were in the starting lineup for the U.S. semifinal at the CONCACAF tournament — Lindsey Horan, Rose Lavelle, Alex Morgan and Becky Sauerbrunn, who was captain at the Olympics
In contrast, Canada's starting 11 for the CONCACAF W semifinal featured nine starters from that Olympic semifinal. A 10th, fullback Allysha Chapman, came off the bench and scored. The 11th starter in Japan, goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe, has since retired.
Canada coach Bev Priestman says the Olympic triumph has left its mark on her players
"I think the team now view themselves as one of the best teams in the world," she said. "You could argue did they really think that historically? I don't know.
"But I think the story has to keep being told. That's the critical thing. We don't want to be a one-off team. We want to be a team that can consistently win on the world stage."
The CONCACAF champion qualifies for both the 2024 Paris Olympics and the inaugural CONCACAF W Gold Cup, also scheduled for 2024. The runner-up and third-place team will meet in a CONCACAF Olympic play-in series, scheduled for September 2023, with the winner booking their ticket to Paris Olympics and Gold Cup.
Costa Rica and Jamaica meet to decide third place in an earlier match Monday at Estadio BBVA in Monterrey,
All four CONCACAF W semifinalists have already booked their ticket to the 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand by virtue of making the tournament final four. No. 60 Haiti and No. 57 Panama, who placed third in their respective groups, move on to a World Cup intercontinental playoff.
The Americans come into the final on a 10-game winning streak, outscoring the opposition 45-1, and are unbeaten in 17 games (14-0-3) since the Olympics. The Canadian women are unbeaten in their last seven outings (5-0-2) and are 8-2-4 since Tokyo.
The U.S. women's record in CONCACAF remains almost flawless. They have won all five Olympic qualifying tournaments in which they have participated and eight of nine World Cup qualifying tournaments. The lone blemish was 2010 when the Americans lost to Mexico in the semifinal round of World Cup qualifying.
The Americans go into Monday's final with a 59-1-1 record in World Cup and Olympic qualifying matches. The draw came against Canada in the final of the 2008 Olympic Qualifying Tournament although the U.S. prevailed on penalty kicks to win the tournament.
Canada and the U.S. have met in five of the previous 10 CONCACAF women's finals, with the U.S. winning all five.
The Canadian women won the CONCACAF tournament in 1998 (when the U.S. did not take part as host of the 1999 Women's World Cup) and 2010, beating Mexico in the final both times. The Americans have won the other eight editions, including the last two.
The U.S. goes into Monday's final with a 51-4-7 record against Canada and is 8-0-1 in World Cup and Olympic qualifying, with every meeting coming in the final of the tournament.
The U.S. won Group A by defeating Haiti 3-0, Jamaica 5-0 and No. 26 Mexico 1-0. Canada finished atop Group B after blanking No. 76 Trinidad 6-0, Panama 1-0 and Costa Rica 2-0.
Fleming and teammate Julia Grosso are tied with Jamaica's Bunny Show for the tournament scoring lead with three goals apiece. Morgan, Kristie Mewis and Sophia Smith lead the U.S. with two apiece.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 17, 2022
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press