Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By CAITLIN MURRAY
Friendly? Not quite.
The U.S. Women’s National Team will open 2014 by hosting Canada for an international friendly match on Friday, and expectations are about as high as they can be for an inconsequential match.
“I don’t think we go into this just like another game because of that rivalry that’s been ramped up,” U.S. coach Tom Sermanni told SBI by phone Thursday. “From the Canadian perspective that they’re underdogs, they are desperately trying to go out and knock us off our perch. It adds that little bit extra to the game.”
“The (American) players know that when they get out to play against Canada, it’s going to be more like a fierce cup tie, rather than a friendly.”
It may have the intensity of a cup match, but perhaps not necessarily due to a close score – the Canadians haven’t beaten the U.S. in nearly 13 years with the U.S. holding a 42-3-5 record against Canada.
That may be exactly why the rivalry between these two nations is so intense, though. The Canadians had their closest shot in the 2012 London Olympics, falling short in the final seconds of a dramatic 4-3 defeat that cost them a spot in the gold medal final. We haven’t had to wonder if the Canadians are still bothered by the match – they’ve openly talked of payback.
The last time these two sides met in June 2013, it was on Canadian soil and their fans were eager for revenge, with the match selling out almost immediately. The aftermath sparked off controversy that only served to deepen the rift (and helped the game earn the No. 1 spot on SBI’s top matches of 2013).
But John Herdman, Canada’s head coach, understands what his squad is up against and says his players have been training since June with an eye on finally besting the top-ranked U.S.
“They’re an absolute machine,” Herdman said of the USWNT on a conference call Thursday. “But at some point, someone’s going to trip them up and, every time we come into these games, we want to be the team that does that.”
The U.S. could be on track for its own sellout in Frisco, Texas. As of Thursday afternoon, the match had fewer than 1,000 tickets remaining with about 20,000 sold.
The Americans will have to go into Friday’s game without Alex Morgan, who scored twice in that memorable friendly in Canada last year. She continues to recover from a nagging ankle injury.
Asked about Morgan’s absence as a counterpart to lead striker Abby Wambach, Herdman didn’t sound relieved.
“That’s the beauty of the Americans – they take Morgan out and they bring in (Sydney) Leroux, who terrorized us in that Toronto game as well,” he said after a hearty laugh. “If they don’t bring Leroux in, they bring in (Christen) Press. All of them are scoring a goal every game or a goal every two games.”
The U.S. has some new options for Friday’s game, though. Amy Rodriguez, who spent 2013 away from the game while she had a child, is back on the roster, adding more possibilities for the forward pair. On the backline, Kelley O’Hara could return after being out since April when, up until then, she was a consistent starter at left back. And Sermanni even made room for another new call-up, UCLA midfielder Samantha Mewis.
Mewis, the younger sister of USWNT defender Kristie Mewis, has never trained with the full USWNT squad before, but Sermanni said he made his mind up after seeing her play at a December U-23 camp.
“I had seen her play in college and I thought she was decent, but it can be hard to judge in college games. So I went to the camp and I liked what I saw,” Sermanni said. “She impacted all the sessions I saw. She had the look of somebody who’s a utility player who can fit in here or there whenever they have to. I liked her mobility, I like her energy and she looked like she had an awareness about her.”
Carli Lloyd is suspended for the match after receiving a red card in the USWNT’s previous match back in November, which could give Mewis room for her first cap. If she plays, Mewis would be the 11th player to earn a first cap under Sermanni since he took over one year ago.
Friday’s match at FC Dallas’ Toyota Stadium will be aired live on Fox Sports 1 at 9pm ET.
What’s your prediction for tomorrow’s game? Will Canada break their streak against the U.S.? Do you see Samantha Mewis getting her first cap and where should Sermanni use her?
Share your thoughts below.