photo by Howard C. Smith/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
DETROIT, Mich. – It may not be United States-Mexico, but the U.S. men's national team's rivalry with Canada still holds significant value to the two teams. Both sides said as much on the eve of their first match in four years, a Gold Cup opener that will likely determine the winner of Group C and shape the rest of the tournament.
The United States and Canada will do battle (8 p.m., Fox Soccer Channel) at Ford Field tonight, marking the first time they have met since a controversial 2-1 United States victory in the semifinals of the Gold Cup in 2007.
Getting revenge for that game is not on the mind of the Canadian players, though, or at least they won't admit as much.
"It's enough to finally just put it aside and move on. That's how it is in life," said Julian De Guzman. "There's some things you've just got to put aside and carry on and wish for another opportunity, and here it is: the opportunity for us to kind of prove to ourselves that we belong in the top with the best of CONCACAF. This will be a good test for us."
Canada is coming off some mixed results in recent months, but they have been enough to lift team spirit. Combine that with the fact that the game is being played near the border of USA and Canada, and the United States has a tricky opening game on tap.
Not that the Americans aren't already aware of that, especially not the veterans who are familiar with and have played against Canada before.
"They've got some guys in the midfield who can take the ball, some creative players," said Tim Howard after Monday's training session. "Physically they're built in a very similar mold to us. We can get up and down the field, and battle, fight, scrap, so that's made us successful and that's what's going to make it an interesting game."
Perhaps just as intriguing will be how U.S. head coach Bob Bradley approaches the game on the heels of a 4-0 shellacking to Spain in a friendly last Saturday. Several positions are still up for grabs in terms of who will start, including at forward, in central midfield and at centerback.
What is known is that several regulars who began the game against Spain on the bench will return to the starting lineup. Landon Donovan is also set for a start after recovering from an illness that kept him out of the friendly in Foxborough, making the match against Canada even more enticing.
"I think it's a big deal not only to the team, but to the country," said Dwayne De Rosario. "This is always a healthy rivalry. In any sport, U.S. against Canada is always a little bit of an edge and it won't be any different (on Tuesday)."
The Americans have seen Canada's most recent friendly, a 2-2 draw with Ecuador, and they know the Canucks have quality in their attack. From De Rosario to Atiba Hutchinson, Canada boasts players capable of unlocking the U.S. defense, one that has posted just two cleansheets since last summer's World Cup.
"I'm very pleased to say we're at a good point right now," said De Rosario. "Obviously everything is yet to be seen. It's easier said than done, so we just have to put forth the work. So far we've been playing very well, getting some good results, getting some wins here and there and some draws and hopefully we can pull a big one out."
Containing that quality will be part of the challenge for captain Carlos Bocanegra, Steve Cherundolo and the rest of the American defense if they want to remain undefeated in Gold Cup group play and if they want to avoid their first loss against Canada since 1985. But it's a challenge that they say they're up for.
"Some positive energy, some motivation," said Bocanegra of what the Americans have to bring into the game. "First game of any tournament is a big one for us. The biggest thing for us is to have the energy and get off on the right foot."
Opening the Gold Cup with a good result against its northern rival is expected of the Americans, but with an improving Canadian team playing so close to home that's not going to be easy.
Do you see the United States defeating Canada? Who on Canada's team worries you? Where do you think the United States has an advantage/disadvantage?
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