United States Earns Rematch Getting by Canada in a Classic


The all North American semifinal at Old Trafford was lopsided on paper.  The U.S. team had not lost to Canada in over a decade.  Still Canada had a dynamic duo in Christine Sinclair and Melissa Tancredi and a confidence higher than in years past.  The teams knew they would play Japan at Wembley Stadium for the gold medal, but there seemed to be more intensity at kick off then in the past.  The Canadian coach John Herdman had said the U.S. used controversial tactics on set pieces.  Other teams commented on goal celebrations.  The U.S. is the favorite and they have had the target.  This would be the biggest test.

The Canadian team has been physical and there was no change at the start as Tancredi pulled down Lauren Cheney in the first minute.  The U.S. would get two free kicks in two minutes and add a long throw that resulted in a few searching crosses just a minute later.  Megan Rapinoe was set on getting the ball into the area with three consecutive crosses and then a through ball to Alex Morgan in the eighth minute.  Despite early possession, the U.S. did not have a great chance and bodies were hitting the pitch frequently.

Sophie Schmidt and Tancredi were on their game early for Canada.  Schmidt was solid defensively drawing whistles and getting a toe out to stop threatening runs.  Tancredi is a physical presence but shines with skill when needed.  However, ten minutes into the match there was no presence in the offensive zone for Canada until Tancredi picked out a great pass for Sinclair that earned the teams first corner.

In the 20th minute Canada would get a wonderful opportunity on a free kick along the end line.  Christie Rampone was called for a foul on Tancredi after she had won the ball.  The two had their arms hooked in what seemed to be fair, physical play.  The free kick would filter through the box without a major threat.  Early on it seemed that the U.S. back line had a game plan until Sinclair showed her poise.

Tancredi made herself available in the seam for a beautiful chip pass from Marie-Eve Nault.  She quickly turned and found Sinclair coming on with perfect timing.  As Kelly O’Hara made a run she calming stepped aside and buried it behind Hope Solo.  It would be Sinclair’s fourth goal against Solo, more than any other player.  Sinclair was savvy and showed why she can score with ease.

At the 26th minute the U.S. team found themselves down 1-0 and Solo had to make another save to keep the deficit there.  They were without movement and not threatening as the crowd at Old Trafford did the wave.  They seemed shocked and their team defense woes had once again reared its head. Not surprisingly, Canada began to send pass after pass deep into the U.S. zone.

The goal opened up space on the pitch.  More long balls found grass hoping for an offensive charge.  Tobin Heath had a different idea of how to create an opportunity.  On several occasions she held the ball seemingly on a string around defenders only to have a shot blocked or a pass go for naught.  At halftime the United States was down 1-0 with only a few wide shots to show for their effort.

Canada, in their first semifinal, would take the kick in the second half with no substitutes for either club.  The U.S. would come out pressing.  A free kick along the goal line, a turnover forced by Heath, a volley sent over the bar by Wambach were among the early chances.  Canada was increasing their physicality, especially on set pieces.  Wambach was getting punished but still efforting.

A corner in the 54th minute would find its way into the net and credited to Rapinoe.  She curled it toward the near post and Sinclair would tentatively decide to move out of the way.  Three players at the bar would see it curl between legs and into the net.  Rachel Buehler would occupy the defender and the Canadian keeper Erin McLeod was already in the net as the ball crossed.

The drama was building.  Each side owned some possession.  Rapinoe played with more confidence and Jonelle Foligno for Canada seemed to be playing with tactical urgency.  Desiree Scott was awarded the first yellow of the match against Wambach in a foul that had to be given.  Kaylyn Kyle would replace Foligno in the 67th minute and Foligno showed the wear of the match as she came off.

Right after the substitute Canada would take the lead again with a second goal from Sinclair, again from Tancredi.  An innocent pass would end as perfect placement for Tancredi who found Sinclair for a goal that tied her with Wambach in international goals.  Twenty-two minutes remained and the U.S. was down.  Pia Sundhage had to be considering the 3-4-3 formation.

Then everything you could imagine happened.  Rapinoe answered right back.  Kelly O’Hara found her with a wonderful pass and Rapinoe wired it from 20 yards.  The tie did not last long as Sinclair would answer with her third goal on a header back across goal in the box off a corner.  Amy LePeilbet sneaked off the far post just enough to have the ball get by her.  Players from the University of Portland had scored all five goals with four of them coming in the first 19 minutes of the second half.

In the 76th minute Sydney Leroux would enter for LePeilbet and the 3-4-3 was in force.  It was becoming a game that could not have been scripted at all.  An indirect free kick was given when McLeod took too long on a goal kick.  A six second call was not something to expect but this was madness.  Rapinoe would eventually send one goal-ward that hit an unsuspecting defender, or two, in the arm for a penalty kick.  Tancredi would make sure to talk to Wambach after being called for the handball while Wambach stood over the ball.  Calmly Wambach finished with beautiful placement in the lower corner.  It was tied, again, and so were Sinclair and Wambach.

Canada missed an opportunity with Sinclair running free and Kyle deciding on a shot instead.  Wambach would miss a chip wide off a great play from Morgan.  Both teams were fighting, on edge, full of emotion.   Schmidt had a chance one on one with Solo and the keeper was up to the task. The U.S. was not playing for the tie with three minutes of stoppage time.  Leroux would win a corner just before the end of stoppage time but send the following header above the bar.  This would go to extra time.

The 500th competitive match for the United States was making a case for most compelling.  The match was high quality with clinical finishing and the seconds were becoming precious.  It felt as though the clinching goal could come at any time.  The U.S. was still on the attack, but vulnerable to the counter attack.

Tancredi tried a bicycle kick that was easily saved.  Leroux sprawled through the box to send one wide.  Wambach headed one that was saved by McLeod.  Sundhage would use her second substitute in the 101st minute bringing on Heather O’Reilly for Cheney then switching side with Rapinoe.   After a few minutes of back and forth, Canada finally had a great chance.

O’Hara was called for a foul just outside the box but the drive across goal avoided everyone.  O’Hara had a mixed game with some good choices to join the attack but seemed to be over-matched by the power of Tancredi.   A bad timing play by O’Hara would lead to the fourth corner for Canada.  A slight bit of momentum had swung toward Canada as the first session of stoppage time ended.

Wambach took over the huddle between periods ready to leave every bit of her “human beingness” on the field.  Despite the emotion, Canada would show great sportsmanship in sending the ball out when Buehler went down hard after a clearance of a long ball.  Bodies were at their limit with just ten minutes left.  The final substitution would be used by Sundhage when Becky Sauerbrunn came in for Buehler.

These players were doing everything they can to get to balls.  Exhaustion led to more collisions.  Schmidt spent some time off the pitch.  Scott had her leg hyper extended on a heavy challenge from O’Reilly.  Morgan got up limping.   Tancredi had to walk off being stepped on.

Morgan found a third or fourth gear and created challenges late for the United States.   The best came from her ability to create finding Wambach that headed it off the bar in the 118th minute.  Morgan would have the final say deciding to head to the box rather than setting up others.  She had not scored in 391 minutes until her clinching header.  She was squarely in the middle of the box after the U.S. had weathered late chances from Canada and placed the ball in the net in the 123rd minute, her first goal since the opening match against France.

After being down three times in the second half and enduring the physical play through extra time a composed O’Reilly would give the U.S. a chance.  Morgan floated the header over McLeod.  The final whistle blew and it was an immediate classic.  This is why so many across the world love the game of football.  Wambach was in tears as soon as the ball crossed the goal.  There are so many stories in just a few seconds.  So many players shined on a major stage: Sinclair, Rapinoe, Schmidt, Wambach.  There will be talk of this match for years.  For the U.S. there is still unfinished business.  For Canada, they have even more to build on playing an absolutely wonderful match.

Yet, this was just a semifinal.  Now the U.S. has a rematch with Japan to avenge the loss in the World Cup Final.  Can they come out composed after such a draining, classic match?  Onto Wembley Stadium…