The last time these two teams met it quickly turned into one of the greatest women's soccer games ever played as Canada gave everything they could before falling 4-3 in extra time. Along the way we saw an absolutely heroic performance from Christine Sinclair, the rare enforcement of the 6-second rule, and a terrible penalty call from referee Christina Pedersen. In the end it was Alex Morgan who rose up to finish off the Canadians fight in the 123rd minute of play with what would likely have been the final chance of the game. It was heartbreak for the Canadian players and even though winning the bronze certainly softened the blow of that loss it still resounds with the Canadian players.
That game was the better part of a year ago already but it will be fresh in the minds of almost everyone at BMO Field comes Sunday afternoon. The stage for the rematch is much smaller than it was last summer when the teams met in the Olympic semifinals at Old Trafford but a sold-out BMO Field should lift even a "meaningless" friendly up to the high intensity that we expect whenever Canada and the United States meet in sports.
The issue heading into the match is that Canada are the underdog and they clearly know it. At the Olympics Canada needed a herculean effort from Sinclair to push the United States to the brink but counting on that this time around would be foolish. The playing field should be a bit more even this time around though as the ref will hopefully do a much better job than Pedersen did that evening in Manchester.
Canada will be hoping that all the work they have done these past six months is about to pay off. They have taken steps back on the field and it has caused them to struggle against teams they normally fare better against but it is all in the name of long-term progress and being in position to compete for the 2015 World Cup on home soil. This game is still about the future but will likely see John Herdman put his long term plans to the side to help take care of a different agenda.
This will be the team's first match on home soil since the Olympics and fans around the country will be watching. They are aware of the pressure on them to put on a good showing and ensure that the momentum continues to build towards 2015 when not only the country will be watching but also the world.
So the Canadian ladies head into the game with the pressure of a watching country and the knowledge that they are still clear underdogs in this match-up. The Americans are deservedly the top ranked team in the World and have been for quite some time. The all-time record between the two nations stands at 3W-5D-44L for Canada with the last win coming all the way back at the Algarve Cup in 2001. The picture is even worse on home soil where Canada are 0W-1D-5L in the six meetings. The last of those six meetings came in Vancouver during CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying when the Americans steamrolled Canada 4-0 to take back the top prize in the region.
Add in the fact that both teams have called in rosters that feature basically their entire first choice lineup and Canada will be up against it. The Americans may be missing Hope Solo and Megan Rapinoe but they have more than enough depth to make up for their absences. Along with their regular faces head coach Tom Sermanni has brought in some younger faces since taking over from the always enthusiastic Swede Pia Sundhage. Some of those faces might get minutes against Canada but chances are Sermanni will go with a strong XI to start the match knowing what this game means to fans on both sides of the border.
So if the game is first choice against first choice as we all expect it will be then you have to call the Americans the clear favourites. History, form, skill, basically every factor is on their side except for one. The one thing Canada will have in their corner is just over 20,000 fans the vast majority of which will be cheering on the home side. That crowd should lead to the kind of atmosphere that BMO Field has not seen in quite some time and that might just be the equalizer that Canada needs.
The problem is that Canada is not really used to playing in front of boisterous home support and while it could provide them with a needed boost it could also increase the pressure on the players to the point where they are not up to dealing with it. That is why this game is so important for Canada as it gives the players their first taste of what 2015 is going to be like and what it takes to do well in front of large crowds of home fans. A crowd over 20,000 is not all that common in Women's international soccer so it will take some getting used to for the Canadians but hopefully it can fuel them to success on Sunday.
If the crowd can help level the playing field then as we saw at the Olympics anything can happen when these two teams meet. There are players on each side with the individual talent to turn the game in an instant as both teams boast one of the top scorers to ever grace the women's game. Both Christine Sinclair and Abby Wambach have been at the top of the women's game for over a decade and have impressive goal tallies to show for it but they are not the only game changers that will be on the field come Sunday afternoon.
The Americans also have arguably the brightest young player in the game in Alex Morgan who seems to score goals for fun every time she steps on the playing field. She could well end up with scoring numbers similar to those of Wambach and Sinclair before she is done. Canada may be lacking a secondary goal scorer of the likes Morgan but with Melissa Tancredi back in the squad they do have some more punch in the attack once again.
The quality in front of goal is there for both teams but this is a match that will likely be won in the middle of the park. If Canada are serious about winning this match than the trio of Sophie Schmidt, Diana Matheson, and Desiree Scott are going to have to be the driving force behind that success. The good news is that all three have been turning heads with their play early in the NWSL season and are coming into the game on good form. Scott has been one of the most impressive players in the league turning a lot of heads with her defensive performances including a standout performance against the Portland Thorns where she played a big part in keeping Morgan and Sinclair quiet.
If Scott is able to protect that back four and force the Americans to play on the wings that should help mitigate the threats of Morgan and Wambach while taking the pressure off Canada's centre backs. That will leave Matheson and Schmidt with more freedom to try and get Canada pushing forward through the middle when they do have the ball. It won't be easy against the Americans but if you add in Sinclair dropping deep to pick up the ball when needed there is enough talent there to create the chances Canada will need.
The back four will once again be the big question mark for Canada as Herdman has yet to establish a clear first choice unit in defense. Carmelina Moscato and Lauren Sesselman are likely to be starters in the game once again with Emily Zurrer or Rhian Wilkinson likely to join them. The question is who will Herdman go to in the middle of the defense along with Moscato. It is clear that Moscata does not have the speed to be able to deal with Morgan but the only option on the roster who could provide that is Kadeisha Buchanan but she is still inexperienced. Going with Buchanan would inject a lot more pace at the back and Herdman has shown faith in her by playing her against strong opposition like England and France but a home game against the United States is a different animal and it will be interesting to see if the teenager is ready for that task.
With Rachel Quon not eligible for the match as FIFA have yet to grant her permission to change what country she will represent internationally it does limit Canada's options at the back but Robyn Gale and Kylla Sjoman are both capable of putting in a good performance which gives Herdman six experienced options to call on should he feel that Buchanan is not ready yet.
No matter who takes the field for Canada on Sunday one thing is clear and that is that this match is going to have very little friendly about it. Both teams are set to take it seriously and field strong lineups which means that the sold out crowd at BMO should be in for a real treat.