TORONTO, CANADA - Christine Sinclair was infuriated when the Canadian women’s national team fell 4-3 to the USA in the semifinal of the London 2012 Olympics.
“We feel like we didn’t lose, we feel like it was taken from us,” she said to reporters post-match.
Nine years later, Sinclair and Canada have a shot at revenge.
On August 6, 2012, in the 77th minute at Old Trafford, Canadian goalkeeper Erin Mcleod was called on for time-wasting. American forward Abby Wambach counted down the seconds that she held the ball.
Six. Five. Four, and so on, Wambach counted, pestering the referee to make a call against the Canadian goalkeeper.
The referee made the call against McLeod, and everything changed. A handball in the box, the USA got a penalty kick and went on to score two goals, flipping a 3-2 Canada victory into one of the most heartbreaking Canadian sporting moments of the millennium.
USA 4-3 CANADA FT.
Sinclair felt like the game was taken from them. Now, she and a new-look Canadian team want it back.
Nearly a decade later, that match still haunts Canadian soccer supporters. On Monday morning, however, those memories could be glossed over in the paint of gold or silver, if Canada defeats the USA in the semifinal of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic tournament.
While Canada, then led by Head Coach John Herdman, finished on the losing side at Old Trafford, the match defined a generation of Canadian soccer.
Since the fateful Manchester night, Canada has gone on to host a World Cup on home soil, win two Olympic bronze medals and establish Christine Sinclair as the greatest goalscorer in the history of world football.
Sinclair now has 187 international goals and is at the twilight of her career. She scored in that game nine years ago and missed a penalty in the Tokyo 2020 quarterfinal shootout. The Burnaby, BC native, led the way then, and now her teammates push her onwards.
Most of the players from that match have moved on in their lives, but the likes of Sinclair, McLeod, Sophie Schmidt, and Desiree Scott will want to give the Americans a little heartbreak of their own.
While there is a rivalry between Canada and the USA, it is not exactly competitive. The USWNT is 51-3-7 all-time vs. the Canadians since their first meeting in 1986. The U.S. is also riding a 37-game unbeaten streak, with Canada’s last victory coming on March 11, 2001.
The rivalry may be one-sided, most of the players may have moved on, but August 6, 2012, remains an integral date in Canadian soccer lore. It’s what makes Monday morning irresistible.
A Mortal America
It has not been a walk in the park for either nation to get to the Olympic semi-final. While there were questions pre-tournament about whether the USWNT might be too good for the Olympics, they were quickly put to rest when Sweden baffled the USA 3-0.
Once the world’s best team with little challenge, the USA has looked mortal on the field in Japan. After losing to a superior Swedish side, Head Coach Vlatko Andonovski led them to a 6-1 win over lowly New Zealand and an uninspiring 0-0 draw with the Australians.
The USWNT has held on throughout the Tokyo 2020 Olympic tournament, pushing its way through each stage so far. That only gets more challenging as the opponents get better and more determined, which they could face when taking Bev Priestman’s Canadian side.
Two tired teams
The Olympic tournament is a grind no matter how a team’s matches go. There is never a week between games, the Olympics are only 16 days after all, and until Tokyo, there were only 18 players on each roster.
Rosters were expanded for Tokyo 2020, but the schedule is still jam-packed. Both Team Canada and the USA played 120+ minutes and penalty kicks in their quarterfinals to get to this point, putting them in a less ideal situation. Combine the extra time with the heat and humidity of Japan, and you have two sides that will be fatigued at the first kick.
Can Canada score?
Goalkeeping is fine. Stephanie Labbé has taken a beating through the tournament, but her penalty stops and big-time saves have gotten Canada to this point. If she’s good to go, Canada is in safe hands. Even if she is not, NY/NJ Gotham goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan is a fantastic backup, as is the revenge-seeking Erin McLeod.
The worries are at the other end of the pitch.
There is no consistent offensive threat for Canada. 39-year-old Sinclair has lost several steps and is not what she used to be, and nobody has shown up consistently in the red and white.
Manchester City striker Jannine Beckie scored two for Canada against Chile but failed to make a dent on the scoresheet against Brazil. If Canada is going to score, it is probably coming from Beckie or Sinclair, but neither is as consistent as Sinclair used to be.
Some of Canada’s best transitional moments have come from PSG fullback Ashley Lawrence, who is incredible when she drives forward but is often cautious about leaving the fullback position open. Lawrence will have to continue to push up the field at times if Canada wants to create chances.
Although Bev Priestman has gotten the team to the Olympic semi-final, goalscoring has been a problem throughout her tenure. However, with Canada’s depth on defence and solidity in goal, a 0-0 match is in the cards every time Canada laces up their boots.
Passing the torch and inspiring the next generation
The generations are shifting for the Canadian women’s national team. These Games are likely the last for the group that was there in 2012, the group that medaled again in 2016, and the core that brought the Canadian women to the forefront of sports fans’ minds in this country.
Sinclair, Schmidt, Scott and McLeod won’t be in the game forever; their time with the Canadian women’s national team is winding down. But, in the next few years, the names of Huitema, Lawrence, Quinn, Grosso, Riviere and more will become part of the Canadian sporting lexicon.
The 2012 group inspired. They inspired some of their current teammates. Now it’s time that the new generation takes hold and makes a little history of their own while giving the veterans a sweet slice of revenge pie.