By Michael Lewis
Some 8 1/2 years after the fact, the game is still mentioned and used as a motivating force by the Canadian women’s national team.
That would be the 2012 Olympics semifinal match between the United States and Canada at Old Trafford in Manchester, England in which the Americans rallied to win 4-3 in extratime amid a controversial call or two Aug. 6, 2012.
That epic encounter, considered by many to be the great women’s soccer game played, could very well be on the Canadians’ mind when they tussle with the United States in the first game of the SheBelieves Cup in Orlando, Fla. Thursday (FS1, 7 p.m. ET).
“You only have to go to 2012, to know what U.S. and Canada means and there’s some people in this squad now who have lived that, and feel still hard to come by in that sense,” Bev Priestman said during a media ZOOM call Tuesday afternoon. “So, I think that rivalry is absolutely there.”
The U.S. women went on to win its third consecutive gold medal while the Canadians secured the bronze.
The Maple Leafs enter the tournament without several key players lost to injuries, including captain and midfielder Christine Sinclair, who has scored more international goals (186) than anyone soccer player on the planet.
“I think obviously coming into this tournament, it’s not how I originally imagined my first tournament would be in particularly playing No. 1 in the world,” Priestman said. “It’s a great opportunity for anybody to step up and try and get the name on that Olympic roster. That’s the first thing so it gives me a great chance to assess any new players, or a current crop of players that maybe wouldn’t see as much game time.
“But I think it’s the U.S. and I think that’s the first thing any Canadian who puts on the jersey. When they’re playing the U.S., I don’t need to motivate them. I think it’s there. And what am I expecting? … Today is the only day we’ve had the whole group together. And so that first game will just be the baptism of fire in in a good way. But I’ve asked the group to be really brave and step up and go towards the opportunity in front of us. And I know that every player is going to put their body on the line. We’re going to be a hard team to beat.”
Of course, the U.S. women’s national team is a hard team to beat as well as it brings in a 35-game unbeaten streak dating back two years.
In the last encounter between these two rivals, the Americans defeated the Canadians in the Concacaf Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament final, 3-0, in Carson, Calif. Feb. 10, 2020.
Needless to say, Priestman expects a battle and a half from the two-time defending world champions.
“What you get from the U.S., you get a real physical game where you know that first sort of 10-12 minutes of the game, I think, only the Netherlands, and in the World Cup were the first to sort of survive that that sort of first 12 minutes,” she said. “So, we’re aware of that the physicality is there, which Canada is a physical team as well. So, in that area we have to try that hard to beat mindset. We can’t lose that, and I think within the reality of the roster at the moment. That’s going to be a crucial sort of cog in the wheel.”
Priestman admitted the Canadian squad has not played up to its potential against some of the best teams in the world and that it needed to step up its game.
“I think the group has acknowledged – you can’t hide that against – I think the last few games against tier one opposition Canada hasn’t had the results,” she said. “We have had that discussions that we need to take that step forward We need to start shifting to really compete at the Olympic Games. There’s a commitment to do that and identifying some of the areas that we feel will do that. So, I just get a real sense of hunger, desire, connection, and are okay to go towards an uncomfortable place. We have to.
“We’ve talked about doing things that hadn’t been done before.”
Priestman noted that Canada was the first women’s team to earn back-to-back bronze medals at the Summer Games.
“What they’re telling me is they want to be the first to then get to that final game of an Olympic games where you do change the color of the metal,” she added. “So, to do that, what I’m asking of them is to do things that maybe they haven’t done before. They’ve gone towards [changing] some behavior, some demanding things on the pitch the competition in training. We’ve really tried to push some of those areas that winning players, winning teams to regularly every day. We can’t just turn it on, turn it off. We’re just demanded that enough the group and they’re demanding that of us, which is great.”