Hope Solo and Abby Wambach will start for the United States this evening, in the final of the 2012 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament. They will face Canada and the competition's leading goalscorer Christine Sinclair.
While both teams have secured places at the 2012 London Olympics, neither team will be resting on its laurels. These two archrivals will not only want to finish the tournament as winners but will also be looking to send a clear message to the other 10 teams that stand between them and a gold medal this summer in London.
The U.S., who are ranked number one in the world, will start as favorites, but they face an improving Canadian team who have climbed to seventh in the FIFA rankings and playing at home in front of a partisan crowd at the BC Place, Vancouver, BC.
The Canadian team won the 2010 CONCACAF Women's Gold Cup and will be hosting the 2015 Women's World Cup Finals.
Tonight's game will be a great matchup.
Canada v Mexico Semifinal
Canada are through to the final having won all three of their group games, finishing top of Group A and then beat a battling Mexico team 3-1 in the semifinal. Canada beat Haiti 6-0, Cuba 2-0 and Costa Rica 5-1 in the Group stages with Christine Sinclair scoring seven.
Sinclair added two more against Mexico on Friday night to lead all scorers in the tournament with nine goals.
The U.S. finished top of Group B with a record of three played, three won. They scored 31 goals and allowed zero in 360 minutes of play.
They came close to letting in their first goal against a surprisingly good Costa Rica team in the semifinal, but were lucky to see a great strike from Karol Sanchez bounce back off the woodwork.The 3-0 scoreline flattered the U.S., who weren't assured of victory until Alex Morgan's cheeky flick of the outside of her boot in the 89th minute.
In the head-to-head matchup, the U.S. have a 44-4 win advantage, with the last meeting between the two teams being played September 2011. The U.S ran out 3-0 winners that night in Oregon, with Abby Wambach scoring twice and Alex Morgan getting the other.
Neither team has lost a game since then and both bring long unbeaten streaks into tonight's final.
CANADA - Karina LeBlanc, Candace Chapman, Shannon Woeller, Melanie Booth, Robyn Gayle, Lauren Sesselmann, Kaylyn Kyle, Sophie Schmidt, Desiree Scott, Christina Julien, Christine Sinclair (capt.)
USA - Hope Solo, Kelley O’Hara, Rachel Buehler, Christie Rampone (capt.), Amy LePeilbet, Heather O’Reilly, Carli Lloyd, Shannon Boxx, Lauren Cheney, Amy Rodriguez, Abby Wambach
Both Hope Solo and Karina LeBlanc are commanding figures in goal for their teams. Solo is rightly regarded as the number one goalie in the women's soccer right now and her succession of clean sheets in this tournament would support that.
Solo wasn't called into action too often during the group stages, but she made a world-class save in the semifinal against Costa Rica, coming out quickly to close down the angle for the advancing striker Raquel Rodriguez.
LeBlanc is a four-time World Cup veteran for Canada with over 90 appearance for her country. She's strong in the box and shouldn't be intimidated by the U.S. at set pieces.
She will need protection from her back line, however, as the U.S. had 29 shots on Friday against Costa Rica and seem to score at will.
2012 CONCACAF Women's Olympic Qualifying - Canada v Cuba
Both teams play with four across the back and have a wealth of experience. While some of the teams in the CONCACAF qualifiers have been undersized in defense, both Canada and the U.S. match up nicely in size and strength.
The U.S. back line has been extremely tough to break down. Both fullbacks are hard to get around with LePeilbet having an outstanding tournament. The central defense has been solid and against Mexico they didn't allow a single shot on target.
In their last game against Costa Rica, Las Ticas caused problems with their quick inter-passing through the middle. The U.S. women will have to be alert as they face their toughest challenge yet in Christine Sinclair, who is always looking for a ball played into her through the middle.
The Canadian defense will also have their hands full with the U.S. and will need to deny space on the flanks and stop crosses being lofted into Wambach. They will also need to be on their guard against set pieces, which seemed to cause them some panic on Friday against Mexico.
The Canadian back line will know that one let-up in concentration could have disastrous consequences. They need to stay focused for the full 90 minutes.
2012 CONCACAF Women's Olympic Qualifying - United States v Mexico
The Canadian midfield was overrun for long periods of the second half against Mexico and they allowed large gaps to open up in front of their defense. They can't afford this luxury against the U.S. women. They will need to close down space quickly and deny the U.S. time to pass and move the ball out to the wings.
Going forward, the Canadians are quick on the counter attack; the U.S. will need to stop them working the ball to Sinclair. It will be interesting to see if Kaylyn Kyle starts, as her drive and pace can create confusion and help open up the park for the front two.
The U.S. will face a battle of wills in midfield, but their superior conditioning should give them an edge. Heather O’Reilly will cover every blade of grass and the tough-tackling Shannon Boxx will be tough to beat in the center of the field.
The U.S. will need to make their passes count and avoid giving the ball away as cheaply as did in their last game. One bad pass could open this whole match up for either side.
Christine Sinclair v Costa Rica
The two best strikers in the whole competition will be competing on a personal level and at national club level. Both Abby Wambach and Christine Sinclair have scored 129 international goals each and they are often paired together as two of the best women to have ever played the sport.
Both players are not only natural goalscorers, but they have great vision and awareness. They also cause havoc just with their presence in and around the box, they pull defenders away, draw other defenders in and create space for others.
One, if not both of these two great strikers should score tonight.
Alex Morgan in action during the last meeting between the teams
Both sides like to inject pace into the game during the second half.
While both teams have speedy players, the U.S. has a choice of two best young goal scorers playing the game at the present. This gives the U.S. such a powerful advantage and while opposition coaches know the change is coming, there is little they can do to counter the move.
Tired defenses having to face the lightning-quick pace of Leroux or Morgan face a daunting challenge. Both Leroux and Morgan also know how to find the back of the net; they can change the shape of the game within a matter of seconds from coming onto the field.
Canada's Coach John Herdman
Canada's head coach John Herdman has been in charge of the side for less than a year, but he has already them shaped into a well-disciplined side. The Englishman's understanding of the game is more than apparent and his previous work with the New Zealand women's team has shown that he knows how to get the best out of his players.
Victory tonight would be a great early reward and proof that Herdman has Canada ready to challenge for the gold, but he faces a coach with so many options that he'll need to have his team on top of their game from the start.
Pia Sundhage seems to have the easiest job in soccer management. The U.S. head coach has a squad that is deep in every position and players who are great all-around athletes. If Sundhage needs to shake things up, she can bring on either Alex Morgan or Sydney Leroux.
The U.S are so used to being the dominant side that it is rare they find themselves behind or in trouble. Sundhage has rarely been tested as a coach. If bringing on the super subs or changing the formation from 4-3-2-1 to a 4-4-2 doesn't work, then the Swedish-born head honcho could have some thinking to do.
US v Canada
The U.S. should win tonight, but this will be the game of the tournament. Two quality teams with great strikers. Hopefully the game will be a fast and open affair and the two teams won't get bogged down with too many passes going astray.
I predict a 3-1 scoreline, with the U.S. controlling most of the game and O'Reilly, Chenney and Morgan getting on the score sheet for the U.S., while Cristine Sinclair will score her 10th to finish top scorer of the tournament.
I feel both teams will meet again in the summer, when the prize will be Olympic gold.