Nine months following one of the most intense soccer matches in history, Canada and the U.S. will renew their rivalry at Toronto’s BMO Field (home of MLS franchise Toronto FC). The match in question was contested on Aug. 6, 2012, during the semifinals in women’s soccer at the 2012 London Summer Olympic Games.
Four million Canadians watched that historic match as women’s soccer truly came of age in Canada.
The U.S. would prevail by a 4-3 score at Old Trafford in England, as the lead changed hands four times in the game. Canada held the lead at three different times in the contest as Christine Sinclair (third all-time in international goals by a female player) became the first player to score a hat trick on Hope Solo.
Although the loss was heartbreaking for Canada, they would go on to win the bronze medal. It was the Canadian women’s soccer program’s first-ever medal in the Summer Games. More importantly, it signified Canada’s first Summer Games medal in a team sport since 1936.
A few days prior to the BMO Field match (on May 30), Christine Sinclair visited a local school north of Toronto. When arson, on May 6, destroyed the kindergarten playground, donations were made to rebuild. Among the donors, mega retailer Canadian Tire was involved.
With Sinclair having just signed a four-year contract to help promote youth sports with the company, she was on hand to speak and help raise the students’ morale. It was another example of how Sinclair is emerging as a role model for a new generation of aspiring Canadian soccer stars.
Canadian Tire has also positioned itself as one of the official sporting goods stores for the Canadian Soccer Association.
With Sinclair having won two major Canadian sporting awards in 2012, the Lou Marsh Trophy (Canada’s Athlete of the Year) and the Bobbie Rosenfeld Trophy (Canada’s Female Athlete of the Year), there is no question that her performance has helped make such sponsorships a reality. She is the heartbeat of Canadian soccer (ironically, she now resides in the United States).
While the match is considered an international friendly, promotional material has billed it as "The Rematch." Canadian head coach John Herdman has also spoken of the intensity of the match with Canadian media. “This will be the biggest game of the year for many of our players. It’s our biggest game since the Oympics,” Herdman stated in a release with Soccer Canada.
She had expressed her concerns with Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated (h/t ESPN). "We believe this is a shame not only for the players but for the fans. The game plays differently on artificial surface, not only because of fear of injury but because it's a different surface."
While BMO Field has grass, the comments have only added to the intensity. Of note, June 2 (the date the match is being held) is Wambach’s birthday (born in 1980, Wambach will be celebrating her 33rd birthday). A loss to Canada would certainly spoil her birthday.
Ironically, Wambach competes on artificial turf with her home club, the Western New York Flash of the National Women’s Soccer League.
Despite her criticism of artificial turf, Wambach made an impression in her NWSL debut at Sahlen's Stadium in Rochester, N.Y. She scored twice (at the 34th and 39th minute), and Carli Lloyd (another U.S. national team member) earned another, as the Kansas City Blues suffered their first loss of the season by a 3-1 score.
Diana Matheson (who grew up west of Toronto in nearby Oakville), who scored the bronze medal-winning goal against France, is a 10-year veteran with the Canadian team. She remarked on the growing rivalry, according to Lori Ewing of the Metro News. “It’s always a battle. We know that they hate playing us, and we love that they hate playing us. I have personally never beat them so I can’t wait until June 2.”
It is important to remember that the rosters for both Canada and the United States will be slightly different from what fans remember at London. Melissa Tancredi, who SportsNet Magazine named one of the badasses in sports, may not suit up for Canada. After the London Games, she went back home to complete her studies in chiropractic medicine.
Hope Solo, a goalkeeper with the Seattle Reign, has recovered from wrist surgery. Although she is scheduled to be in Toronto, it is doubtful that she will be healthy enough to play. Without Solo, the rematch does not have the same intensity.
Considering many Canadians, such as goalkeeper Erin McLeod (who played in the match at the London Summer Games) compete in the NWSL, there is more familiarity with the American players. Considering that Sinclair and Karina LeBlanc play with American team members Alex Morgan, Rachel Buehler and Tobin Heath on the Portland Timbers, there is a mutual respect between them.
Therefore, the drama and excitement of London may not duplicate itself in Toronto. While the rivalry between Canada and the United States will only continue to grow, the newer faces on both rosters do not have a stake in the outcome of the match from London.
The sold-out match at BMO Field marks Canada’s first match at the venue since Sept. 30, 2010, when they defeated the Chinese national team by a score of 3-1.
In the history of the U.S. Women’s National Team, only once have they played at BMO Field. They prevailed over Canada by a 4-0 score on May 25, 2009, with 10,255 fans in attendance. Of note, the last time that Canada defeated the United States was at the 2001 Algarve Cup in Portugal with a 3-0 final.
While there is well-deserved attention (as ESPN News will broadcast the game) as it is the first match against each other since London, this match is more of a christening to signify that Canada has arrived on the world soccer stage. In many ways, this is a coming-out party for Canada. It is only appropriate that they play the U.S., as the London Summer Games semifinal helped Canadians discover women’s soccer.