The "Battle of the Border" lived up to its name when the United States and Canada faced off on Friday, Jan. 31 in Frisco, Texas. The U.S. scraped out a hard-fought 1-0 win over the Canadians.
Sydney Leroux was the difference on the night, with her goal in the 79th minute providing the breakthrough.
It was a nice piece of finishing from the 23-year-old, as she found herself in a great position to score and didn't panic when the goalmouth opened up for her. Much of the credit, though, should go to Becky Sauerbrunn, whose run forward and cross into the box created the scoring opportunity, per U.S. Soccer WNT:
After sparking a bit of controversy for her goal celebration against Canada back in June 2013, Leroux made sure to be a little more subdued on Friday night.
The U.S. remains unbeaten under Tom Sermanni, per SoccerAmerica:
Her goal was the only bright spot in what was an otherwise unspectacular match.
A combination of rustiness and poor playing conditions led to a rather drab friendly between two of the best women's national teams in the world.
This was the first match of the year for both teams. The U.S. last played in Nov. 2013 against Brazil, with Canada's last fixture coming back in December against Scotland.
Needless to say, the fact that these teams hadn't played in a while was evident on the pitch. Passes failed to find their target, defending was sloppy at times and there weren't many scoring chances to be had.
To make matters worse, the field at Toyota Stadium left a lot to be desired. Fox Soccer Trax explained how the poor state of the pitch was negatively affecting the game:
Sermanni can't claim to have taken this match lightly. He opted for a very strong starting XI, which U.S. Soccer posted on Instagram:
The United States had the lion's share of scoring opportunities in the first half.
Leroux had a couple of good chances on goal in the first 13 minutes of the match, but Erin McLeod was there to make the stop each time.
Canada also made a mess of a Megan Rapinoe cross in the 31st minute, with the U.S. having a couple of shooting efforts blocked by the Canadian defenders.
Whitney Engen had a goal disallowed int he 39th minute after she was ruled to have been offside. Replays showed that the American defender was off when Abby Wambach flicked the header on to her teammate.
Canada had a golden chance to break the deadlock in the 40th minute. They hit on the break beautifully, with Desiree Scott and Christine Sinclair doing well to create the opportunity. Diana Matheson's effort went wide left of goal, though, ruining what had been a great attacking movement.
The second half proved to be just as uninspiring. The pitch only became worse, and substitutions on both sides helped to take away much of the fluidity from the match.
Jonelle Filigno had a shot on goal in the 88th minute to try to equalize, but Hope Solo made the save—one of the few times she was really tested on the night.
Despite the rather plodding nature of the match, both coaches will likely be somewhat encouraged with what they saw. You can't expect players to be at their best after so much time away from the pitch. Canada defended well, while the U.S. showed a lot of patience in trying to find the elusive first goal.
The match was also had the highest attendance for a U.S. women's match on home soil since 2003, so that's great news for U.S. women's soccer as a whole:
|Whitney Engen (off '77)||B-|
|Megan Rapinoe (off '88)||B|
|Abby Wambach (off '74)||C|
|Lineup via USSoccer.com|
|Marie-Eve Nault (off '81)||B+|
|Rhian Wilkinson (off '74)||B+|
|Diana Matheson (off '86)||B-|
|Josee Belanger (off '71)||B-|
|Adriana Leon (off '61)||C|
|Lineup via USSoccer.com|
Key Player Grades
Abby Wambach, United States: C
The leading goalscorer in U.S. history had a match to forget. Abby Wambach tried her best to get her teammates involved and offer an aerial threat, but Canada, and Kadeisha Buchanan in particular, completely marked her out of the match.
Sometimes having a more physical, direct forward can help break down an organized defense. In this case, though, Wambach seemed to really struggle.
Sydney Leroux, United States: B+
Against the physical Canadian defense, Sydney Leroux's speed proved to be a valuable asset. She was able to find holes and make runs that were unavailable to Wambach.
It was fitting that Leroux scored the eventual winner, as she was the most predatory player on the pitch and by far the best scoring threat for the United States.
While it wasn't a difficult finish for the goal, Leroux managed to get into a great position and create enough space between herself and the defender to make things easy.
Kadeisha Buchanan, Canada: A
Buchanan was a colossus in this match. It's not easy to take a scorer as good as Wambach out of the game completely, but that's exactly what she did on Friday night.
The entire Canadian back line was rock solid, but it was Buchanan who stood out the most. Sure she took some liberties in terms of her physicality on the pitch, but all of the top defenders will do that.
It's hard to believe that Buchanan is only a freshman at West Virginia.
The U.S. will meet Russia nine days from now, then again four days later. In March, Canada heads abroad for the Cyprus Women's Cup. They will meet Finland, Italy and England.