Struggling to find their focus after the off-field drama of a bitter labour dispute with Canada Soccer, the Canadian women took it on the chin in a 2-0 loss to the U.S. at the SheBelieves Cup on Thursday.
Mallory Swanson scored in the seventh and 34th minute as the top-ranked Americans came out hot and had their way with a ragged Canada.
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The sixth-ranked Canadians found some semblance of rhythm midway through the half only to gift Swanson her second goal with a defensive gaffe. There was little drama in the second half with only some wasteful American finishing keeping the score down before an announced crowd of 14,697 at Exploria Stadium.
Canada captain Christine Sinclair said given the backdrop to the game, it could have gone two ways.
“Either we’re fighting for everything and come out on fire or we come out flat. And I think you saw those first 10, 15 minutes, we came out flat,” she said. “I think we looked like a team that was tired, a team that’s mentally exhausted, coming up against a team, I mean, they’re defending World Cup champions for a reason and you have to be at your best to compete with them. And we weren’t tonight.”
The game should have been a celebration of women’s soccer, a marquee matchup between the Tokyo Olympic gold medallist Canadians and defending World Cup champion Americans. But the showdown was overshadowed by the Canadian women’s labour battle with their governing body.
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The Canadian women announced last Friday they would not train or play until their grievances were addressed. They boycotted training the next day and had to be forced back on the field under threat of legal action by Canada Soccer.
Before Thursday’s kickoff, both teams gathered at the centre circle — Americans next to Canadians — and then closed ranks, turning the circle into a heart shape in a show of solidarity.
But the friendship ended quickly as the Americans laid siege to the Canadian goal.
Swanson tested Canadian ‘keeper Kailen Sheridan with a shot seconds after kickoff. A diving Sheridan had to be acrobatic to parry a shot by Ashley Sanchez in the third minute.
And the U.S. went ahead in the seventh minute when Canada failed to deal with a cross and Alex Morgan sent the ball to Swanson, who hammered home a right-footed shot. The Canadians huddled after the goal, trying to get their bearings.
Centre back Kadeisha Buchanan offering some resistance soon after, scything Morgan down with a take-no-prisoners challenge. There were plenty more hard tackles on the night, keeping both teams’ trainers busy.
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The Canadians began to regain their composure but the Americans kept coming and Sheridan, in the 17th minute, had to be sharp to get a hand to a downward Lindsey Horan header.
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Canada was undone in the 34th minute when a backpass from Vanessa Gilles, under pressure from Morgan near the sideline, did not reach Sheridan, allowing Swanson to pounce on the ball with an empty goal in front of her.
The Canadians didn’t test Alyssa Naeher until first-half stoppage time when the U.S. ‘keeper was forced into action to stop a Janine Beckie shot.
“Work to do at the break,” Canada Soccer said by way of understatement in a halftime tweet.
The governing body faces a challenge of its own next month after the House of Commons Heritage Committee passed a motion Thursday to “invite” Canada Soccer officials to testify at a meeting next month.
Sinclair, along with Adriana Leon, came off in the 57th minute as Bev Priestman made changes. Jessie Fleming took the captain’s armband. Simu Awujo, a 19-year-old midfielder, came on in the 65th for her fourth Canadian cap as Priestman emptied her bench.
It was Sheridan to the rescue in the 75th minute, stopping Ashley Hatch from point-blank range.
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The Canadians now head for Nashville to face Brazil on Sunday. Then it’s on to Frisco, Texas, to take on Japan on Feb. 22.
The Canadian women are playing the tournament under protest _ and showed it.
The Canadians wore purple T-shirts, symbolic of gender equality, for the anthems and wore purple tape on their wrists during the game. They also wore their training tops inside-out during the pre-game warmup to hide the Canada Soccer crest, as they did Wednesday at practice.
They wore purple shirts for the anthems that were etched with the words “Enough is Enough.”
The Canadian team has promised to boycott the April international window, when the women will be in a legal position to strike, unless their concerns are addressed.
The women want the same preparation and backing ahead of this summer’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand as the men got last year before Qatar. Both the women’s and men’s teams want Canada Soccer to open its books and explain cuts to both programs this year.
The Canadian men refused to play a friendly against Panama in Vancouver last June over their dissatisfaction at the labour talks.
The Canadian women last played in November when they split a two-game series with Brazil in Santos and Sao Paulo. The Americans played twice in January, beating No. 24 New Zealand 4-0 and 5-0 in Wellington and Auckland.
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After enduring a rare three-game losing streak last fall, the Americans had won three straight coming into play Thursday. Prior to the three-game slide, which featured losses to No. 2 Germany, No. 4 England and No. 7 Spain, the U.S. women had gone unbeaten in 21 matches (18-0-3).
Canada and the U.S. last met in June 2022 when the U.S. won 1-0 in the final of the CONCACAF W Championship in Guadalupe, Mexico, on a 78th-minute Morgan penalty.
That marked the first contest between the two since Canada’s 1-0 semifinal triumph at the Tokyo Olympics in August 2021.
The Canadian women came into Thursday’s game with a 4-52-7 career record against their northern rival.
The other Canada victories came in 1986 (2-1 in Blaine, Minn., in the Canadian women’s second-ever official outing), 2000 (3-1 in a friendly in Columbus, Ohio) and 2001 (3-0 at the Algarve Cup in Portugal).
The February international window is one of the few opportunities in advance of the World Cup for the Canadian women to get together. There is another window in early April and one in July immediately before the World Cup.
The U.S. are defending SheBelieves Cup champions and have won five of the seven editions of the tournament. France won in 2017 and England in 2019.
Canada placed third in 2021, its only previous visit to the event in Priestman’s debut as Canada coach.
Priestman is currently without the injured Nichelle Prince, Jayde Riviere, Deanne Rose and Desiree Scott.