Canada blanked by U.S. in unfriendly friendly

Monday, June 3, 2013

Bad blood boils to the surface as B.C.-born, American forward Sydney Leroux pops her jersey and kissed the American emblem following the third goal.

Since no one else was up for it, Sydney Leroux saved the Canada-U.S.A. post-Olympic grudge match from itself.

Playing for the first time since that notorious night in Manchester, Canada showed little of the jump they’d displayed there. Nearly a year ago, they’d gone straight at the best team in the world. They’d played with abandon. It was a bar brawl.

Now in front of a boisterous sell-out crowd at BMO Field on Sunday afternoon, they tried to muscle the Americans out of their rhythm. This was a planned assault, and as plodding as that sounds.

Tactically, it was smart. Aesthetically, it was turgid. Functionally, it was useless.

The only purpose in playing the U.S. now – two years ahead of the next meaningful encounter at the 2015 World Cup – is to make a statement.

Winning would be one way to do that. Canada haven’t beat the Americans since 2001.

They got no closer to it yesterday, losing track of the world’s best player, Alex Morgan, for three minutes, and coughing up the game in that time. Morgan scored two nearly identical goals running through a gaping hole on Canada’s right flank.

In lieu of winning, the best thing Canada can do is keep this rivalry burning brightly. Instead, Leroux did that for them.

The B.C.-born American forward came on with 15 minutes left in the game. It was already over. The crowd, now frustrated, booed her steadily every time she handled the ball. She’s Owen Hargreaves, except that Owen Hargreaves didn’t get mixed up in the public imagination with Brett Lawrie.

With seconds remaining, Leroux plowed in on goal, went through the Canadian keeper, and potted the third. As it so often seems to, it ended 3-0.

Post-goal, there was no hesitation. Leroux ran straight at the corner where the Canadian flags were thickest. She held a finger to her mouth, shushing the crowd. That didn’t upset anyone.

Then she made a great show of popping her jersey front. That made people crazy.

The Mexican referee – a woman who clearly values loyalty above all things – showed her the first yellow of the game for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Later, Leroux spotted the very small puddle of scandal she’d poured out and began splashing around inside it.

“It’s been quite a few years (since she chose the U.S. over Canada),” Leroux sighed. “How many U.S.-born players does Canada have? I think I dealt with it pretty well.”

Canada has three. Nobody boos them in the States, because nobody in the States gives a damn. Up here, we care.

We will continue to care because players like Sydney Leroux insist on holding it up in front of our faces and asking if we like how it smells.

Christine Sinclair – a soft talker who’ll lay down the heavy rhetorical lumber every once in a while just to keep you guessing – also did her part.

“Maybe not the classiest of moves,” Canada’s newest supplier of bulletin board material said. “I probably wouldn’t have done the same.”

And back we go to that other toppler of sporting shibboleths in the American dressing room, Abby Wambach.

“This is a rivalry. Not too long ago it wasn’t. Not too long ago, these games weren’t games we’d look forward to,” Wambach said, not quite patting anyone on the head, only because there was no one around whose head she could pat. “The Canadians. They did the best they could.”

Cute little Canada, all excited about its bronze medal. Abby Wambach thinks you’re pretty precious.

Except when you’re on Twitter. Apparently, you’re a bunch of idiots on Twitter (and if this is true, then she’s right).

“If you guys knew what people Tweet at (Leroux), some of the Canadian fans, I think you would understand the frustration,” Wambach said. “That for her was a special moment. That was her saying, ‘Hey, look. I’m on the U.S. team.’”

Yes, we’d already noticed when she placed the ball in our net.

And just to keep the cycle of recrimination going, amidst all of his post-game bromides, Canadian coach John Herdman took a moment out to have a swipe at Wambach, who was marked out of the game by astonishing 17-year-old newcomer, Kadeisha Buchanan.

“She owned Abby Wambach today,” Herdman enthused about his newest star. “Sorry, Abby.”

Or, as the case may be, not really sorry.

There is plainly a foundation of respect between these two teams. Many of them now play together in the North American Women’s Soccer League. They are, if not friends, then colleagues.

But if growing the game and keeping interest high leading into the 2015 World Cup really is the priority, Canada will not do it with solid play. They need storylines. They need talking points. They need bad blood.

What Leroux did yesterday – and what Sinclair and Wambach followed it with – was an act of narrative charity.

Canada may play the U.S. as many as four or five times between now and the summer of 2015.

The results may or may not go their way in those friendly matches. The important thing is maintaining in the public imagination that sense of unfriendliness.

Toronto Star - Cathal Kelly

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