The emotional fever the Canadian women's soccer team felt by qualifying for this summer's Olympics was fed some bitter medicine by a powerful United States team Sunday.
Both sides had already secured a spot in the London Games so pride and bragging rights were on the line when they met in the final of the CONCACAF women's Olympic qualifying tournament. The Americans left little doubt who was the superior team with a convincing 4-0 victory before a crowd of 25,427 at B.C. Place Stadium.
Forward Alex Morgan had two goals and set the tone early. She took a header from Abby Wambach, then sliced through the Canadian defence to score in the fifth minute. Wambach scored twice about four minutes apart for a 3-0 lead at the half.
The tall, powerful Wambach now has 131 international goals. That leaves her second on the women's career scoring list behind American Mia Hamm, who has 158.
When Canada did challenge Hope Solo showed why she's considered the best goalkeeper in the world. In the first half she stopped Christina Julien on a breakaway which ended a bruising collision.Solo didn't allow a goal in five games as the Americans overpowered their opponents 38-0.
The Canadian women have a record of three wins, 42 losses and five draws against the U.S. They haven't beaten the Americans since March, 2001.
While disappointed by the lopsided loss the Canadian women showed potential and some flair during the tournament.
New coach John Herdman used a revamped offensive style which allowed striker Christine Sinclair more versatility. Herdman has also defined the role of each player, tightening the unity on the team. The changes have helped heal the scars from Canada's disastrous performance at last summer's World Cup and restored confidence the team can challenge for an Olympic medal.
"We all see the improvements we are making every single game,'' Sinclair said prior to Sunday's final. "It's exciting. Heading into the World Cup that excitement was gone.''
For much of the tournament Sinclair played as a withdrawn forward instead of her usual role as an attacker at the top of the formation. Players like Melissa Tancredi and Julien played ahead of her.Sinclair has always been a scoring threat but now the 28-year-old can use her keen passing ability to set up teammates.
The formation puts extra pressure on defenders. If they concentrate on Sinclair, she can slip the ball to an open striker. If the defenders mark the other forwards Sinclair has more room to manoeuvre."National team coaches have always just put me up top and said 'Go score,' '' said Sinclair. "It [the new formation]has brought a new dimension to my game in terms of setting up teammates, finding open spaces.''
In the final Herdman reverted to a more traditional style with Sinclair and Julien as strikers.
Herdman, an Englishman who coached the women's program in New Zealand, replaced former coach Carolina Morace in August. Morace resigned after Canada lost three straight games and were outscored 7-1 at the World Cup.
Herdman favours schemes that utilize the talents of all his players instead of relaying on the ability of one superstar.
"There is more to this team than Christine,'' he said.
One of the workhorses of the revamped attack is midfielder Desiree Scott. The compact Winnipeg native, nicknamed The Destroyer, uses her speed and exceptional dribbling ability to move the play forward.
"We have a lot of dangerous players on our team,'' said Scott.
"This formation allows other players to step up their game and step up their roles on the team.''
Canada and the United States secured Olympics berths in the tournament semi-finals Friday night. Canada defeated Mexico 3-1 while the defending Olympic gold medal Americans downed Costa Rica 3-0.
During the tournament Canada beat Mexico, Haiti, Cuba and Costa Rica by a combined score of 16-2.
Herdman is pleased with the way the team has adapted.
"They have bought into a new style and a new philosophy, a new self-image of themselves as footballers,'' he said. "They have re-invented themselves.''