On Monday, the U.S. women’s national team will face their toughest opponent of the Concacaf W Championship so far: Canada.
Both teams have already qualified for the 2023 FIFA World Cup after finishing atop their groups, and now they will compete for a berth in the 2024 Olympics in the Concacaf championship game Monday night (10 p.m. ET, Paramount+). They’re both undefeated in this year’s qualifying tournament and have outscored their opponents 12-0. They’re also both riding 3-0 semifinal victories into the final game.
The last time the two sides met in August 2021, Canada defeated the USWNT 1-0 in the semifinals of the Tokyo Olympics. It was a rare win for the Canadians, who hadn’t beaten the U.S. since 2001. The Americans hold a 51-4-7 all-time edge in the regional rivalry.
But after the Canadians won their first Olympic gold in Tokyo, looking stronger in each international tournament since then, the outcome isn’t as predictable as it used to be. The USWNT also has many new players who have yet to test themselves against an opponent as formidable as Canada.
U.S. head coach Vlatko Andonovski said after the group stage that he doesn’t think the team is ready for the World Cup at this point in their development. But are they ready for Canada? Here’s what to know ahead of the Concacaf W final.
Neither team in this matchup has conceded a goal yet this tournament. They’ve each had their turns controlling possession and not allowing opponents the opportunity to spend a significant amount of time in their boxes. Now, both defenses will be challenged under higher pressure.
When the ball did get into the USWNT’s box in the group stage, Naomi Girma made a difference when she was in the lineup with her ability to read plays and shut down attacks.
Mexico, the USWNT’s toughest opponent in the tournament so far, was able to exploit them outside of the box, getting off multiple shots from the space between the midfielders and the backline. Canada won’t be afraid to take those chances if they have space. The U.S. will have to keep an eye on center midfielder Jessie Fleming, who can put strikes on target from far out.
Overall, the back four have been the USWNT’s strongest unit so far, contributing heavily to the attack with the center backs’ accurate long balls and the outside backs’ crosses and runs into the attacking third that have resulted in multiple goals and chances.
Lately, Canada has defaulted to a defensive formation that includes two players who are used to playing the No. 6: Quinn and Desiree Scott. If Canada head coach Bev Priestman opts for them both to hang lower, the loaded defense is nothing the USWNT hasn’t seen before, but they’ll still have to prove they can beat it.
The USWNT has become known for their creativity, but it’s been lacking during the Concacaf tournament, and they’ll be hard-pressed to find it in their toughest match yet.
Midfielder Rose Lavelle is usually the mastermind behind the inventiveness, weaving through the midfield until she finds ample space ahead of her to run at backlines. With the low blocks and loaded backlines Concacaf opponents have thrown at the USWNT, Lavelle has struggled to find the space she needs to dictate the game in the ways she’s used to. If Canada plants two defensive midfielders in her way, the U.S. attack could continue to be in trouble.
Canada hasn’t historically been known for their creativity, but the impact their substitutes can make is enough to catch opponents off guard. Canada’s substitutes have scored half of the team’s 12 goals. Adriana Leon most recently recorded a goal and an assist in the semis, delivering a cross right to the head of fellow substitute Allysha Chapman in a play that encapsulated Canada’s attacking strategy.
⚽ GOAL @CanadaSoccerEN! 🇨🇦 Great effort by @allyshachapman to score the header! 2-0. | #CWC pic.twitter.com/1L1dOey5AI— Concacaf W (@ConcacafW) July 15, 2022
⚽ GOAL @CanadaSoccerEN! 🇨🇦 Great effort by @allyshachapman to score the header! 2-0. | #CWC pic.twitter.com/1L1dOey5AI
Midfielder Julia Grosso has also provided a spark to the Canadian attack this tournament, demonstrating quick and precise decision-making in the box. She scored her first three international goals in Canada’s opening two games, and her efforts helped wake her team up in the first match against Trinidad and Tobago. With Canada up only 1-0 at the half, Grosso put them on the board twice in the second and led the way to a 6-0 win.
Until Canada can clean up their passing, the U.S. should have most of the possession as they continue their high-press strategy. Goals, however, could be hard for them to come by against Canada’s dominant backline that includes Chelsea’s Kadeisha Buchanan, Angel City FC’s Vanessa Gilles and San Diego Wave goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan.
I wouldn’t be surprised if neither side scores in the first 45 minutes as the U.S. adjusts to its new opponent. While they might press more, Canada will quietly wait for a moment to counterattack. The first halves of the USWNT-Canada matchups at the Tokyo Olympics and in the 2020 Concacaf final ended in scoreless draws.
The U.S. will generate multiple scoring opportunities, but Canada’s defensive pressure will make it difficult for them to finish. Canada likely won’t have as many chances, but I predict Fleming, their leading goal scorer in the tournament, will put one away late into the second half before the team locks it down on defense to hold onto a 1-0 victory.
Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.