The CONCACAF Women’s Championship will end Wednesday exactly as everyone knew it would when the tournament kicked off 10 days ago — with the U.S. playing Canada.
Both easily won their semifinal games Sunday, with Canada blasting Panama 7-0 and the U.S. blowing out Jamaica 6-0 on a rainy night in suburban Dallas. With the tournament serving as the regional qualifier for next summer’s Women’s World Cup in France, simply making it to the final means both teams will be going to the World Cup too.
But that doesn’t make Wednesday’s final meaningless. In fact, given the heated rivalry between the two teams, it may be the most important game of the year for both.
“I’ve lived now in Canada for 1½ years and I’m becoming more and more Canadian. So I know about the rivalry we have with the U.S.,” said Kenneth Heiner-Moller, Canada’s Danish coach. “It’s what we as coaches and players live for, to play these matches.”
It’s the New York Yankees-Boston Red Sox in shorts. The Cleveland Cavaliers-Golden State Warriors on grass.
“They’re always great games against these guys,” Canadian midfielder Diana Matheson. “It’s a rival. It’s a derby.”
There was never a doubt the U.S. and Canada were the best teams in the tournament, and they did nothing over the last 10 days to tarnish those reputations. Both are unbeaten in this tournament, with the U.S. outscoring its four opponents 24-0 and the Canadians outscoring theirs 24-1.
The U.S. won all four of its games by at least five goals, outshooting its opponents 143-10. Canada beat Cuba 12-0 and the only goal it gave up came in the closing minutes of a game it led comfortably.
Now they meet one another with pride, the CONCACAF championship and World Cup seeding on the line.
“Just playing Canada puts extra on it,” U.S. forward Megan Rapinoe said. “We haven’t had a lot of competition in CONCACAF. It’s always a little something special.”
Lately the rivalry between the two neighbors has turned one-sided since the top-ranked U.S. hasn’t lost to Canada, No. 5 in the world, since 2001. It hasn’t been easy, though, with two of the last four games ending in a tie and their last meeting in a competitive tournament — the semifinals of the 2012 Olympics — going down to the final seconds of extra time.
“That was one of the best matches I’ve ever seen,” said Heiner-Moller, who called the game for Danish TV.
That description doesn’t fit Sunday’s games.
In the opener, Canada scored six times in the second half to break open a tight game and qualify for a seventh straight World Cup. Janine Beckie had two goals and two assists, Nichelle Prince came off the bench to start the second half and finished with three assists, and Christine Sinclair scored twice.
For Sinclair, 35, the two goals moved her to within seven of Abby Wambach’s 184, the most by any player, male or female, in international soccer history.
But that game was a nail-biter compared to the Americans’ domination of Jamaica.
Tobin Heath needed less than two minutes to get the scoring started. And when a bending 50-yard Abby Dahlkemper kick from the midfield stripe set up Rapinoe on the edge of the penalty area 13 minutes later, the rout was on.
Julie Ertz, Heath and Alex Morgan combined to make it 5-0 after 33 minutes. Morgan got the only score of the second half on a penalty kick, giving her 23 goals in her last 23 games.
“They’re on another level,” Jamaican coach Hue Menzies said of the U.S. “The development and level they’re playing at, that’s where the rest of the world has to catch up.”
Panama and Jamaica, neither of whom has played in a world championship, have two more chances to win a spot in next summer’s tournament. The first comes Wednesday in the tournament’s third-place game, from which the winner advances automatically.
The loser of the consolation game will meet Argentina, the third-place finisher in the South America tournament, in a two-leg playoff next month with a World Cup berth at stake.
The U.S. and Canada have punched their tickets to France. On Wednesday, they’ll be playing for something else.
“It’s massive for us. It never gets old, that’s for sure,” Sinclair said of qualifying for the World Cup.
But, she added, “anytime you get a chance to play the U.S., the No. 1 team in the world, it’s a great opportunity to test ourselves against the best.”