By CAITLIN MURRAY
It was a rusty first showing of 2014 for the U.S. Women’s National Team in Frisco, Texas Friday night, but enough to eke out a 1-0 victory over a physical Canadian team with a chip on its shoulder.
The match didn’t quite deliver on the fireworks of the previous two times these sides met, but with Canadian-born Sydney Leroux securing a U.S. victory with a game-winning goal, the rivalry lives on.
In front of a sellout crowd of 20,862, it was a frantic game with both sides looking unsettled. But the difference came in the 78th from Leroux with some help from center back Becky Sauerbrunn. On a give-and-go with forward Christen Press, Sauerbrunn passed across the net to Leroux running onto the goal for an open tap in. It was a perfectly orchestrated play in a game that mostly lacked rhythm and connected lines.
The match was hyped beforehand with Canadian coach John Herdman calling it a “true derby” and U.S. coach Tom Sermanni saying it will feel “more like a fierce cup tie, rather than a friendly.” Fox Sports 1 sideline reporter Grant Wahl said during the broadcast that Leroux was asked to tone down her celebration if were to score, likely to stave off any backlash from Canadian fans who didn’t appreciate Leroux’s silencing of the crowd at BMO Field in Toronto last June.
Coming off a bitter loss to the U.S. at the London 2012 Olympics and the tense June friendly, Canada has made no bones about wanting to knock the top-ranked USWNT down some notches. It showed Friday, with an aggressive Canada collecting three yellow cards and 16 fouls overall to the USWNT’s three. The win extends the USWNT’s unbeaten streak to 40 games now and its all-time record against Canada to 43-3-5.
The U.S. controlled the midfield for most of the match, but offered poor service to their forwards early on. The USWNT outshot Canada 15-7 but had trouble finishing. The Canadians defended well, shutting down angles and forcing the U.S. to try low-percentage shots from wide positions. But Canada struggled desperately to get out of their own third for much of the match with slow decision-making and trouble connecting passes.
The U.S. came out in a 4-4-2 with Abby Wambach and Leroux up top. Leroux had been at the center of the bulk of the USWNT’s chances with Wambach unable to make an impact. Forward Alex Morgan was out with an ankle injury and the match marked the return of forward Amy Rodriguez, who last took the field for the USWNT on Dec. 15, 2012 before Sermanni started.
The USWNT continues a three-match set with two matches against Russia on Feb. 8 in Boca Raton, Fla. and Feb. 12 in Atlanta.
What did you think of the match? How does the USWNT look going into 2014? Is Canada looking better than the last time they played the U.S.? Is Leroux the future of the USWNT?
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