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Match preview: USA vs Canada at Olympic qualifying

This is basically bonus soccer, so just enjoy it.

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Panama v United States: Group A - 2020 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

The hard part of Olympic qualifying is all wrapped up for the United States, their spot in Tokyo assured. And yet the hardest game of the tournament is yet to come, as they play in the final against Canada solely for bragging rights. The semifinals have already determined both Canada and the United States will be Olympians, but you can’t have a tournament with a winner, and so we lucky band of fans are getting bonus soccer.

Both Canada and the United States have steamrolled through this tournament over their less affluent Concacaf neighbors, Canada to a somewhat lesser extent than the US, goal differential notwithstanding (the US: a +18 GD, and Canada: +22). But Canada had a harder fight in semifinals, squeaking through against Costa Rica with a late goal to win 1-0. Compare to the United States breaking Costa Rica’s defense down to a 6-0 tune. The Canadians have always seemed a step behind the US when it comes to game mentality, and their nervousness and anxiety showed as the minutes ticked down against Costa Rica and they were unable to break through the organized defensive lines.

The United States’ defense is similarly organized, but will be much more proactive against Canada. Where Costa Rica sometimes sat back and looked to throttle off Canada’s passing lanes in order to spring a counterattack, the United States will actively go at Canada as high up the pitch as possible, looking to win one- and two-v-one battles to force turnovers close to the Canada goal.

On the flip side, Canada is one of the few teams in this tournament that could actually get the United States to sit back. It might be a spicy take, but Canada can actually beat the United States on any given day. The only problem is they have to play at their absolute best to do it, while the United States only has to be competent defensively to negate it. Canada has shown that their best can be quite fun, building through Jessie Fleming or Ashley Lawrence in the midfield, with the additional option to play wide through their fullbacks, particularly 19-year-old Jayde Riviere. Canada’s attacking presence has the potential for quick one-touch play to put any one of Christine Sinclair, Jordyn Huitema, or Janine Beckie through on goal.

Defensively, though, Canada hasn’t looked the most assured against an organized opponent. They’ve experimented with pushing defensive midfielder Sophie Schmidt to right back to free Ashley Lawrence to move higher, but Schmidt is very much not an out-and-out defender. She and Desiree Scott are usually the team’s deep midfield duo, and they’re going to have a hell of a time dealing with Lindsey Horan and Rose Lavelle. The same for Jayde Riviere, who if she can get forward, is always going to be leaving space for Crystal Dunn.

There’s no telling what may happen. This is essentially an international friendly, and so that could alleviate a lot of the mental component for Canada, who played tight and cagey against Costa Rica but could decide to just go for broke against the US. They have a lot of younger players, all about 25 or under, who are going to make up the core of the squad in years to come. Why not take the chance to play as many of them as possible and give your veterans a rest, particularly when dealing with a rough one-day turnaround? Both these teams are going to be playing less than 48 hours after the end of the semifinal round, so expect rotation for the US as well. After the semifinal game against Mexico, Vlatko Andonovski said they knew they would have a quick turnaround, so all of his players (except poor Crystal Dunn) have gotten some level of rotation.

The US players were similarly accepting of the situation. Both Sam Mewis and Christen Press said in the mixed zone after the semi that they hadn’t really given it much thought that the turnaround was so tight; that’s just the way Concacaf scheduled it, and so they’ll deal, particularly given the depth of their roster.

So if everyone seems a little tired after a two-week grind or no one seems particularly interested in inviting injury, cut them some slack. This is essentially a bonus game, a free international friendly when you buy one qualifying tournament. Who doesn’t love bonus soccer?

Time, TV, and streaming

USA vs. Canada
Sunday, February 9
6 PM ET / 3 PM PT
FS2, Galavision, Fubo TV (free trial)
SBNation has a paid partnership with Fubo