May 8, 2014 7:10 am

Canada meets U.S. Thursday for women’s soccer match in Winnipeg

WINNIPEG – Some played together in college, others may have played on the same professional teams, but Thursday evening those friendships get pushed aside as Canada once again tries to beat the United States in women’s soccer.

It’s something the Canadians haven’t managed since 2001 but this time they’ll have a home crowd edging close to 30,000 to cheer them on at Investors Group Field, the home of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

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“It’s a game that Canada won’t dominate,” Canadian coach John Herdman said Wednesday after their final practice before the game.

“We’re not going to have 700 shots and 700 crosses, so the fans have got to be ready to really get behind us when we need (them). We know these games are always tough tight games, hopefully.”

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In club and varsity soccer, Canadians and Americans play side-by-side. Canadian captain Christine Sinclair, for example, is an attack partner of American star Alex Morgan on Portland Thorns FC of the National Women’s Soccer League.

But internationally it’s a different story as the neighbouring countries have developed a strong rivalry. Canada is ranked seventh in the world in women’s soccer and the U.S. sits at No. 1, but American midfielder Lauren Holiday suggests those numbers don’t necessarily reflect the way things play out on the field.

“Every game is such a battle, you never know who’s going to win,” says Holiday. “Every time we play them it’s such a fierce competition that . . . anything can happen.”

The rivalry intensified after Canada’s semifinal loss to the United States at the last Olympics. The U.S. team went on to win gold but Canada won the bronze medal, an event which has meant a lot for women’s soccer.

Herdman says the country now needs to do more capitalize on the strong base of players now developing across Canada.

“We’ve got the third largest playing population in the world and we can’t produce a consistent podium team.”

He says there are 350,000 girls playing soccer in Canada, compared with just 30,000 in perennial contender Japan.

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This game is just a friendly but it will give both national teams another chance to see how they stack up against a top tier opponent prior to next year’s Women’s World Cup.

And while Canada won’t be playing there, the U.S. team might end up playing in Winnipeg, one of the venues for the 2015 event also being held in Vancouver, Edmonton, Ottawa, Montreal and Moncton.

Herdman also said jokingly that this game is basically dedicated to midfielder Desiree Scott, a Winnipeg native who joined him at the final pre-game news conference. She will be playing live in front of her family for the first time in her national team career.

“I think it’s going to be the Desi Scott show tomorrow,” said Herdman. “I think the whole of Manitoba’s going to come and see her in action. . .

“It’s a proud moment for the team. We’ve all got a massive smile on our face cause the local girl gets to come home. Can you imagine playing in front of your mom and your family for the first time, no pressure Des.”

Scott likes the buzz.

“I’m just trying to thrive off the excitement of playing at home,” said Scott, nicknamed “The Destroyer.”

“And being in front of my family and friends, I think it will definitely give me that energy.”

For both Herdman and interim head U.S. coach Jill Ellis, this is very much about preparing for the World Cup.

“I think for our players it’s just a great opportunity to play against a quality opponent,” said Ellis, U.S. Soccer’s director of development who took over when Tom Sermanni was fired last month.

“I’m just hoping the crowd now will get a real sense of what’s coming in 2015,” said Herdman.

“This country will stop at some point. This team will make the country stop and everyone will tune in. It’s just going to be an amazing experience for women’s sport.”

© The Canadian Press, 2014

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