Preview: United States vs Canada – The North Remembers

Certain games make their mark.  For women’s football, these games can also introduce a nation to a beloved team they barely knew.  The final of the 1999 Women’s World Cup immortalized the US women’s national team and launched the sport into the American mainstream.  Their neighbours to the north though had to wait thirteen years for a similar moment.

If you speak to almost any Canadian soccer fan and ask them what was one of the best, yet most contentious matches they have ever seen, they will say the USA-Canada Olympic semi-final of the London 2012 Olympics.  While the Canadian women’s national soccer team had played in major tournaments before, and had had some visibility in the country, it was this match that showed the great white north just how good, tenacious and courageous their women’s team was.  

It is also known because of the events that lead to what most Canadians believe was a stolen game.  It started with two halves of nearly end to end football, tied 2-2 three-quarters of the way through regular time.  In the 72 minute though, Christine Sinclair completed a magnificent hat trick to put the Canadians ahead 3-2.  It was arguably one of the best displays from the Canadian captain ever.

However, dramatic events occurred minutes later.  Norwegian referee Christiana Pedersen gave a free kick to the United States after penalizing Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod for holding the ball for more than six seconds, a call almost never made in football.  It should be noted that McLeod was not excessively holding onto the ball or time wasting.  In the moments after the free kick was taken on Canada’s goal, the ball hit the arm of Marie-Ève Nault and the US were awarded a penalty kick.  Abby Wambach put it in to equalize.

The game then went into 30 minutes of added time with the scoreline being 3-3.  Just as it seemed that it would go to penalties, in the 122 minute of play, a cross entered into Canada’s box and found Alex Morgan who headed it past McLeod.  The Americans headed to the gold medal match.  Canada would go on to win the bronze. 

The result, and the manner in which it came to be, stirred up both the Canadian players and the Canadian nation.  Sinclair, known for her professionalism and general reserve, was fined $3,500 and suspended for four matches by FIFA for comments she made to the media after the game about referee Pedersen’s odd call.  The Canadian public reacted the same, by agreeing with Sinclair that this match was not lost by Canada but taken away from them.

Back home though it did leave a lasting impact.  The women’s national team entered into the Canadian mainstream.  Just like many young American women talk about how 1999 was the catalyst that pushed them towards wanting to play competitively, the same can be said about the 2012 London Games for the current generation of soccer playing Canadian girls and young women.  

However, as nice as Canadians can be and as inspired as they were by their women’s national team in London, the frustration and anger has not dissipated about the events of the 2012 USA semi-final game.  This upcoming semi-final will once again stir up emotions and memories.  The North remembers.