On Nov. 9, over 28,000 excited fans gathered in BC Place in Vancouver, hoping to cheer the Canadian women’s national soccer team on to victory against their American counterparts. In the end, the Canadians were held 1-1 in the first of two matches last week. Canada’s strong play was a marker of something bigger—their desire to establish themselves as consistent, legitimate contenders on the international stage.
Though only a friendly match, the hype for the game was considerable. Ever since Canada’s landmark bronze medal finish at the 2012 London Olympics—plus Christine Sinclair’s historic hat trick in the semifinals—the women’s national soccer team has held a special place in the hearts of Canadians. A generation of young female players look up to this team and have been inspired by their play for years. The marketing team capitalized on fans’ excitement, with the hashtag #WNTRivalry trending on Twitter before the game.
Canada hasn’t played the United States since last year, but welcomed the opportunity to play the best women’s team in the world. The Americans, too, were anticipating the chance to play on away turf, as this game marked only their seventh game beyond their borders since they won the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Vancouver in 2015.
The game got off to an exciting start, with both teams scrambling to make an early mark. In the early minutes, American striker Megan Rapinoe found the inside of the far post, but the shot defied the laws of physics, deflecting away from the goal line rather than behind it. Though neither team was able to maintain consistent possession, the Americans penetrated the Canadian defensive line with a number of dangerous through balls. In the 31st minute, after an unsuccessful clearance by Canadian keeper Stephanie Labbé and her defenders, American striker Alex Morgan muscled her way in the box to strike a bouncing ball into the back of the net.
Despite the opposing goal, Canadian heads remained high. Though struggling to maintain possession, the Canadian team moved the ball well on the ground and increased its offensive efforts. The arrival of left-winger Adriana Leon onto the field in the 31st minute brought a burst of intensity up top. Forward Nichelle Prince patiently and persistently troubled the American defence down the right wing, creating a number of opportunities for the Canadians. Though they were one goal down at halftime, the Canadians had outshot the Americans five to four.
The second half opened the same as the first closed, with Canada pressing forward for an equalizer. The team’s efforts were rewarded after defender Rebecca Quinn pinged the ball off the crossbar, allowing Leon to poke the ball over the line during the ensuing scramble in the box in the 56th minute of play. The Americans responded with substitutes Carli Lloyd, Taylor Smith, and Christen Press, who brought energy onto the pitch at the 65-minute mark.
As both teams pushed on for a winning goal, more chances opened up. Canadian striker Meagan Kelly joined the game and, racing forward on a bouncing through ball, was denied the game-winner by U.S. goalie Alyssa Neaher, who pushed it just wide of the post.
The Canadians, though disappointed to not come away with the win, were pleased with their performance. Historically, the U.S. has dominated Canada in soccer: Canada’s last win was in 2001, and overall they’ve lost 49 of their 59 matchups against the Americans. With such a record, the two teams could barely be considered competitive rivals, the Nov. 9 game showed otherwise. With only 19 months remaining before the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Canadian soccer fans were given a glimpse of a newly competitive team—one that is capable of topping their best-ever fourth place World Cup finish in 2003. Perhaps this marks the start of a new chapter for Canadian women’s soccer, where the #WNTRivalry could legitimately become just that.