VANCOUVER, B.C.—There's no dispute that a 4-0 loss to the Alex Morgan-led U.S. was far from an optimal way for the Canadian women's soccer team to wrap up their hosting of the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament. Sunday's clash illustrated just how wide the gap between the seventh-ranked Canadians and the top-ranked Americans is at present, and in many ways, it was a disappointing ending for Canada to a tournament that had previously proved to be a celebration of what this team can accomplish. Still, the Canadians left this competition beaten but unbowed, and while they're disappointed with the ending, captain Christine Sinclair said they're happy with their performance in the event as a whole, and particularly with their qualification for the London Olympics this summer.
"For sure," she said. "You never like to lose in a final, but at the same time, ultimately, we accomplished our goal of qualifying for the Olympics, and we gave ourselves the chance to play them again."
Sinclair has been facing off against the U.S. for upwards of a decade, and she said the gap may be slightly narrower than it's been in previous years.
"I think we're slowly closing," she said. "I know it was a lopsided win for them, but in the first half, they took four shots and scored three goals. That's just the American story; they know how to finish, they know how to punish you when you do make those one or two mistakes. We had our chances and just didn't finish, and they just took control of the game."
Canadian head coach John Herdman said Sunday's showing wasn't reflective of what his team can do.
"The game ran away with us," he said. "It was one of them games where we started chasing shadows."
Herdman said his squad gave it all they had, though.
"I can't fault the players' effort," he said. "They came out to run for Canada, and I think they did that all night."
Herdman said a lot of Sunday's result was thanks to the Americans' quality, too. He said there's a reason they're the top-ranked women's side in the world, and a reason they finished the tournament with a staggering 38-0 goal differential.
"We've seen them destroy teams over the last few years," he said. "When they're hot, they're white-hot."
Herdman said it was disappointing not to deliver a better performance on such a big stage.
"All of Canada was watching tonight," he said. "You have the whole nation captivated, and it was our chance to really bring them to life, and we just never did. We never really got into a rhythm. The Americans pressed us, and that's a great longing for us; when they press, we should have the ability to come out of that. That's what we've worked on."
Herdman was thrilled with the Canadian fans who showed up throughout the tournament, including the CONCACAF Olympic-qualifying record crowd of 25,427 (the second-largest ever for a Canadian women's senior team game) that turned up Sunday night to root them on.
"A big thanks to the people of Vancouver for coming out and supporting us in droves," he said. "They never left our side all night. It was fantastic."
Herdman said playing the world's top-ranked team is never easy, though, especially for a squad that's still adapting to his methods.
"This is a massive learning curve for us," he said.
However, Herdman said there were some positive signs despite the loss.
"We weren't all that far away from the U.S. tonight," he said. "Maybe not in the first half, but certainly in the second half, we showed our prowess."
Midfielder Carmelina Moscato said the Americans are ahead of Canada for now, but that won't necessarily always be the case.
"They're the number-one team in the world, you know," she said. "it's going to be hard to bridege that gap, but I know we can."
Midfielder Desiree Scott said the Americans' fitness is quite a ways above what Canada can offer at the moment.
"They're so strong, they can run for 90 minutes," she said. "They're ridiculously fast."
Scott said the Canadians should be pleased with their overall tournament, though.
"Our goal was to qualify for London," she said. "We did that.
Forward Melissa Tancredi said qualification for London was the key for Canada, and the time between now and that tournament will let them improve to a position where they can compete with the world's best.
"We're there, and we have six months to prepare," she said. "Tactically, we've learned a lot."
Sinclair said it's not any one specific thing they have to do to catch the Americans, but rather general improvement across the board.
"We just have to keep chipping away."