VANCOUVER, B.C.—When the U.S. team takes on Mexico for top place in Group B of the CONCACAF women's soccer Olympic qualifying tournament Tuesday night, there will be some particularly interested observers; the Canadian team. The Canadian players aren't planning to be in the building, but they'll likely be tuned in on television, and they have a lot riding on the outcome. Thanks to their 5-1 win over Costa Rica Monday, the Canadians have clinched top spot in Group A, and a draw or a U.S. victory Tuesday means Canada would face Mexico in the semifinals Friday, with an Olympic berth on the line. If the Americans lose, though, they'll wind up playing Canada Friday, which would spell the demise of the Olympic dream for one of the two top-ranked squads in this tournament.
On paper, at least, there's a substantial difference between facing the U.S. and Mexico. The Americans are the top-ranked team in the world, while FIFA has Mexico listed at 21st (Canada is 7th). Moreover, the U.S. has pulled off incredible 14-0 and 13-0 wins in this tournament (against the Dominican Republic and Guatemala, respectively), so they're very much in top form. The Mexican team has also been reasonably impressive so far, but their 7-0 and 5-0 wins over the same two squads weren't anywhere near as dominant. Thus, it's not surprising that some Canadians would rather draw Mexico instead in the semifinals.
"We have that rivalry going with the U.S., but we haven't beaten them in a very long time, so I think maybe deep down inside we're hoping for Mexico," midfielder Sophie Schmidt said after Canada's win Monday.
Head coach John Herdman also admitted that the Americans have been a juggernaut recently, and they're anything but an easy matchup.
"The U.S.A., they've just been destroying teams so far," he said.
Star forward Christine Sinclair said the play of the U.S. team so far has been very impressive, and hopefully Canada claiming top spot in the group will mean that the two don't face off until the final, after they've already clinched Olympic berths.
"The Americans, they're ranked #1 in the world for a reason," she said. "Ideally, we finished first in our group to avoid the Americans."
Despite the logical preference being Mexico, though, the Canadians have been quite careful to qualify that they're perfectly fine with facing the U.S. in the semifinals if it comes to that. Sinclair said they're mostly focused on their own preparations right now.
"Whoever we play, we'll be ready."
Schmidt said either opponent will carry a lot of pressure, given that a victory results in an Olympic berth and a loss ends the Canadians' dreams of heading to London, and that the Canadian team will be set for any matchup.
"Regardless of who it is, it's the same situation," she said. "I think we've grown from the last three games."
Schmidt said the Canadians' play so far, while perhaps not as awe-inspiring as that of the U.S., has still accomplished what they wanted to do.
"I think we did well, and our confidence is growing," she said. "We've tried some different things, rested some legs, and we'll adapt to whoever we play."
Midfielder Kaylyn Kyle said the team's fired up to take on either the U.S. or Mexico.
"Whoever we match up with in the semifinal, we're really excited about it and really looking forward to it,"
Kyle said the Canadians will alter their game plan depending on the opponent, though.
"It will be a completely different game plan depending on who we play," she said. "A lot of that comes down to our technical staff; they're very prepared and they make us feel prepared. ... We'll be prepared in every way possible for the game, so we just really need to go out there and perform as a whole. "
Herdman said there's no point in worrying too much about the opponent, as the key focus is how his team will play.
"At the end of the day, we've just focused on what we can control," he said. "When the time comes, we'll be ready."