For once, Canada heads into a soccer game against the United States with a little bit of bragging rights over its regional rivals.
While the Americans have traditionally dominated Canada in soccer, the Canadian under-23 team beat the heavily favoured U.S. 2-0 at the Olympic qualifying tournament last March in Nashville in front of a staunchly pro-American crowd.
Eight players from that squad are among the young Canadian senior side that will face the United States in a friendly on Tuesday.
“The silence in the stadium was indescribable,” defender Andres Fresenga said of Canada’s rare win. “It’s the feeling that you get once in a lifetime. Being a soccer player and hear no cheering. It’s just silence from the crowd and it’s an amazing feeling.”
The U.S. was expected to roll through the tournament and claim one of two Olympic berths along with Mexico, but the Americans never made it out of the group stage. Canada fell one game short of qualifying for London when they lost 3-1 to Mexico in Kansas City. Mexico went on to win the gold medal in London.
“For me especially I had come off a very tough year personally so to get that win against our rivals was just picture of happiness,” said Nana Attakora, who was Canada’s captain in that game. “It was just like ‘Finally!’ We had played these guys all the way up the youth teams and to get a result like that in the States obviously I was very happy.”
Defender Doneil Henry scored the winning goal that night.
“If it was one thing with that team we really fought for each other and we really had a lot of commitment to the team and we had a lot of trust,” said Henry. “If we bring that same commitment and that same enjoyment to the game like we show in practice I’m sure we can show the result.”
While picking up a win at the under-23 level is one thing, registering a win against the senior side will be another matter entirely.
Canada hasn’t beaten the U.S. at the senior level since 1990 when the Canadians edged an American B side 1-0 in Burnaby, and hasn’t won against a full-strength American roster since 1985. The following year Canada made its only World Cup appearance, while the U.S. missed out on 1986 but has qualified for every World Cup since.
Making matters more difficult, Canada’s team in camp is young, with 10 newcomers to the senior side. The Canadians suffered a resounding 4-0 loss to Denmark on Saturday in Tucson, Ariz.
They’ll also be facing American side loaded with Major League Soccer regulars. It’s not the best U.S. team but many players will be fighting for spots in head coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s World Cup qualifying roster.
Canada’s defending is their biggest concern as it was suspect on a number of the Danish goals.
There was plenty to learn from when the team reviewed the game tape and Tuesday is an opportunity to correct mistakes.
“We’re certainly disappointed by the result and aspects of the performance on Saturday but we now look forward to what will be a great occasion on Tuesday night,” said interim head coach Colin Miller. “I’ve spoken to a number of them individually and the response has been very positive so I’m very pleased with the reaction.”
After creating the game’s first chance on Saturday, Canada quickly conceded a pair of goals within 11 minutes. They were down three goals after 35 minutes.
Miller says that the longer the players can hold out without allowing a goal, the more the belief in the team will grow. He says that’s particularly true with a young team.
“You don’t want to be 2-0 down after 15 minutes,” Miller said. “We have the approach that we have to be off to a good start. The longer it goes on without conceding a goal there’s a bit more confidence in the camp so we’re well aware of how we’ll have to start.”
Growing pains were expected for this Canadian squad against opponents that are well above them in the FIFA rankings. Denmark is No. 23, the U.S. is 28th, and Canada is 64th.