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US women’s soccer team looks to keep focus on Canada

This news story was published on August 6, 2012.
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By Kevin Baxter, Los Angeles Times –

LONDON — The U.S. women’s soccer team will face the most dangerous opponent it has seen in these Olympics when it squares off against Canada in a semifinal game Monday night at Old Trafford in Manchester, England.

And we’re not talking about Canada.

Because the team that has the best chance of tripping the Americans one game short of their fifth consecutive Olympic final could be the Americans themselves. They’ve been spoiling for a rematch with Japan, which plays France in the other semifinal, since losing last summer’s World Cup final on penalty kicks. But if they get caught looking ahead to that game rather than concentrating on Canada, they could wind up watching the final on TV.

“At this point this is the most important soccer game of our lives,” said forward Abby Wambach, who has scored in each of the four U.S. games. “We have to perform. Canada is a scrappy team.”

Scrappy, perhaps. But Canada hasn’t beaten the U.S. since 2001, a string of 27 games that includes a 4-0 loss in January at the Olympic qualifying tournament in Vancouver, Canada, and a 2-1 defeat in a send-off game five weeks ago in Utah.

Still, U.S. Coach Pia Sundhage sees little danger of overconfidence.

“On the contrary,” she said. “The fact that this team has been so successful means we are able to cope with the pressure and expectation and use it in a positive way. If you look back then you gain confidence.”

There are other things for Sundhage to fear, though. Although the U.S. is unbeaten and Canada has won only two of four games in this tournament, the Americans had trouble putting away North Korea and New Zealand in their last two games and Canada overcame Britain and a raucous hometown crowd in a 2-0 win in a quarterfinal game Friday.

And while much of the attention coming into the tournament was focused on the potent U.S. duo of Wambach and Alex Morgan, the Canadian duo of Melissa Tancredi and Christine Sinclair have outscored them by a goal, combining for seven scores.

“Christine, for me, is like a Rolls-Royce,” Canadian Coach John Herdman said of Sinclair, Canada’s all-time leading scorer with 140 goals in 188 games. “She just floats around the pitch and everything about her is class.”

But he added, in a nod to the last decade, “We’re underdogs going into this game. The United States is on a great roll. That’s not many chinks in that armor.”

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