Monday’s Canada-U.S. soccer clash should be a physical one, which might give Canada a shot

Manchester United's legendary Old Trafford stadium has seen plenty of intense rivalry games over the years. With Canadian head coach John Herdman accusing the U.S. of using "highly illegal" physical marking tactics, it looks like the stadium will see another classic Monday when the Canadian and American women's soccer teams face off in a North American derby (2:45 p.m. Eastern, TSN).

As reported by Fourth Place Medal, Herdman claims "the U.S. engages in illegal marking on set pieces that he believes is both overlooked by officials and poses an injury threat to opposing players."

From the AP:

"One of the big threats we've got to take care of, and what we've paid attention to, is the illegal marking in the box on their corners and free kicks," Herdman said. "Some of the blocking tactics, which are highly illegal, we'll keep an eye on them in the game. We've starting working on that in training without trying to injure our players."

Herdman said he also hopes to "raise awareness" of the issue with game officials when Canada plays the U.S. in the semifinals on Monday at Old Trafford.

"Obviously they're trying to free up a key player, but in a very illegal way. ... The U.S., it's what they do well," he said.

Herdman's complaints are interesting considering that his own side has been known for their sometimes extralegal physicality as well. A tough slugfest could be good news for Canada, though, as that could improve their chances against the heavily-favoured Americans.

[Photos: Canadian women's soccer in London]

One of the defining aspects of Herdman's tenure in charge of the Canadian side is how he's combined the old physical style the team played under Even Pellerud with the technical and tactical style Carolina Morace unsuccessfully tried to bring. Thus far, that's worked out very well; this team's shown off some impressive ball possession and brilliant passing to create gorgeous goals like Jonelle Filigno's half-volley strike against Britain. But they've also defended ferociously and physically, with players like Desiree "The Destroyer" Scott making the middle of the field an almost-impenetrable barrier for opponents. They're not ashamed of that side of their game, either; Scott, for one, is fine with being known for her physical play:

"I like the nickname,'' said Scott. "Not a bad nickname to have. The boos tonight, I took them as they came. As long as we kept a clean sheet, I didn't mind being the villain. The De-stroy-er! I don't mind. You gotta do what you gotta do to get the win.''

Against the Americans, shifting the balance even further to the physical side might be the right move. Canada will certainly still need some scoring opportunities, and Melissa Tancredi and Christine Sinclair can definitely bury them, but a wide-open game could allow the top-ranked U.S. to show off their dominant technical skill. The Canadians ruined Britain's day with a tough, physical performance that kept the U.K. from creating too much offensively, and a similar game plan might just be in store against the Americans.

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The Canadians have more in their favour than just their physicality, though. There's plenty of technical skill on this team as well, and that could be crucial to taking full advantage of opportunities when they do arise. There's also a chance the U.S. could look past Canada to the gold-medal match; the Americans have a dominant history against the Canadians, with 43 wins, three losses and five draws to date, and the difference in world rankings (first versus seventh) also might make the U.S. players a bit cocky. On the Canadian side, there's nothing to lose; this team's generally played well against the U.S. lately, including a draw and a narrow loss, but with the Americans being so heavily favoured, there shouldn't be any expectations weighing on Canada. It's one game, and anything can happen on any given Monday; don't count out these Canadians providing a fairy-tale ending and turning the "Theatre of Dreams" into a nightmare for the Americans.

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