Christine Sinclair (12) and Diana Matheson weren't thrilled after the second U.S. goal Sunday.Going just by the final scoreline, Sunday's 3-0 U.S. victory over the Canadian women's soccer team at Toronto's BMO Field would be a disappointing outing and a step back, especially as it was the first time the teams had faced each other since the narrow, controversial 4-3 American victory in last summer's Olympic semifinals. However, that wasn't the whole story of this high-emotion game. The game turned thanks to two stunning goals from U.S. striker Alex Morgan in the 70th and 73rd minutes before Canadian-born Sydney Leroux added the final strike for the U.S. in stoppage time, and the Americans certainly deserved the result after dominating the possession and creating the majority of the chances, but there were glimpses of a Canadian team that can hang with the top-ranked U.S. squad. Canadian soccer fans aren't going to be thrilled with the result, but it was far from a crushing outcome for their side, and it may well be one that shows them what they need to do ahead of the 2015 Women's World Cup.
For most of the match, Canada wasn't able to create a lot of possession or generate significant offensive chances, and that's certainly problematic. However, the red-clad Canadians defended remarkably well for the first 69 minutes, shutting down Morgan (an exceptional talent who created next to nothing until her first goal) and the legendary Abby Wambach. At the half, Sportsnet commentators Gerry Dobson and Craig Forrest discussed how the Americans were being held far below their typical numbers of crosses and shots, and that says a lot about how effective the Canadian defence was. That was thanks to both known commodities like superb defensive midfielder Desiree "The Destroyer" Scott and new faces like Kadeisha Buchanan, the 17-year-old defender who head coach John Herdman accurately said "owned" Wambach. There were defensive breakdowns towards the end, and those played significant roles in the goals from Morgan and Leroux, but the defensive effort was impressive and showed this team's quite capable of hanging with a team with as much firepower as the Americans.
The support for the Canadian side at BMO Field was also impressive. That hasn't always been the most friendly home venue for Canadian national teams, but the crowd of 22,453 (a record for soccer at BMO Field) was notably pro-Canada and made their presence felt vocally throughout the match. That's something that will be needed if this team's going to find success on home soil at the 2015 Women's World Cup, and Sunday's attendance for a friendly two years out certainly is a good sign on that front (and a sign that the attention around last summer's Olympic run to a bronze medal wasn't a one-off.)
There are key on-pitch improvements needed for Canada to find sustained success in 2015, obviously. Herdman's 3-5-2 formation showed potential, but the back three showed perhaps some inexperience with it on the late breakdowns, and Morgan demonstrated how costly even a momentarily marking failure can be. The midfield didn't hold anywhere as near as much possession as it should have with that many bodies centrally, and they weren't able to create many chances for the Canadian strikers. The overall performance Sunday won't be good enough for a sustained Women's World Cup run. However, there were promising signs here, and some lessons that the Canadian team can perhaps take to heart. There's potential for this squad to play with the best in the world: it's just a question of if they can live up to that.