VANCOUVER, B.C.—On one level, the Canadian women's soccer team's match Monday night against Costa Rica doesn't matter at all, as both teams have already qualified for the semifinals. On a second level, it matters for bragging rights and the title of top team in Group A. It's the third level where the match really becomes important, though, and that's for its implications in the broader context of the tournament. If Canada earns a win or a draw, they take top spot in Group A and set up a single-elimination semifinal match against the second-place finisher in Group B, likely 21st-ranked Mexico. If Costa Rica pulls off a win, though, the Canadians wind up second in Group A and have to face the top team in Group B, which will likely be the United States. The Americans are ranked first overall by FIFA and have won their first two games by scores of 14-0 and 13-0, so, on paper at least, they're a much tougher opponent. As both teams in the finals of this tournament will qualify for the London Olympics, Friday's semifinals are the most important matches in this competition, and Canada's game Monday will play a crucial role in deciding who they will face in that round.
Thus far, the Canadian players and coaches have mostly been speaking in terms of their own goal of finishing atop the group rather than the potential matchup advantage it grants, but they've made it no secret that winning the group is a key goal. Thanks to their wins in their first two games and their superior goal differential (+8 to Costa Rica's +2), Canada only needs a draw Monday to take top spot, and Canadian head coach John Herdman said he's very happy with that.
"Goal #1 is to finish top of the group while preserving your players," Herdman said following the team's 2-0 win over Cuba Saturday night. "To finish top of the group was goal #1, to qualify for the Olympics was goal #2, and we're in control of our destiny."
Still, a more subtle parsing of Herdman's post-game comments does suggest that he anticipates facing Mexico in the semifinals rather than the Americans. That was perhaps most evident after SB Nation's Ben Massey asked him Saturday for his impressions on the U.S.'s 14-0 win over the Dominican Republic the night before.
"I didn't watch the U.S. game," Herdman said. "There will be a time when the U.S. becomes a major focus. ... The Americans aren't our focus at this point."
His comments about Mexico were of a rather different tenor.
"We're focusing on the job we've got to do," Herdman said. "Mexico is the one that we're keeping a very close eye on."
Of course, only part of who the Canadians play is in their hands; if they win Monday and the Americans to Mexico Tuesday, we'd still see a Canada-U.S. semifinal. Still, the performances of the Americans and Mexicans to date suggest that the U.S. will win Group B, and they also suggest that Canada would be far better off facing Mexico in the semifinals than the Americans. With a win or a draw Monday, the Canadians can go a long way towards making that happen.