Thursday, August 14, 2008

Olympics: Canada - U.S. women's soccer preview

A new philosophical debate: if Canada and the U.S. square off in the quarterfinals of one of the most popular team events at the Olympics, but Canadians can't watch it on TV, does it really matter? According to the Olympic broadcast schedules of CBC and TSN, both networks have decided to carry the Canada-South Korea baseball match live tomorrow morning and ignore the Canada-U.S. women's soccer quarterfinal, which takes place at the same time.

Now, I could perhaps see one of the networks passing on women's soccer for baseball, even though the soccer is a grudge match against our biggest rival in the knockout stages and the baseball game is merely a preliminary-round match against a not particularly hated opponent: at the end of the day. It seems a bit ridiculous for both networks to announce that they're carrying the same event live though, especially given the great alternative option of one of them showing what's going to be a crucial soccer match.

There is the chance that this could be just a schedule bungling, especially given that Lindsey Craig's preview of the match on mentions that the game will be shown on both CBC Television and the CBC website. For the CBC's sake and the sake of soccer fans in Canada, let's hope that she's right and the CBC's official schedule is wrong: no one wants to see a mob of angry soccer hooligans marching on the Mother Corp.'s headquarters. The CBC's automated broadcast highlight phone line also says that tomorrow's Olympic Morning show will carry live coverage of the soccer quarterfinal, so that suggests that there's a good chance the game will indeed be televised and the Internet schedule is out-of-date. If so, that's another call for the CBC to work on improving its Internet schedule, as it's quite clunky and difficult to use: at one point, clicking on the schedule's "Next Day" button brought up a page claiming to display the schedule for September 4, 1916! For some strange reason, there were no events scheduled for that day.

In any case, I'll again be live-blogging the match over at Sporting Madness, so you can tune in there regardless of if the game's on TV. Kick-off is at 5:49 a.m. ET (2:49 a.m. PT).

On to the match itself. The U.S. squad has to be the heavy favorite heading in: they're ranked first in the world to Canada's ninth, plus they have a lifetime won-lost-drawn record of 36-3-4 against the red-and-white women's squad. Moreover, the Canadians are coming off a disappointing 2-1 loss to Sweden in their final group game and a third-place finish, while the Americans won their group, recovering to beat Japan and New Zealand after a 2-0 opening loss to Norway. The Americans have also beaten Canada in the last nine matches between the sides.

There is some reason for optimism, though. The two most recent in-competition battles of the border have been very close. At the Olympic warm-up Peace Queen Cup tournament, held in South Korea in June, Canada lost 1-0 to the U.S. in the final on an injury-time free kick. In the CONCACAF Olympic qualifiers back in April, the U.S. needed penalty kicks to knock off the Canadians. Moreover, as the excellent Jeff Blair of the Globe and Mail points out (he's proving he can write about soccer as well as baseball), the U.S. side is without their top striker, Abby Wambach, who broke her leg just before the Olympics. They have other strong striking options, including captain Kristine Lilly and Natasha Kai of Deadspin fame (even if they spelled her name wrong), but Wambach is one of the world's best, so losing her is certainly a blow. The depth up front isn't all that great, either:

It will be interesting to see how the Canadians approach this game: do they go for the goals off a more possession-oriented style, as they did to great success against Argentina, or do they play the kick-and-run game they displayed against Sweden, which earned sharp criticism from CBC commentatorJason de Vos, Out of Left Field compatriot Duane and myself, among others? We'll have to wait and see.

There's a lot riding on this game. If Canada crashes out, it's the expected result, and one that still isn't bad: losing to the foremost women's soccer power isn't anything to be ashamed of, in my books at least. If they can pull off the upset, though, what a moment that would be for Canadian soccer and for women's sports in this country. It would be a huge blow for the U.S., too: they're the pioneers in this sport, some of their best-known female athletes have been soccer players, and they're certainly the top of the heap at the moment. Losing to their toque-wearing, hockey-playing cousins from north of the 49th parallel in a sport they've long dominated would be a pretty major national embarrassment for them, and it would be a pretty big accomplishment for those of us north of the border. So, if you're up for an early-morning North American border clash footy-style, bring the toques, beer and bacon along, and come join me in the ancient Canadian war cry of "Take off, hosers!"

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