Revenge is a dish best served with a PK

"It's a rivalry nearly as old as international women's soccer itself." Sebastian Salazar said those words at the beginning of the 2016 CONCAF final between the United States women's national team and Canada women's national team. It was, perhaps, the most understated sentence to have ever been uttered.


The 2012 Olympic Semi-Final between the USA and Canada is a fantastical story of true victory and utter defeat. Of one side finding a way to victory and another side forced to watch all their hard work mean nothing in the end. And that's only the beginning.


Any US and Canada fans worth their salt know about the rivalry between these two countries; the numerous friendlies played on both sides of the border, the many tournaments in which the USA triumph over Canada again and again, sometimes despite Canada's best efforts.


Certainly, Canada gave their best efforts during the 2012 Olympic Semi-Final against the USA. It was a semi for the ages. I'll do a recap for the fans new to this rivalry; however, it's really a game you need to see for yourself, so click this link, grab popcorn and settle in.


At the time of this adventure, the Americans were unstoppable and would go on to continue their dominance in the world of women's international soccer. Canada would be left completely disheartened, having come so close to an Olympic gold medal match behind the power of a Christine Sinclair hat trick. But alas, it was not meant to be, with the Americans finding a way to answer goal for goal, before delivering the final blow in the now-famous 123rd-minute goal from Alex Morgan.


And there's more to this story than that. Canada fans know exactly what I'm talking about. In the 77th minute, Canadian goal keeper Erin McLeod was whistled for taking....too long....to take her goal kick. If that sounds absurd to you, good. An indirect free kick was awarded to the Americans, whose shot went off the arm of veteran defender Marie-Ève Nault and a handball was called. Abby Wambach stepped up to take the PK and made it. And the rest is history.


But this article isn't to rehash that game, as completely bonkers as it was. This article is about Canada and their incredible (and often times frustrating) rise to an Olympic gold medal.


Knowing that this loss to the USA would sting for a long time, Canada started preparing for the next showdown. They participated in several friendlies and tournaments, including the Cyprus Women's Cup, the 2015 Women's World Cup (they were eliminated in the quarterfinals) and Torneio Internacional de Natal. All this was leading up to Rio 2016, to show the world that even though the 2015 WWC hadn't quite gone their way, they could still hang with the big dogs. And hang they did.


2016 was an incredible year for Canada. They won gold at the Algarve Cup, the won silver at CONCACAF and they won the majority of their friendlies. They were ready to make things right. Their Rio Olympics run started off with a strong showing in the group stage, winning all their games and going on to win their quarterfinal game against none other than France. They would lose their semifinal game but take home bronze with a win against Brazil. Two Olympic bronze medals in a row: always the bridesmaid, never the bride.


2018 saw the national team on a coaching rollercoaster. Head coach John Herdman decided to give up on his dream of defeating the USWNT and moved on to a more attainable goal: dragging the Canada men's national team kicking and screaming up the ladder and into good standing. Denmark's Kenneth Heiner-Møller would take over for the next two years, with a decent record of 8W-0D-4L. That brought the team to the 2019 WWC. The national team came into the tournament with the memory of being eliminated in their own backyard at the last WWC. Unfortunately, they did a little bit worse this time around, being sent home in the knockout round. It seemed like Canada's problems were beginning to pile up.


In 2020, the midst of the pandemic, Heiner-Møller stepped down as head coach, and the national team went without a head coach until October, when Bev Priestman got the coveted position. Many fans and media weren't sure which way the wind would blow with this new hire. However, Priestman was gifted a chance to settle into her role when the 2020 Olympics were postponed until July 2021.


The national team looked both different and the exact same in 2021. With many of the vets from 2012 long gone, the remaining going through a trial-by-fire and the entry of young exciting players, Canada had a new look about them. And it was time to step up to the plate. No more bronze medals. Go big or go home. They survived the group stage with two draws and a win to be matched up in the semi final against....the USA.


I have zero shame in admitting that I have not been so excited to watch a USA game since probably 2015. This wasn't just an Olympic semifinal; this was THE Olympic semifinal. A game nearly a decade in the making. Canada had been living with the shadow of that 2012 game. All the commentary whenever the two countries played; all the think pieces, all the interviews, all the media - it all came down to this game. For this chance to flip the script, change the narrative, re-write history. The Americans had looked godawful through the entire tournament, but they were still formidable foes, always finding a way to win no matter what. Canada would need to find a level they had never been to, a gear they had never jumped to, if they were going to turn the tables.


Full disclosure: I was flying to Seattle while the game was happening, so I didn't get to watch until just before the PK call. Tierna Davidson kicked Deanne Rose in the back of her legs in the box and thanks to VAR, Canada had a chance to score. Alyssa Naeher had been subbed out with an injury earlier in the match and an untested AD Franch was in goal. Christine Sinclair grabs the ball, only to hand it over to Jessie Fleming (!). Fleming, who plays overseas with Chelsea, looked extremely cool and confident when she set the ball down, so I know she was probably screaming in her head. And of course, nobody really knows what's going to happen with a PK, and I will admit, I didn't have a lot of confidence in Canada scoring. Not because I didn't think they could score, but because USA goalkeepers - no matter who - seem to somehow always find a way to stop the ball and prevent a goal. Fleming takes a breath and smacks the ball. Franch guesses correctly, but the shot is just too powerful and it's a goal! Canada is leading the Americans by a single goal, with fifteen minutes left in regulation time.


I refused to let myself think about 2012. I refused to let myself think about victory. About defeat. About coming so close....and yet. I watched the clock tick down slowly, every second passing tormenting me. 10 minutes left. 5 minutes left. Stoppage time. And then...


THE WHISTLE GOES AND CANADA NATIONAL WOMEN'S SOCCER TEAM HAS DONE IT. THEY BEAT THE AMERICANS AT THEIR OWN GAME. THEY WON. THE EVIL IS DEFEATED. THE DARK CLOUD CLEARS. THE SUN SHINES. EVEN WITH NO FANS, JOYOUS NOISE FILLS THE ENTIRE STADIUM. REVENGE. SWEET GLORIOUS REVENGE.


Even though there was still a final to be played, it almost didn't seem to matter. It was like beating the Americans WAS the gold medal, the finish line, the sun over a storm. All the 2012 baggage that every player had carried became ten times lighter. The story was no longer about getting robbed in 2012. It was about vengeance in 2021. And while it would've been easy for Canada to go into the final just happy to win silver, that's now what this team is about or what this team is made of. They had gotten this far, and they would go the distance.


It wasn't easy, having held Sweden to a draw all the way through regulation time and overtime and going down to PKs. But patience and faith prevailed and the Canadians won 2-3 on PKs. And while I could go on and write about it how this is an extremely wonderful moment for everyone on the team, there's one player who deserved the win more than anyone else.


Christine Sinclair.


Years of carrying her team through the ups and downs. Years of failed tournaments, almost-wins, what-could-have-beens. Years of winning NWSL championships, but not having a gold medal from either the WWC or the Olympics. All the articles, interviews, stories about this incredible Canadian legend, without a medal. No more. No longer. She beat Abby Wambach's goalscoring record. She's the number-one capped player for Canada with 304 appearances. And now....she is an Olympic gold medalist.


It's been a wild ride for the Canadians since 2012, with many ups and downs, pushback from their own Federation, dealing with several different coaches, finding their footing and their playing style. They have come out the other side as Olympic Gold Medalists.


O, Canada!

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