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The Real Heat Is on Warmup Act

U.S. faces Canada in Women's Gold Cup final, but Mexico, Costa Rica have more at stake in third-place game.

November 09, 2002|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

For the United States and Canada, both of whom already have qualified for the Women's World Cup in China next year, all that is at stake tonight at the Rose Bowl is the championship of the CONCACAF Women's Gold Cup.

That means regional soccer bragging rights, but not a lot more.

For Costa Rica and Mexico, on the other hand, the third-place game at 4:30 that precedes the 7 p.m. final means everything.

The winner can still reach the World Cup via a home-and-home playoff against a yet-to-be-determined Asian team. The loser goes away with nothing.

Much will depend on which coach, Mexico's Leonardo Cuellar or Costa Rica's Ricardo Rodriguez, has best been able to raise his players' spirits in the wake of bitter semifinal defeats on Wednesday in Seattle.

U.S. Coach April Heinrichs and Canada Coach Even Pellerud have no such problems.

"It could be one of those finals where it's wide open because both teams have qualified for the World Cup, which would be great," Heinrichs said. "It's a style that we like to play every time we step out on the field.

"We'll go after it and try to play attacking and creative soccer."

Both teams feature some of the finest goal scorers in women's soccer. Canada's lineup includes Christine Sinclair, with a tournament-high seven goals; Charmaine Hooper with six and Kara Lang with four.

The U.S. counters with Tiffeny Milbrett, who has six goals; Cindy Parlow, who has five, and Shannon MacMillan, who has four.

If it continues to rain, it could be the goalkeepers -- Briana Scurry for the U.S. and Karina LeBlanc for Canada -- who play the crucial roles, trying to control a wet ball on a slippery surface.

Even rain will be preferable for Costa Rica to the weather the Central Americans faced in Victoria, Canada, during the first round. It was so cold that Haiti's coach, Gerard Cineus, cleverly dubbed it "the Group of Freezing to Death."

Pellerud, who coached Norway to the 1995 Women's World Cup title before taking charge of Canada, is accustomed to both cold and rain. He has had considerable success of late against the reigning world champions, no matter the weather.

The U.S. is 23-3-2 against Canada, but only 1-2-2 in the last five matches between the countries. The Americans have a 15-game unbeaten streak in U.S. venues, their last loss coming two years ago, a 3-1 setback at Columbus, Ohio against the Canadians

"Canada is very athletic, very strong and very powerful," Heinrichs said. "They play a high-percentage defensive game, where they will sit back with numbers behind the ball and counter with two world-class goal scorers in Hooper and Sinclair, and you might even add a third, Lang, who is a world-class forward on the under-19 level."

Pellerud, a tactically astute coach who is rapidly turning Canada into one the world's elite teams with the goal of hosting and winning the World Cup in 2007, is not afraid to criticize his own team.

After Wednesday's semifinal, he said his players had "underachieved" in beating Mexico, 2-0, on the strength of two own goals.

"They looked hesitant, they looked nervous, they were not able to play the high-quality defensive pressure we used to; they were not able to create the goal chances we used to; they were not precise, hesitant, slow," he said. "I think that was due to the importance of [winning] the game."

With less at stake tonight, Canada is likely to revert to form and give the U.S. all it can handle.

Still, Rodriguez, whose Costa Rica team lost to both Canada and the U.S., likes the Americans' chances.

"They are a very complete team," he said. "They can attack in a variety of ways, down the middle, from the wings, on the ground, in the air, with power and with passing. I don't see any weaknesses."

As Panama's coach, Roberto Sala, said after his team was trounced by the U.S. earlier in the tournament:

"They are not the world champions for nothing."



A Threat From the North

Although Canada has beaten the United States only three times in 28 women's soccer matches, Charmaine Hooper has been a constant thorn in the side of the U.S. Her nine goals in full internationals are the most scored by any player against the U.S. women:

*--* 1 April 14, 1994 U.S. won, 4-1, at San Fernando, Trinidad 2 May 22, 1995 U.S. won, 2-1, at Edmonton 3 and 4 June 6, 1999 U.S. won, 4-2, at Portland 5 July 1, 2000 U.S. won, 4-1, at Louisville 6 Nov. 11, 2000 Canada won, 3-1, at Columbus, Ohio 7 and 8 March 11, 2001 Canada won, 3-0, at Lagos, Portugal 9 June 30, 2001 Tied, 2-2, at Toronto Note: Hooper scored both goals for the FIFA World All-Stars in a 2-1 victory over the U.S. on Feb. 14, 1999, at San Jose


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