Off The Post: Canada-USA controversy eerily familiar
(Christine Sinclair, pictured, and Hayley Wickenheiser have both battled the USA. And referees.)
When the Canadian women’s soccer team was victimized awful by officiating in Monday’s semi-final against the United States, many Olympics fans north of the border felt an uncomfortable sense of dejavu. If you pictured the same opponents wearing hockey skates instead of cleats, changed the venue from Old Trafford to Salt Lake City, and rewound the clock by 10 years, now-infamous Norwegian referee Christina Pedersen is a dead ringer for Stacey Livingston.
Livingston of course was the referee who whistled Canada for 13 penalties – eight of them consecutive – in the women’s hockey gold medal game at the 2002 Winter Olympics. Just as the soccer players took to the pitch to begin extra time on Monday, I tweeted a message to Hayley Wickenheiser, who wasted little time calling out Livingston in an iconic rant a decade ago, and was pleasantly surprised to receive the following response:
Undoubtedly Pedersen and Livingston will go down as the most notorious officials to commit miscarriages of justice against the maple leaf in women’s sports.
But here’s where the similarity ends.
The 2002 women’s hockey team was good enough to beat the Americans in spite of the officiating. The 2012 soccer team was not.
And – God forbid that the Canadian passport officers come after me – I still feel that the better team won on the pitch on Monday.
Yes, the guy who was born a stone’s throw away from Toronto’s Brunswick House pub, who watched “The Littlest Hobo” as a kid, and who has actually been ‘screeched in’ and kissed a cod in Newfoundland will not use the ridiculous delay of game call against Canuck Erin McLeod as an excuse for the eventual Canadian defeat.
At the time that the egregious sequence of delay of game + handball + tying penalty kick by Abby Wambach occurred, there were still 10 minutes left to play with the red and white clinging to a 3-2 lead on the strength of Christine Sinclair’s hat trick for the ages.
That’s an eternity to defend against the top-ranked team in the world. And if the first eighty minutes were any indication, Carmelina Moscato and Rihan Wilkinson were giving the American strikers far too much space. Overall the United States ended up with a dozen corner kicks, compared to only four for Canada. In fact, John Herdman’s squad was fortunate late in the game to have the sure-footed Wambach miss an open net on what could have been the biggest wide-right gaffe since Scott Norwood.
I’m not convinced that the Americans wouldn’t have tied the game anyway, based on the level of desperation that they would have exerted had they been rightfully playing down by a goal. Alex Morgan found a way to break the collective hearts of Canada – and not just the hopelessly lovestruck ones – by capitalizing just as extra time had expired in a deadlocked game. Who’s to say that she wouldn’t have done the same at the end of regulation had the United States been playing to stave off elimination?
Face it; the Canadian team just wasn’t good enough. Sinclair is usurping Chuck Norris as the toughest intimidator on Twitter. If you don’t believe me, use #chucksinclair. But Sinclair does not comprise the whole team. The rest of her teammates combined to score the same number of goals as goalkeeper McLeod. The Americans had goals from three different scorers. Containing Wambach and Morgan and Megan Rapinoe in the same game is a daunting task.
In contrast, if we reflect on the Canadian women’s hockey team that skated off Utah’s E Center rink with the gold medal in 2002, there was a unit truly deserving of victory. Like their present-day soccer counterparts competing in London, they were huge underdogs against the United States. In fact, Wickenheiser laced up for a team that faced even more adversity than Sinclair and friends. Not only was the Salt Lake City venue the home side for Canada’s opponents, but even the referee Livingston was American.
And then came bad call after bad call, including a pair of 5-on-3 advantages to Cammi Granato’s team with the arena draped in a sea of red, white and blue.
Coach Daniele Sauvegeau could have folded the tent and blamed the refereeing.
But the Canadians persevered and got goals from scorers on three different lines: Caroline Ouellette, Wickenheiser and Jayna Hefford. Goalie Kim St. Pierre made the clutch saves.
Did more than one women’s footballer score for Canada in their 4-3 defeat? No.
Did McLeod make the key saves? It’s hard to fault her on Wambach’s penalty kick. But the Americans’ first goal on that corner kick by Rapinoe had some odour to it.
I’m not saying the Canadian women didn’t give it their all on Monday. They did.
I’m not saying the refereeing wasn’t – to borrow Wickenheiser’s 2002 speech – atrocious. It was.
I’m not saying that Sinclair’s performance wasn’t one of the greatest in Canadian team sports, men or women. If she isn’t named Canada’s flag-bearer at the closing ceremonies, I may stage a personal boycott of the games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
But the best teams find ways to win, despite all obstacles; injuries, officiating, or otherwise.
Pedersen, who is thankfully relegated out of the remainder of the London Olympics – presumably to matches more suited to her level, such as those played in my 12-year-old niece’s league – may have had an impact in the semi-final. But she’s hardly the sole reason that Canada lost.
Rob Del Mundo is the author of Off The Post, and is a regular columnist at TMLfans.ca
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