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Can someone please rewrite this script?

The numbers don't lie: Canada's women usually struggle when they meet U.S. on the soccer pitch

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Team Canada midfielder Desiree Scott (11) warms up during practice in Winnipeg on Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Team Canada was practicing in preparation for their friendly match against USA on Thursday.

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS Enlarge Image

Team Canada midfielder Desiree Scott (11) warms up during practice in Winnipeg on Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Team Canada was practicing in preparation for their friendly match against USA on Thursday.

It's been a week all about homecomings and growing the game, about reconnecting with old friends and teammates and trial runs in advance of the 2015 World Cup.

And if you ask around those close to the game, the hype and buildup to tonight's Canada-United States women's soccer friendly at Investors Group Field -- not to mention the 25,000-plus in ticket sales -- has been just about perfect for the beautiful game locally, nationally and internationally.

But there's nothing beautiful about this number, at least, from Canada's perspective: 3-47-5.

That's this nation's all-time record against the Americans, the top-ranked team on the planet by FIFA. And no matter how much the juicy sidebars linked to this matchup draw attention -- the tasty local angle has Desiree Scott playing her first game in front of her mom and family -- this is still a results-driven business.

And three victories in 55 games -- the last coming March 11, 2001 in front of 150 fans at the Algarve Cup in Portugal -- is just plain ugly.

Maybe that explains why Canadian head coach John Herdman has attempted to dial down the rivalry this week. Joked Herdman on Monday: "Normally we make it bigger than it actually is. It's a game of football with two goals at the end of the day... yeah, right."

Mind you, taking the other approach and stoking that rivalry didn't exactly go so well last June in Toronto when the Americans, facing Canada for the first time since the controversial semifinal victory at the 2012 Olympics, won 3-0.

So this week has been about injecting some youth into the practice sessions. It's been more about team-building and preparation for next year's 2015 World Cup in this country than the tactical changes for tonight's friendly.

"Look, I don't know if you recall Toronto and the rematch thing... what you don't realize is the impact that has on players," said Herdman Wednesday. "If you get the emotion wrong, it all becomes about the outcome and to get people in their right mindset for games and to maintain an energy level, emotionally you can be drained by the time of the game if all you hear is 'Here, we go... the rivalry... it's a battle.'

"This was from the leadership group. We just wanted to take the focus off them and just bring it back to us being here in Desi's hometown, enjoying this experience. You never enjoy the experience against the U.S. on the pitch and they know that. It's not something you go out and enjoy, it hurts. It's a physical battle and they know it's coming. What we haven't done is overemphasize that, which is what we've done in the past at times."

Despite lopsided numbers, this isn't exactly a Desi vs. Goliath matchup. Under Herdman, Canada has tied the U.S. 1-1, lost 4-0 in the 2012 Olympic qualfier, fell 4-3 in the Olympic semifinal, then 3-0 in the rematch last June and 1-0 at the end of January in Texas.

There's a mutual respect thing going on here and it's been spit out from both sides from the moment they both set up camp here.

"It's like a local derby, it has that kind of feel," said U.S. head coach Jill Ellis. "It's always going to be a hard match. It's 50 per cent preparation and tactics and 50 per cent emotion because there's always so much investment in this game because it comes down to pride. I think the rivalry is good, it's healthy.

"People tune in when Canada plays the U.S."

Still, the numbers also say this: More and more fans may be tuning in for Canada-U.S., but the script keeps playing out the same way -- with the Americans prevailing.

"When you have a three-million (player) talent pool you just have more bigger, stronger, faster players," said Herdman of their rivals. "They're bigger than you, they can run faster... that makes them just a machine.

"They tend to be a moving force that, no matter who they're playing, they play the same sort of style. It's very chaotic. So, you can go in with all the game plans you want, but the reality is they have a physical ability to impose themselves on you and if you can't play in their chaos, you get run over.

"That's what we've been working on, looking at the chaos they cause and finding the way out of it. We're getting closer to figuring out some of the things you can do to upset them."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 8, 2014 D1

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