By Michael Lewis
MANCHESTER, England - Canada hasn't beaten the United States in women's soccer since 2001 - 26 games since the "Canucks" claimed victory over the "Yanks." And Canada has only defeated the United States three times in 51 games.
Yet Monday's clash at Old Trafford has one major difference - it's the Olympic semifinals.
"You can read all of the folk tales and the lore you want. This is about a soccer game," U.S. forward Abby Wambach said Sunday. "We're not reading into it. We're not looking at our records of the past. At this point, this is the most important soccer game of our lives.
"Canada is a scrappy team. They have gotten a lot better over the last few years. David and Goliath, I don't buy into that all. They have players who can change games in an instant. We're going to be prepared for that."
Monday's match will be the biggest stage the two have played on against each other in their 26-year history. They met in the quarterfinals of the 2008 Beijing Games with the United States prevailing in extra time, 1-0. The Canadians have never won a women's soccer medal.
Canada coach John Herdman realizes that the United States is a three-time Olympic champion, a two-time World Cup champion, and hasn't been scored upon in 316 minutes at the London Games. It has won 22 of the 26 meetings since 2001, dating back to a 3-0 Canadian win at the 2001 Algarve Cup in Spain.
"We're underdogs going into this game, he said. "The United States are on a great roll. There are not many chinks in that armor."
Herdman said that he hopes to use the winless streak to motivate his team.
"There's something in there, no doubt about that," he said. "There is a little fear there that we've not done it for a while. So, we'll go toward that. We'll use it and we'll open up that Pandora's Box and we'll chat about it.
"We'll see if we can unearth a few things. We're not hiding from the fact. The players, they know it deep down it's going to be a massive task and it hasn't be done for a long time."
But all streaks come to an end sooner or later.
"The Olympics are all about people trying to set personal bests and breaking world records," he said. "The Olympics are one of those special occasions where things do happen. For the players, they're dreaming about personal bests and dreaming about gold medals. The USA, if they are in our way, then we've got to do what's got to be done."
"It has always been a dogfight, going back to qualifying for the 2007 World Cup," she said. "We've had historically close matches. I don't care about the game that we play as long as we are the winners. It's not about being pretty, although we do aspire about that. It is about playing good soccer.
"We don't want to make it a physical game. We want to play good soccer. But if it comes down to that, I know we're up for the challenge."
This game invites the inevitable comparisons between two of the best players in the world, the second- and third-most prolific goal scorers in women's soccer history. After the 158 goals by Mia Hamm comes Wambach at 142 and Canadian striker Christine Sinclair at 140.
"You talk about two fantastic players in the women's game," Herdman said. "Abby's a fantastic competitor. I love watching out on the pitch. She leads the team well. She's not afraid to put her shift in. I think that's what's quite unique about Abby. She can work very, very hard for her team and lead in well.
"Christine, for me is like a Rolls Royce. She just floats around the pitch. Everything about her is class, as a person, on the pitch, off the pitch. Trying to compare those two players, they're both goal machines, but they just do it in different ways. They're both legends in the women's game."
For Wambach, the encounter is more than about just two players.
"Christine Sinclair is one of the most underrated soccer players on the planet," she said. "She is very good at scoring goals, obviously. Getting to the semifinals of the Olympic Games is validation for her on what she has been able to do for her country over the last decade.
"This is not about Abby vs. Christine Sinclair. This is about the United States vs. Canada. We want to show that our defense is good enough to stop one of the best goal-scorers in the world."