When they face off Wednesday in the final of the Concacaf Women's Championship, the United States and Canada should get something they haven't gotten all tournament - a competitive game.
The region's powers breezed through the group stage and easily dispatched with their semifinal opponents. Those wins in the last four locked up qualification for the 2019 World Cup in France and booked the teams a place in the final.
Now there's some spice added to what so far has been a relatively flavorless tournament (though Panama and Jamaica getting into the semifinals were mild surprises, and the winner of Wednesday's third-place game will earn its first-ever World Cup bid). The spice appears to be salt. The United States' victory against Canada in the 2012 Olympic semifinal, aided by a few controversial calls, still lingers for players and fans alike.
“Any time you are talking about Canada-U.S. you're talking about two teams that want to beat each other and aren’t going to give up - I'm not going to say inch, I'm going to make it metric - a centimeter on the field to each other,” midfielder Diana Matheson said in a news conference after Sunday's match. “They're always great games against these guys and it’s a rival, it’s a derby, and especially against the away crowd I think we relish that opportunity to be the first-place team in Concacaf."
Canada doesn't get that many cracks at the U.S. The teams scheduled a pair of friendlies last year but otherwise seem to meet mostly in the final of the Concacaf tournament, the region's best on a collision course every two years. Canadians often end up passing through the U.S. or working there full-time. All but one player on Canada's roster this tournament has played in the U.S. at some point, be it in the NWSL or in college.
While it may have the feel of a rivalry game, the U.S. generally has dominated. The Americans have an all-time record of 48-3-7 against their northern neighbors with the last victory for Canada coming back in March 2001 during Algarve Cup play. Even so, U.S. forward Alex Morgan, whose six goals tie her with Canada's Adriana Leon for the tournament lead, said there's a little extra on the line when facing Canada.
"It’s a good healthy [rivalry]. I feel like we tend to play each other quite often and in pretty high-stakes tournaments as well. So this will be great for us, to play them," she said. "They’re continuing to evolve as a team. They have some really young players that have done really well, that are still in college or playing in Europe that we don’t see in the NWSL."
While a win over Jamaica put the U.S. where it wants to be - in France 2019 - there's still plenty of motivation outside of simply topping Canada.
"It was certainly one of those locker room celebrations where you kind of all look at each other and know you did what you set out to do, and that’s step one," attacker Tobin Heath said of the post-match feeling after a 6-0 win over Jamaica in which she scored twice. "But it’s certainly just the beginning of many steps we want to achieve as this group."
The U.S. is undefeated in 2018, has never lost on home soil in qualification and only has one defeat all-time in the tournament. The Stars and Stripes want to close out a perfect year and get working on defending their World Cup championship. First, though, it's a real test against a team that is yearning to get a rivalry victory. It will be the first challenge of the tournament, a tight match and a spectacle worth tuning in to see.