Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas played host on Saturday to an
eagerly awaited friendly between two sides preparing to compete at
the FIFA Women's World Cup China 2007, the USA and Canada.
Adding extra significance to proceedings was the charitable aspect of the game. More than one puzzled spectator could be seen wondering why Greg Ryan's charges had changed their customary white shirts for a fetching pink number. The reasoning was simple: to raise awareness and garner further support for breast cancer research.
The good intentions did not stop there. The US players all signed their own shirts, which will be auctioned on the US Soccer Association's website until 16 May, with all proceeds going directly towards the research. The specific entities set to benefit from this admirable gesture of solidarity are the Y-ME National Breast Cancer Organization and the MD Anderson Cancer Center. Breast cancer is the most frequently occurring form of malignant tumour in women across the globe.
Buoyed by the passionate support of over 8,000 Texan fans, the USA were quick to repay the favour with a performance full of verve and lethal finishing. The 6-2 final scoreline also meant that the US girls extended their unbeaten run to a staggering 41 games. Abby Wambach got things underway early on with a third minute penalty, only for Canada to level the match just eight minutes later through Rhian Wilkinson - the Canucks' only effort on target in a one-sided first half.
Unfortunately for the USA's northern neighbours, parity would only last a further four minutes, Lindsay Tarpley putting her side 2-1 in front. The Americans steamed further ahead with goals before half-time from Lori Chalupny and the indefatigable Kristine Lilly, whose well-taken strike with her weaker left foot was goal number 122 of her distinguished international career.
"They threw a lot of players forward, and then we countered and had great chances. Our set-pieces were very good tonight as well," said coach Ryan after the game. It was a verdict shared by Ryan's opposite number in the Canadian camp, Even Pellerud: "They are a very strong and skilful team who scored four goals from set-pieces. That is one of our weak spots and we'll have to work on it before heading to the World Cup."
Five minutes into the second period, the battling Canucks reduced the deficit through Christine Sinclair, before Wambach bagged her second of the night in the 65th minute to make it 5-2 to the hosts. A classy finish from Heather O'Reilly on 73 minutes rounded off the scoring on an encouraging outing for the USA, which was somewhat marred by a serious knee injury to defender Heather Mitts.
"The team have worked hard over the last two and a half years and you can see that things are starting to come together," said captain Lilly. "The younger players are making things happen and feeling good about themselves and that's what we need going into the World Cup."
Canada coach Pellerud, meanwhile, was keen to dampen the fans' feelings of disappointment after such an emphatic reverse. "Up to this point we've been focusing on improving our fitness, but from now on we need to play more international games."
As if to illustrate the point, the match was the third in nine days for a team who arrived in Dallas looking visibly worn. Several players had enjoyed barely two days of rest after the long return journey from Hangzhou in China. Pellerud's side had played two preparatory games against the Chinese during their stay, losing 3-1 on 3 May and 2-1 three days later.
Curiously enough, the US women's next encounter will be against the FIFA Women's World Cup hosts on 16 June in Cleveland. That game will signal the start of a demanding six-game series of pre-tournament friendly matches designed to ensure Lilly and her team-mates hit peak form in time for September's showpiece event. Their remaining fixtures are as follows: Brazil on 23 June, Norway on 14 July, Japan on 28 July, New Zealand on 12 August and finally Finland on 25 August.