ORLANDO — The United States and Canada are, indeed, women’s soccer rivals. They qualify together for most major competitions, often advance deep in world tournaments and have clashed 61 times since 1986, usually with tight outcomes.
But for rivalries to truly thrive, one team can’t win almost all the time.
On Thursday, on the opening day of the SheBelieves Cup, U.S. domination in the neighborly rumpus was put to the test before the Americans prevailed, 1-0, on substitute Rose Lavelle’s goal in the 79th minute.
The world champions were fortunate to escape after faltering in the attack and conceding multiple threats. But in the late stage, Christen Press’s free kick caromed back to Lavelle for an 11-yard one-timer into the low near corner.
With it, the top-ranked Americans extended their 20-year unbeaten run against Canada to 36 matches (30-0-6). Canada, ranked eighth in the world, has won just three times in the series — in 1986, 2000 and 2001 — and tied seven.
U.S. unbeaten streaks also continued Thursday in overall matches (35 since January 2019) and home appearances (51 since July 2017).
The Americans will face Brazil (1-0-0) on Sunday, then Argentina (0-1-0) on Wednesday in the sixth annual tournament, an Olympic primer that, because of the coronavirus pandemic, is being conducted at one location instead of the usual three and limited to 4,000 spectators per doubleheader.
“When we create 10 opportunities and we score one, I am disappointed,” U.S. Coach Vlatko Andonovski said. “On top of that, if we allow any shots to goal, I am not going to be happy. They had a couple of opportunities. We’re going to look a little deeper into why that happened.”
The Americans were not at full power: Tobin Heath and Sam Mewis were not named to the roster because of injuries, and Kelley O’Hara sat on the bench with a minor ailment.
Lavelle was also on the bench. Injuries and durability issues have shadowed Lavelle, 25, throughout her young career, and with three matches in seven days, top prospect Catarina Macario started instead.
O’Hara’s absence opened a spot for Margaret Purce, from Silver Spring, Md., Good Counsel High and Harvard. She made her second international start.
With only 18 Olympic roster slots available, five fewer than for the World Cup, players such as Macario and Purce need to make the most of their opportunities.
Always climbing uphill against the Americans, Canada arrived without four key players: Kadeisha Buchanan, Ashley Lawrence and Jordyn Huitema were not released by their French clubs, and forward Christine Sinclair, the world record holder for international goals by a man or woman, is injured.
Ten minutes into the match, goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan departed with an apparent groin injury.
Nonetheless, the visitors had a wonderful opportunity to steal a victory.
“They were brave,” Bev Priestman said of her players after her debut match as head coach. “They worked really, really hard, and they took it to the U.S. in moments in that game.”
In the first half, the Americans lacked their usual ruthlessness and efficiency. When chances came, Stephanie Labbé, the backup keeper, made two terrific saves.
Alyssa Naeher came to the U.S. team’s rescue by making a one-on-one save against Janine Beckie, Lavelle’s Manchester City teammate.
Early in the second half, Canada squandered two golden chances, the last by Beckie by herself in the box after a teammate collected Crystal Dunn’s aimless back pass.
With about 30 minutes left, Andonovski exercised his depth by inserting three of the world’s best attackers: Lavelle, Press and Alex Morgan.
The energy swelled, ideas improved, and the menace returned.
“Rose, in particular, brings this creativity that is just so special,” Purce said. “You get lost watching it. . . . Alex has some really so-close finishes. And [there’s] Press. They come on, and it’s exciting, and it’s uplifting, and it makes you believe even more we are going to close this game out.”
Canada pleaded for a penalty kick in the 74th minute on an apparent handball by Purce but didn’t get the call. Three minutes later, U.S. midfielder Lindsey Horan smashed a half-volley off the crossbar. Then came the goal, ending a night of high tension.
Naeher recorded her ninth consecutive shutout in what was the biggest scare the United States has experienced in a long time.
In the first match, Olympic-bound Brazil claimed a 4-1 victory over Argentina, which lost several players to coronavirus issues this week.
Marta, the six-time world player of the year who turns 35 on Friday, converted a penalty kick late in the first half performing in the stadium where she stars for the NWSL’s Orlando Pride.
Debinha (North Carolina Courage) and Adriana scored early in the second half. After Mariana Larroquette (Kansas City) connected for Argentina, Geyse closed the scoring.
A few hours before kickoff, tournament organizers announced four Argentine players had been scratched from the game-day roster because of coronavirus protocols.
Reserve goalkeeper Yanina Sosa tested positive and was ruled out of the tournament. Earlier in the week, Sosa had replaced 2019 World Cup starter Vanina Correa, who did not travel because of coronavirus issues.
With Argentina down to one goalkeeper, Laurina Oliveros was a late call-up to back up Solana Pereyra.
Another player was quarantined after inconsistent test results. Contact tracing revealed she had high-risk contact with two others. Negative tests in the coming days would allow them to return to active duty.
Brazi’s Formiga and Luana were not released for the tournament by their club, Paris Saint-Germain.