Canada looks to reach potential vs. US

Four years might not seem like that long ago, but for the US national team and Canada, four years is plenty of time.

It is enough time for the United States to be hungry to win the CONCACAF Gold Cup once again now that it has been four years since the Americans lifted the trophy in Chicago.

Four years is also long enough for the Canadian team to put memories of its controversial loss to the United States in the 2007 Gold Cup semifinals on the back burner.

Tonight’s Gold Cup showdown at Ford Field (8 p.m. ET, FOX Soccer Channel) isn’t about revenge for Canada, or about the United States erasing the memories of last Saturday’s 4-0 loss to Spain. Tonight’s match is about Canada showing that it can finally beat its neighbor to the South, and it’s about the United States taking a step toward reclaiming the trophy it lost to Mexico two years ago.

The match is crucial for both teams, but for Canada, which hasn’t beaten the United States in 16 years, the contest is a chance to knock off a regional power and establish itself as a real threat in this Gold Cup.

"We’re an older brother in the soccer sense so I think they’ll come out swinging because they have something to prove," said US goalkeeper Tim Howard of Canada. "We have to really be careful, but it’s the first game so I think our juices will be flowing. If we get a good result on Tuesday night it can kick us off toward where we want to go."

"They’re a team that desperately wants to beat us and they have a lot of players know us well," said US midfielder Landon Donovan. "They know our strengths and weaknesses and they play well as a team, so it’s going to be a hard game."

Canada will be looking to beat the United States for the first time since 1985, a span of 13 matches (USA is 7-0-6 in those meetings), and will be looking for its first win against the USA in an official competition since 1980.

Canada’s best chance at a win came in the last meeting between the two sides, when a stoppage time goal by Ian Hume was ruled offside, this negating an equalizer in what wound up being a 2-1 USA Gold Cup semifinal victory.

"I think everyone’s still a little bitter about that goal that wasn’t, or was," said Canadian midfielder Will Johnson. "I don’t think revenge is on our mind, with it not being a knockout match. Being the opening match, and against the USA, it’s a big game, but we can’t put all the emphasis on the USA game because there are still two other massive games within the group."

"It was so long ago, that’s the past," Canadian midfielder Julian de Guzman of the controversial 2007 loss. "It’s a much different team from the US side, and from the Canada side.

"We have a good team now, a better team now and we’re going to make it very tough for them."

"I thought we played a good game, and a very good second half in particular," said Canada head coach Stephen Hart of the 2007 loss to the USA. "On another day you might have gotten a result, and that’s how you have to look at it."

The United States comes in still searching for its first win of 2011 yet still enter the Gold Cup as co-favorites along with Mexico. The US team won consecutive Gold Cup titles in 2005 and 2007 before seeing a squad of reserve players get crushed by Mexico in the 2009 Gold up Final. Given the lack of wins this year (0-2-2 in four 2011 friendlies) there is a sense that the Americans are struggling a bit, but their record in the Gold Cup makes them tough to write off. The United States has never lost a Gold Cup group stage match (23-0-2) and has won all 10 of its Gold Cup openers, dating back to 1991.

It is that track record that has Canada focused, and the visitors aren’t about to buy into the notion that the US team’s 4-0 loss to Spain is a sign that the Americans are vulnerable.

"Not at all. Exhibitions are exhibitions," Hart said. "Once the US steps on the field in a competition, they’ve been here before, they’ve been in very big competitions and they’ll be prepared."

The United States should start the tournament well, but tonight will show us whether Canada is capable of being a formidable opponent. Aside from the 2000 Gold Cup championship it won, Canada has had very little success in international competition despite boasting a roster of players who play in good leagues in Europe.

"For whatever reason they haven’t been able to put it together in the past but we always feel like they’re going to be that third team that can qualify for the World Cup (from CONCACAF)," said US captain Carlos Bocanegra of Canada. "They have players who are dangerous, and they play a similar style to us so it’s going to be a good first game for us in this tournament."

The United States-Canada will be live on FOX Soccer Channel, with pregame starting at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for covering Major League Soccer and the U.S. national team.