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U.S. draws Canada 1-1 in front of strong KC crowd

It was a near-sellout crowd of 16,191 fans at Livestrong Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan. on Saturday when the United States Women’s National Team played a great brand of soccer in its 1-1 draw with Canada in the “Celebration Series.”

Although the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup runner-up didn’t win the match on its home soil, in a game over-reliant on soccer statistics there were some positive signs on show from a number of players as they near Olympic Games qualifying matches.

Per usual, Abby Wambach was her explosive self, causing problems for the Canadian defense — albeit without star central back Candace Chapman — getting the scoring started in the 12th minute on a penalty. Carli Lloyd got the build-up started, sending a long ball to Heather O’Reilly on the right flank. After making her way into the box, O’Reilly hit a shot but Canadian keeper Erin McLeod made a kick save. Wambach was “Johnny-on-the-spot,” hitting the rebound toward goal, which Canada batted down with a hand ball. Wambach stepped up to take the penalty and slid a shot into the lower left corner for the early lead.

For the duration of the first half, the Americans were playing free and easy, creating a number of chances while controlling the possession. Amy Rodriguez, who was clearly lacking confidence as the U.S. moved deeper into the World Cup, showed an abundance of it in the match Saturday night, creating chances from her new left flank position for Pia Sundhage’s 4-2-3-1 formation.

One major problem with the United States during the World Cup was there propensity to turn the ball over uncharacteristically. Against Canada, there were only two that I counted that resulted in clear-cut chances for Canada, one in each half — the second, of which, came in the 90th minute in the box, but the ensuing shot went high. Overall, the backline, which featured Rachel Buehler (first half), Becky Sauerbrunn (second half), Christie Rampone, Ali Krieger and Amy LePeilbet, was strong (although Canada’s best striker, Christine Sinclair, was not in the lineup).

Canada’s only goal, and really its only quality chance of the match (save the 90th minute opportunity) was in the 42nd minute off a counterattack. Kelly Parker sent a long ball from near midfield on the right side into striker Melissa Tancredi — filling in for Sinclair — who slid a shot to the far post past Hope Solo and into the side netting to equalize the match.

In the second half, the United States played flat in the early going, but that all changed with the arrival of super sub Alex Morgan coming into the match. Although the 22-year-old striker (who came on for Wambach in the 57th minute) didn’t have any production, she created countless chances for her side, sparking a stagnant offense.

First, Morgan got a ball in a scoring position at the top of the box in the center of the pitch. Her quick turn and shot was gobbled up by McLeod, however. Later, the former Cal-Berkeley Bear tracked down a 50-50 ball and got it away from McLeod, but her shot was blocked away by the Canadian defense. Morgan continued to threaten the Canadian goal in the 70th minute. On a free kick from midfield, Morgan was targeted in the box. She trapped it down with her chest and hit a shot first time, but McLeod was up to the task.

Canada looked good even without Sinclair and Chapman. Surely the last-place finish at the World Cup didn’t sit well with them, and they came out with aggression and caused some problems for the U.S. Parker was probably the top player on the field for Canada, playing strong in the midfield. McLeod did her job well in the net.

Also performing well for the States were Nicole Barnhart (who came in for Solo at half), Megan Rapinoe and Sauerbrunn. The two sides will meet again Sept. 22 in Portland, Ore., at 11 p.m. ET.

Match Highlights:

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