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Late Leroux goal gives US draw vs. valiant Canada

U.S. forward Sydney Leroux scored against Canada (again) in a 1-1 draw. (Photo copyright Meg Linehan for The Equalizer)

An encouraging and at times dominant display from Canada wasn’t enough to earn a victory over the U.S. for the first time since 2001, as the two teams settled for a 1-1 draw on Thursday at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Sydney Leroux’s 78th minute goal salvaged the draw for the Americans in front of 28,255 fans at the 2015 World Cup venue.

Canadian defender Kadeisha Buchanan opened the scoring in the 35th minute when she got the better of Abby Wambach and Ali Kreiger, out-jumping the American duo to head Diana Matheson’s corner kick inside of the far post, which was not covered by a U.S. defender.

The goal was Buchanan’s first at the senior international level. The 18-year-old also got physical and shut down Wambach throughout the night on the defensive end.

Lacking width throughout the match, defender Crystal Dunn entered for Meghan Klingenberg in the 59th minute and found space on the right flank 20 minutes later to provide service into the box. Canada failed to deal with the cross, and the ball dropped to Leroux at the back post for the tap-in equalizer.

A minute later, Christine Sinclair nearly put Canada back ahead on a follow-up toe-poke that drifted inches wide of the post.

The U.S. is now 47-3-6 all-time vs. Canada, having last lost to their northern neighbors on March 11, 2001.

Lauren Holiday earned her 100th cap for the U.S., becoming the 30th player ever to reach the milestone.

HIGHLIGHTS

THREE OBSERVATIONS

— Buchanan was the player of the match, bar none. She was just the right mix of brave, tough and borderline overly rough to frustrate and shutdown Wambach, Leroux annd Heather O’Reilly up front, and Buchanan’s goal was a deserved reward. At 18 years old, she has a bright future, but consistency will be key. Consistency is critical for Canada in general, who like last year in a 3-0 loss to the U.S. in Toronto started strong and then fell off late.

— The U.S. completely lacked width against a Canadian team that has hardly any wide presence of its own. Jill Ellis went with a 4-3-3 that looked to find Wambach centrally, but Canada’s spine is its strength, with Desiree Scott, Diana Matheson and Sophie Schmidt in the midfield, plus Buchanan’s masterful showing on the evening at center back. Dunn’s introduction to the game helped change that, but an earlier switch to a 4-4-2 would have benefited the United States. And if 4-3-3 is the direction the U.S. goes, the front three should be composed of three of the five dangerous forwards they have. Heather O’Reilly is great on the right side, but she’s a midfielder.

— Speaking of the spine of a team, the U.S. is still figuring things out in the middle. Becky Sauerbrunn and Whitney Engen seem to be taking the helm as the two center backs to lead the U.S. into the 2015 World Cup (unless the new coach comes in and turns that upside down — a healthy Christie Rampone is still a very good Christie Rampone, and she’s the captain). Sauerbrunn and Engen have looked comfortable together. The central midfield’s performance on Thursday, though, was a head-scratcher. Lauren Holiday was too often sitting just in front of the back four in the first half; that’s not where someone of her playmaking ability should be at all. Morgan Brian was off from her usually stellar play and Carli Lloyd was, for the first time in a long time, a non-factor.

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