In the end, of course, it couldn't be anyone else. Sydney Leroux was born and raised in Canada but moved and transferred her eligibility to the United States at age 15. Last year, she brazenly hushed an incensed Canadian home crowd after scoring against them. And on Friday night, she scored the lone goal in the USA's 1-0 friendly win over her motherland.
Her 79th-minute tap-in earned her the grateful embraces of the teammates who could so easily have been her adversaries in front of the largest crowd to witness a women's national team game on American soil since the 2003 Women's World Cup . It helped preserve the Americans' unbeaten streak on their home territory, which now stands at 78 games. But it wasn't achieved easily.
Further underscoring Canada's rapid rise from the doldrums of women's soccer, a tight defensive effort unsettled the Americans for nearly the entire night. And it looked for a spell like the game might end as it started, with a 0-0 score-line. And in truth, that would have counted as a victory of sorts for the Canadians.
In London two summers ago, they lost an epic semifinal to the USA 4-3 in extra time during the Summer Olympics , in spite of having taken the lead on three occasions (certainly, a few strange refereeing decisions didn't work in their favor). In Toronto last summer, they held out until the 70th minute, before the Americans scored three unanswered goals, capped off by Leroux's late tally and ensuing celebration. Tracing the Canadian growth curve in these increasingly heated games, a draw would have made sense and not been entirely undeserved. Because what their game lacked in flair or ambition, it compensated for in organization and conviction.
Video: Christen Press hopes to make her mark as member of USWNT
The tale of the first half was told in its entirety by the three yellow cards the Canadians picked up. Pressing the US high and hard and with an uncommon physicality, they narrowed the spaces down so as to be largely unworkable. The field conspired with Canada to reduce playability, as the dreadful sod in Frisco, Texas burped up bad hops and either very high or very low bounces.
Failing to muster anything at all through the middle and finding little luck on the wings either, the Americans were forced to lump long balls into the box. But Abby Wambach was grounded through tight and aggressive marking, robbing her teammates of someone to knock the ball down for them. Wambach was pulled down by Lauren Sesselmann after dispossessing her in her own half in the 38th minute, but the Canadian Houston Dash defender was spared the sending off the rulebook prescribed for her.
Chances, then, were at a premium. Leroux had two decent looks but goalkeeper Erin McLeod was sharp and equal to each of her finishes. And it was Canada, in fact, who got the best look of the opening stanza when the uncharacteristically uninvolved Christine Sinclair and Desiree Scott freed up Diana Matheson. But she slipped her finish just wide of Hope Solo's goal, a miss that, in the end, you never quite get away with against the world's long-standing number one team.
With Canada further consolidating their forces towards defensive ends, the second half turned into a slog. Once again, the American forwards were fed a measly diet of deep crosses. Leroux, clearly intent on proving a point in an increasingly personal vendetta -- she claims she was racially abused with further insults targeting her family in the Toronto game -- displayed her usual lust for labor.
Video: Christie Rampone shares experience as member of USWNT
But it took until the 79th minute until it yielded anything. At length, Becky Sauerbrunn came streaking into the Canadian box from her spot in central defense. She played the ball off to Christen Press, got it back at the end line and hit it square for Leroux, who was open at the far post and needed only to tap it in.
Canada would get another major chance in the 88th minute, as Sinclair found Jonelle Filigno. The attacker took a deft touch to free up some space for herself, but her low shot didn't beat Solo, who settled behind it well.
And so the USA prevailed in a rare high-intensity test in this three-year gap between major tournaments. But they must be slightly disconcerted at having produced so few real chances against a team counting much less ability and experience. Megan Rapinoe produced a solid stream of service from the left. Heather O'Reilly and Ali Krieger combined well on the right. But no other sources of danger were tapped into. The Americans' many weapons were far too easily pacified.
Canada is coming closer. And some 18 months before the USA travels north again, their rivalry with the Women's World Cup hosts is only growing fiercer.