One more win and the national side will have what it really wants: Lima gold and a ticket to Tokyo.
Karli Johansen and Madeline Secco scored as Canada blanked the United States 2-0 in semifinal play at the Villa Maria Del Triunfo Sports Center.
“We wanted to change history today and we came out here and we did just that,” said Canadian captain Katherine Wright.
Canada will play Argentina on Friday in the gold-medal game with the winner earning a berth in the 2020 Summer Olympics. Argentina beat Chile 3-1 earlier in the day.
The two-time defending champion Americans posted a 3-0-0 mark in the preliminary round after victories over Mexico, Chile and host Peru.
Canada had a 2-1-0 record in the preliminary round with comfortable wins over Cuba and Uruguay sandwiching a 3-0 loss to Argentina. Both teams posted 9-0 routs in the quarterfinals with Canada topping Mexico and the U.S. downing Cuba.
Dressed in all-black uniforms, the Canadians applied steady pressure against their North American rivals on the water-based artificial turf surface.
Wright had the game’s first good scoring chance but her backhander sailed over the crossbar.
The Americans gave up a penalty corner in the 10th minute and Canada took advantage with Johansen firing a low flick past goalkeeper Kelsey Bing.
Stephanie Norlander nearly tacked on another goal a moment later but American defender Julia Young blocked it on the line.
The United States came out stronger in the second quarter. Mackenzie Allessie had an opportunity down low but Canadian goalkeeper Kaitlyn Williams made the save.
The Americans gave up another penalty corner in the 26th minute and were lucky to escape unscathed. The initial Canadian shot was blocked and Sara McManus’s effort hit the side of the net.
The 1,000-seat venue was about two-thirds full with a few vocal pockets of Canadian fans and supporters on hand. Tuques and gloves were a common sight in the crowd during the chilly evening matchup.
After halftime, Canada made it 2-0 in the 35th minute after Wright provided a strong effort deep in the American zone. Her shot squeaked through the defence and Secco dived towards the goal and just pushed the ball over the line.
The Canadians withstood some late American pressure and ran onto the field in celebration when the game ended. It will be Canada’s first appearance in the Pan Am final since falling to Argentina at the 1991 Games in Havana.
“We’ve really gained some confidence from this game,” Secco said. “I think we’re just ready.”
The Americans were gutted after the loss.
As her teammates got ready for a post-game jog, American midfielder Lauren Moyer stood on her own by the sideline. With hands on her hips and shinpads tossed aside, she shook her head and stared despondently out at the field.
“We knew that Canada is dangerous on the counter-attack,” said U.S. midfielder Kathleen Sharkey. “We just needed to always be turned on on defence.
“We had the ball down in their circle and then within 20 seconds, they were down scoring in ours.”
The Americans entered the competition ranked 13th in the world, five positions ahead of Canada.
“We knew it was going to be a battle out there today,” Wright said. “We prepared and prepared and prepared. We really focused on playing our game.”
Argentina, the world No. 3, had its run of six straight Pan Am gold medals end at the 2011 Games in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Canada finished second at the FIH Hockey Series Final event last June in Valencia to earn a spot in another Olympic qualifier this fall. But the Canadians want to ride their momentum and lock up the berth here.
“We’re lucky to have another crack at Argentina,” Wright said. “We think we can really compete against them. They’re also a very skilled, talented side.
“But we’re going to bring that Canadian grit and that Canadian passion and really play well against them.”
Canada beat Chile to win bronze at the 2015 Games in Toronto.
The Canadian men’s field hockey team will play Chile on Thursday. Argentina will play the United States in the other semifinal.
The men’s final is also set for Friday.