Algarve Cup win a big step for Canadian women

Kadeisha Buchanan, left in action for Canada. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)

It took Canada over a decade to return to the Algarve Cup, but it was worth the wait.

A hard fought 2-1 victory in Wednesday’s final versus Brazil secured Canada it first championship at the annual eight-team exhibition tournament.

In past editions, the participating squads included the world’s highest-ranking nations. However, with the United States, Germany, France and England taking part in the inaugural SheBelieves Cup in the U.S., a spot opened up for Canada in Portugal for the first time since 2003.

Algarve proved to be a perfect storm for Canada, who faced Iceland, Denmark and Belgium in round robin play and then eventually met Brazil, the top ranked team there, in the final.

Hoisting the trophy should pay dividends as the younger players get a taste of winning a title ahead of this summer’s Olympics in Rio.

Welcome aboard
Canadian coach John Herdman brought three goalkeepers to Portugal: Stephanie Labbe, Sabrina D’Angelo and Kailen Sheridan. D’Angelo and Sheridan both made their senior debuts at the tournament and did so in impressive fashion.

D’Angelo posted a clean sheet in a 1-0 victory over Belgium. The 22-year-old also played the second half of the final, conceding one goal.

This marked Sheridan’s first camp and appearance with the women’s senior team. The 20-year-old also earned a clean sheet in Canada’s crucial 1-0 win over Iceland, the Reds’ final match of the group stage.

Forward Summer Clarke was also difference-maker in her senior debut. She scored the winner against Belgium in the 89th minute.

Numbers
Janine Beckie led the way in scoring for Canada with two goals. Clarke and Shelina Zadorsky both netted one a piece. Assists came from Christine Sinclair and Ashley Lawrence.

Defender Kadeisha Buchanan was the only Canadian who played a full 90 minutes in every match. It’s no wonder she was named the tournament MVP, especially given her tremendous performance versus skilled Brazilian strikers such as Marta.

Next in line for time on the pitch for the Reds: Diana Matheson (356 minutes), Lawrence (340 minutes) and Desiree Scott (312 minutes).

Youth grabbing the reigns
All of Canada’s scoring at the Algarve Cup came from players under the age of 23.

There’s a good chance the upcoming NCAA senior Canadian class will be the best ever. Rebecca Quinn (Duke), Nichelle Prince (Ohio State), Lawrence (West Virginia), Buchanan (West Virginia), Clarke (Louisiana State) and Sheridan (Clemson) will all be preparing for their first professional seasons a year from now. That’s an impressive group, who represent all positions on the field and are the future of the national team.

Much like February’s Olympic qualifiers, the back line featured the centre-back duo of Buchanan and Zadorsky. The two compliment one another well, with Zadorsky on the left, allowing Buchanan freedom on the right side, where she’s most comfortable.

What’s next
The Canadians will soon be joining their professional squads. The National Women’s Soccer League is scheduled to begin in early April, but many teams have various pre-season games set for March. Eleven players from Canada will be suiting up in the NWSL this season.

Across the pond, Melissa Tancredi is slated to join Sweden’s KIF Örebro, while Sophie Schmidt will embark on UEFA Champions League action with FFC Frankfurt in Germany later this month.

Earlier this week, the Canadian Soccer Association announced two friendlies in Ontario ahead of the Olympics. On June 4, Canada will welcome Brazil to Toronto’s BMO Field and they’ll face off again on June 7 in Ottawa at TD Place.


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