Canada raises eyebrows with formation vs. T&T

Canada's Janine Beckie in action against Trinidad. (David J. Phillip/AP)

Canada and Trinidad & Tobago are familiar foes. Sunday’s match in Houston at the CONCACAF women’s Olympic qualifiers marked their eighth meeting and for an eighth time the Reds won.

Their last face off—an encounter at December’s Torneio Internacional de Futebol Feminino in Brazil—was similar to what we saw in this Olympic qualification game. It was a physical, athletic affair, but this go-around featured an offensive-minded Canadian formation, which raised a few eyebrows.

Here are my three takeaways from Canada’s 6-0 victory over T&T:

2-4-4
I can’t remember the senior squad ever starting with a 2-4-4 formation under coach John Herdman. They normally rely on four defenders, and depending on past opponents or game situations they’ve used a three-defender system or even had five back in defence, but this was new. Versus T&T, centre back Shelina Zadorsky was on the left, with Kadeisha Buchanan on the right.

Essentially, the team attacked in a 2-4-4 and defended in a 4-4-2, and as a result Canada had six different goal scorers (Diana Matheson, Melissa Tancredi, Christine Sinclair, Kadeisha Buchanan, Janine Beckie and Jessie Fleming). The few opportunities T&T had on came on the counterattack or a free kick.

Given Josee Belanger’s experience on the right side of the pitch, she tracked back on the rare forays into Canada’s third by T&T. Ashley Lawrence had more responsibility, too, finding herself in a hybrid fullback/midfield role on the left. Lawrence has the pace and match perception to be effective, which she was versus T&T. She worked hard on the left flank for nearly 60 minutes. She was later replaced by Allysha Chapman, who normally suits up as a fullback.

Matheson remains key
Diana Matheson, who wore the captain’s arm band for this match, controlled the pitch.

Opening the scoring at the 24 minute mark (her 17th international goal), the veteran ripped the ball past goalkeeper Kimika Forbes. The play itself was tricky and showed Matheson’s poise, as she used a small stutter step to throw off Forbes, making it look like she might pass it off to a teammate.

What’s most noticeable about Matheson is how nearly every play goes through her. She’s crucial when it comes to set pieces and distributing the ball, regardless of what side she’s on. Her tactical awareness has to be admired.

Cross connection
Something Herdman wanted to address after the tournament opening win against Guyana was making the most of their crosses. He identified the lack of conversion on those balls into the 18-yard box as something Canada had to work on.

The Reds did improve their accuracy as a whole. The crosses that came from wide in the T&T third were strong. However, they still struggled with delivering the ball from the middle third.

With a must win date looming in the semifinal, this facet of their game plan will need to be cleaned up. Missed crosses may hurt them on the counterattack versus a stronger opponent.

Notes: Ashley Lawrence took a hard knock in the first 15 minutes. Despite a large goose egg and going through the doctor’s on-field concussion test, she finished the opening half and was subbed at the 56 minute mark… Melissa Tancredi’s header goal was reminiscent of many she’s scored throughout her career. It also marked the forward’s first tally since the 2012 Olympics. Of the now 23 goals she’s netted since her 2004 debut, seven have come during CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Championships… Christine Sinclair’s goal gives her 159, to move ahead of the legendary Mia Hamm for second on the all-time list. Abby Wambach, who retired last year, is first with 184.