2015: Year to remember in Canadian women’s soccer

Canada's Christine Sinclair, right, jumps past China's Wu Haiyan. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)

For Canadian women’s soccer, 2015 will go down in the history books as a year to remember.

The country welcomed the globe for 30 days in the summer when it hosted the FIFA Women’s World Cup. The tournament not only broke Canadian attendance records, it also crossed five times zones, created massive social media buzz and generated close to half a billion dollars in economic benefits.

The Canadian team took fans from coast-to-coast on a journey. They opened the tournament June 6 in Edmonton in front of 53,058 versus China. The Reds won that match 1-0 in thrilling fashion, when Christine Sinclair neatly slotted in a penalty kick during injury time.

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Canada would go on to finish sixth at the World Cup and while it likely wanted more than just an appearance in the quarterfinal, the tournament provided a special final hurrah on home soil for the older generation of players on the team.

Late this fall, the women’s national squad showed the winds of change. Their current emphasis through the National EXCEL program is “More Sinclairs, More Often.” It’s a motto shared by coach John Herdman, under-20 coach Daniel Worthington and under-17 coach Bev Priestman. When players re-grouped for the first time since the FIFA Women’s World Cup, the roster focused on youth, combined with dependable, proven veterans. According to Herdman, this will be the mantra going forward.

Here’s a look back at 2015 in Canadian women’s soccer:

The preparation and build up for the FIFA Women’s World Cup included winning January’s BaoAn Cup in Shenzhen, China and falling to England in the final of the Cyprus Cup in March.

Canada’s run to the quarterfinals of the FIFA Women’s World Cup featured some nail-biting moments. After Sinclair’s heroics vs. China in the opener in Edmonton, their second game of the group stage pitted Herdman versus Tony Readings and New Zealand. There was plenty of history between the two coaches, given Herdman’s lengthy tenure with the Kiwis. Fair to say, the 0-0 draw was not indicative of the quality of play, because the match was entertaining from start to finish.

The Reds next made the trip cross-country to face the Netherlands in Montreal. Ashley Lawrence scored her first senior goal at the 10-minute mark to give Canada the lead, one they held until late, when the Dutch found the equalizer and the match ended 1-1. A win and two draws advanced Canada to the knockout stage of the tournament for the first time since 2003.

In the Round of 16, Switzerland proved to be a formidable opponent. Josee Belanger, who had been filling in as a fullback, was moved up to her natural striker position and netted her first ever World Cup goal early in the second half. The 1-0 win set up a quarterfinal date with England.

54,027 spectators packed Vancouver’s BC Place Stadium on June 27. The Lionesses scored twice in the opening 15 minutes, pouncing on a couple of Canadian errors. Sinclair cut the lead in half, but smart and timely defending by England prevented Canada from penetrating their opponent’s third to find an equalizer. This is where Canada’s run at the FIFA Women’s World Cup ended.

Goalkeeper Erin McLeod was stellar throughout the tournament, surrendering only three goals. Kadeisha Buchanan was a rock on the back line and was subsequently named Best Young Player and made the All-Star Team.

Only days after the FIFA Women’s World Cup ended, Canada’s under-23 squad played at the Pan American Games, with all games taking place in Hamilton. Captained by goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe, the group finished with a record of one win and four losses. While it was a poor showing from the Canadians, the tournament allowed the coaching staff to observe and evaluate the emerging EXCEL talent.

The women’s program closed out the year with two tournaments. Daniel Worthington’s group finished second at the CONCACAF Women's U-20 Championship in Honduras, falling to the United States in the final. They qualified for next year’s FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Papua New Guinea. The group also received the tournament’s Fair Play Award. Taylor Pryce led the way in scoring with three goals, while Sarah Kinzner and Sarah Stratigakis both found the back of the net twice.

The seniors wrapped up 2015 with a second place finish at the Torneio Internacional de Natal in Brazil. The roster featured plenty of youth, who made their debuts and paved the way for the team’s new look ahead of the 2016 Olympic qualifications in February. While captain Sinclair was the top scorer, there were also impressive showings by Nichelle Prince and Janine Beckie, who seem poised to step into regular roles with the national team.

Christine Sinclair: The captain scored her 158th international goal on Dec. 13 versus Trinidad and Tobago to tie legendary Mia Hamm’s total for second all-time. With the recent retirement of American Abby Wambach, Sinclair is the highest active goalscorer in the women’s game.

Kaylyn Kyle: The Saskatoon-born midfielder made her 100th appearance for Canada on June 21 at the FIFA Women’s World Cup versus Switzerland.

Ashley Lawrence: The midfielder netted her first goal as a member of the senior side in Montreal during Canada’s 1-1 draw versus the Netherlands on June 15 at the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Melissa Tancredi: The forward earned her 100th cap for Canada in front of her hometown fans on May 29 in Hamilton in a friendly versus England.

Allysha Chapman: The fullback’s first senior goal on March 9 at the Cyprus Cup was the game winner in Canada’s 1-0 victory over Italy.

Jessie Fleming: The youngster scored her first senior goal during the Cyprus Cup in a 2-0 triumph over Scotland on March 4.

Janine Beckie: The forward scored for the first time as a member of the senior team at the BaoAn Cup tournament in China versus South Korea on Jan. 11.

Gabrielle Carle – Dec. 9 versus Mexico
Kennedy Faulknor – Dec. 9 versus Mexico
Deanne Rose - Dec 9. versus Mexico
Marie Levasseur – Dec. 13 versus Trinidad and Tobago

Karina LeBlanc: The long-time goalkeeper closed her international career after the FIFA Women’s World Cup at the age of 35. She debuted for Canada as an 18-year-old in 1998. In her 110 appearances, she earned a total of 47 clean sheets. The charismatic leader was a member of five World Cup rosters (1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015).

Kadiesha Buchanan: Incredible. That’s the best way to sum up 2015 for the 20-year-old. She was the first player not named Christine Sinclair to win the Canadian Female Player of the Year in over a decade. Along with the accolades she received at the FIFA Women’s World Cup (Young Player Award, Best XI), she was also in the running for the country’s Lou Marsh Award and made the 10-player short list for FIFA Women's Player of the Year.