A meeting against Guyana, the 89th ranked team in the world, was the best way the Canadian women’s team could open the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament.
The Reds’ last game versus Guyana came in 2010, meaning there were plenty of unknowns. How had their program improved? Would they park the bus, so to speak, and put up a defensive wall?
Canada didn’t seem too bothered by these questions, earning a 5-0 win in its opening match of the tournament in Houston.
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Canada’s showing bodes as an excellent starting point. The players got their legs moving early and adjusted to the tempo of game, a bonus because they haven’t suited up for a match since the Torneio Internacional de Natal in Brazil almost two months ago.
Here are my three takeaways on Canada’s big win:
Finally, soccer that matters
No disrespect to December’s four-nation tournament in Brazil, but it was good to see the Canadians in meaningful action. They haven’t had an important game since being eliminated in the quarterfinals of last summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup. I found it intriguing to see how the team changed from nearly eight months ago.
First, Ashley Lawrence has clearly developed as a key cog on this squad. She was a World Cup standout, had a strong NCAA season with West Virginia and on Thursday she netted a hat trick. What’s most noticeable about Lawrence is her two-way play. The midfielder never takes her foot off the gas, regardless of where she is on the pitch. She also has more responsibility on her shoulders now, getting in on free kicks and corners.
Next, it was interesting to see Christine Sinclair taking set pieces. Her class delivery on corner kicks led to two goals. Something Canada struggled with at the World Cup was making the most of those opportunities. It’s clear they’ve been working on taking advantage of set pieces and even though the captain isn’t available as a target, she’s delivering quality balls to players who showed they can finish in the penalty area.
In just her fourth appearance—and second as a starter—16-year-old Deanne Rose certainly didn’t look out of place up top alongside Sinclair and Diana Matheson. She netted Canada’s opening tally with a lovely flick off a Sinclair corner. She looked like a seasoned veteran on her second goal, powering down the right side, beautifully placing the ball with a low shot inside the far post.
She also provided strong playmaking. Throughout the night, the teenager displayed her pace and energy on the flanks, carrying the ball and providing service to the 18-yard box. At the 22-minute mark, coach John Herdman switched tactics and moved Rose from the left to the right, swapping her with Matheson. She easily adapted.
It was truly impressive showing by the youngster and her performance opened a new chapter for the senior team.
Erin McLeod and her back line keep busy
Goalkeeper Erin McLeod saw no action in terms of stopping shots, but she made sure she was active. In the opening minutes, she brought the ball up to half and got in on the playmaking. She even had a throw in! When’s the last time that happened? But, I digress. It was important to have McLeod involved against Guyana, especially coming off her recent injury.
Speaking of being active, fullbacks Josee Belanger and Allysha Chapman had a busy evening in the attacking third. Belanger’s work ethic on the right side was tremendous. Chapman showed her strength on a number of overlaps, opening the field and allowing her midfielders to get in prime scoring areas.
Herdman has long searched for a left-footed player to fill in alongside centre-back Kadeisha Buchanan. Shelina Zadorsky fits the bill. In just her fifth appearance, Zadorsky provided support for Buchanan, allowing her to make challenges and vice versa. A united centre-back duo will pay tremendous dividends going forward with this group. They didn’t get a lot of touches, but they did communicate well.
NOTES: Veteran defender Robyn Gayle (81 appearances) is with the team in a performance analyst role. She’s been part of John Herdman’s staff since last fall. Joining her on the sidelines is Bev Priestman, women's EXCEL program U-14/U-17 director and U-17 coach. She’s worked many hours with youngsters Deanne Rose and Gabrielle Carle… Desiree Scott earned her 100th cap in this game. The 28-year-old midfielder from Winnipeg debuted for Canada at the 2010 Cyprus Cup. Between 2011 and 2014, she went on a stretch of 62 consecutive matches with the team.