Ranked sixth in the world at the time, Canada had huge expectations on their shoulders at last summer’s Women’s World Cup, and they missed the mark.
It’s still unclear exactly what went wrong last July, but what is clear is that they’re travelling in a new, much more positive direction ahead of the upcoming CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying tournament in Vancouver
The team feels confident that they’ve turned the page on last summer. Now all they have to do is convince everyone else — and the only way to do that is by proving it on the pitch. In other words, the proof will be in the proverbial pudding.
In my previous blog, I discussed the importance of this tournament for the growth of women’s soccer in our country and how so much of that hinges on the Canadian team qualifying for the Olympics.
It’s great to fantasize about hypothetical scenarios, but eventually we have to ask ourselves if our expectations are realistic. Do they really have a chance? Well, from where I’m standing all signs point to yes. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy.
Remember, only two teams from CONCACAF can go on to the Olympics. There’s no wild card here.
While Canada is by no means considered an underdog in this tournament, they aren’t a shoe-in for London, either. Although I expect Costa Rica will put up a fight, Mexico and the United States will likely be the only teams to pose a real threat to the Canadians. Ultimately it should come down to these three countries.
Fortunately for Canada, the circumstances, setting and conditions really couldn’t be more hospitable right now.
It’s one thing to represent your country, but it’s quite another to be able to do it on home soil in front of your fans. This is a privilege that the Canadian team has not been afforded all too often lately. In fact, it’s something that they’ve been very vocal about over the past few years.
The pride and honour of wearing the maple leaf on your chest and singing your national anthem with an entire stadium chiming in along with you is an experience truly unlike any other. The energy is palpable and it fills your every cell with a confidence and belief that you’re capable of moving mountains. The few precious moments like this that I was fortunate enough to experience in my career had me fighting back tears as I lined up for kickoff.
The pride of playing at home and the support from their fans will certainly contribute to the Canadian team’s success. The home field advantage will not be lost on these women.
The atmosphere in B.C Place isn’t the only aspect of the venue that will play to Canada’s strengths, either. The pitch itself, with its state of the art FieldTurf, will allow for some very fast paced football. Undeterred by the smooth surface, the ball is going to run very quickly.
And so will Canada’s strikers. On a field like this, it’s easy to imagine Christine Sinclair, Christina Julien or Melissa Tancredi beating their defenders to the perfectly weighted through balls from the likes of playmakers Sophie Schmidt and Desiree Scott.
Of course, no soccer player prefers FieldTurf. It pales in comparison to a well-manicured grass pitch and takes some getting used to. But Canada’s competition definitely has more to worry about when it comes to adjusting to the artificial surface. Many Canadian players have spent entire club seasons both practising and playing on it, whereas a number of teams in this tournament will have very little experience with turf, if any at all.
FieldTurf is extremely unforgiving and has a tendency to expose weaknesses in technical ability. We can expect to see more than a few bad touches in dangerous areas by less technical teams such as Haiti and Cuba, two of the teams Canada will face in the group stage. If Canada can capitalize on these errors, it could result in some important goals.
All of these things are outside factors, though. Home field advantage or not, it all depends on where this team is at internally. Have they got the right mentality to capitalize on at least a few of the breaks being thrown their way right now?
With the memory of Germany still fresh in the minds of many fans, some would question whether that’s possible. How does a team recover from something as devastating as finishing dead last in a World Cup that some (albeit, very ambitious) people expected they might win?
After Germany, the players were left embarrassed, beat down mentally, emotionally and physically. They felt the disappointment from the fans and they wore that feeling for months.
They now have a chip on their shoulder and something to prove. This kind of energy and attitude could be a good or a bad thing, depending on how it’s channeled. Luckily, their new head coach happens to be an expert in that department. John Herdman focuses on the psychological aspect of the game just as much as the technical side and it’s a welcomed change.
For many, the deficiencies in the Canadian team that lead to their downfall last summer were not in their technical or physical abilities, but in their mental strength and preparation. They just didn’t seem to have the same kind of fight and determination that they’re known for. They seemed burnt out. They appeared unmotivated, uninspired.
Then Herdman came along, and he’s proven to be somewhat of a beacon of hope for this Canadian squad. He might be small in stature, but his presence is huge. The man has got enough charisma to light up … well, a 54,500-capacity stadium with a retractable roof.
With his undeniable technical and tactical knowledge of the game, Herdman is exactly what this program needs. But even more so, he’s exactly what this specific group of players needs. Perhaps more important than what he provides on the tactical board is the way in which he delivers his message and the response it evokes.
If anything, Herdman is a good communicator. He speaks with so much passion and intensity that you can’t help but be inspired.
He’s is the kind of coach that players want to play for.
He’s the kind of coach that has the ability to take a wounded team dealing with some potentially crippling confidence issues, and turn them into champions — or at the very least (and as far as this tournament is concerned) finalists and subsequently, Olympians.