3 thoughts: Canada gets job done in opening World Cup qualifier


Canada's Nichelle Prince, left. (Adrian Wyld/CP)

Earlier this week, the question was posed on Twitter: Will Canada miss qualifying for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup? The simple answer is, no.

While the Concacaf Women’s Championship has grown leaps and bounds since its inception in the early 1990s, parity is not a factor quite yet.

With this senior tournament, it would take a collapse of epic proportions for Canada not to advance — especially since there are three Concacaf spots available for next year’s World Cup in France, along with a potential fourth.

Here are my takeaways from Canada’s 2-0 victory over Jamaica on Friday in its opening match of the Concacaf Women’s Championship in Edinburg, Texas.

Staying with who you know

No big surprises with coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller’s starting 11 and his 4-3-3 formation. With midfielder Desiree Scott out due to injury, Rebecca Quinn was the right choice to bring into the middle. She’s always been versatile, with experience as a centre-back and as a midfielder.

It was also great to see Nichelle Prince as a starter, as she scored Canada’s lone goal in the team’s most recent friendly, a 1-0 win over Brazil in Ottawa. Prince offers tremendous pace and a nose for goal. With Janine Beckie and Adriana Leon taking most of the set-pieces, Prince is the ideal option up top.

And Prince didn’t disappoint, netting Canada’s first goal against Jamaica by tucking the ball in after a scramble inside the box in the 33rd minute. You could sense a wash of relief over the Canadians who, to that point, had been frustrated by solid defending by their opponents. Prince, 23, completed her brace in the 79th minute to seal the win for the Reds.

“It’s really great to finally get to start the tournament, and this was not an easy game, Jamaica. They put a good team out there and they worked really hard, and defended as well,” Prince said. “It was really great to end the game with two goals and the win. We’re happy about what we put out there, and we’re happy we got the win.”

After Christine Sinclair ballooned an earlier free kick at the top of the 18-yard box, I appreciated that she let Sophie Schmidt try a curler over the wall later in the opening half when a free kick near the same spot presented itself. No doubt Sinclair hitting the international goal-scoring record is in the back of everyone’s mind, but the team always comes first, and Schmidt’s attempt didn’t miss by much.

A win is a win

The match itself wasn’t a grat example of entertainment. There was a lack of finish, heavy touches, and some errant 1v1s, but Canada still dominated possession (71 per cent by game’s end).

The lack of shots from distance by Canada was peculiar, particularly near that sweet spot at the top of the penalty area. Ashley Lawrence and Jessie Fleming tried a few times in open play, but that was about it.

What I will say is this was an ideal match to open the tournament. There’s a feeling out process when it comes to the opposition, especially a side the Canadians rarely face.

“We knew that Jamaica was a hard team to beat. They’re very organized and have very skilled players up front,” Heiner-Moller said. “We kept a clean sheet, that was important for us. Overall, to start the tournament with a clean sheet and three points, that’s not a bad way to start.”

Take the three points and call it a day. And for the record, I really enjoyed watching Jamaica play. The program has a bright future.

Methodical buildup

What stands out most in terms of the Canadian squad’s development over the last few years is focus on easing the play. Instead of forcing passes, the Canadians are building through the middle and using the deep flanks as a secondary option.

In particular, centre-backs Kadeisha Buchanan and Shelina Zadorsky, along with the defensive midfielder (Quinn or sometimes Schmidt), are more active, which frees up Fleming to distribute. Will this work against more physical teams, such as Costa Rica, or the U.S., who give you little to no space? That remains to be seen, but it’s undoubtedly one of the areas this team has most improved in.

Canada’s passing accuracy versus Jamaica finished at 90 per cent (they completed 409 of 456 passes). Zadorsky led the way with 59 completed passes, Quinn next at 55 and Lawrence third with 43.

“We’ve got a few things to clean up, but, overall proud of the performance,” Zadorsky said.

Notes: Goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe earned her 23rd shutout with the victory… Canada now sits second in Group B. Costa Rica thrashed Cuba 8-0 earlier in the day to claim top spot… Up next for Canada is a Thanksgiving date against Cuba. “We’re not taking any team for granted, and it’s great to see other nations in the tournament and play against different opponents,” Zadorsky said. “We’re looking forward to the next challenge.”

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