3 thoughts: Canada shows off depth at Concacaf Championship

Adriana-Leon

Canada's Adriana Leon. (Darryl Dyck/CP)

After a rather mundane opener at the Concacaf Women’s Championship, Canada took control early versus Cuba on Monday in its second match of the tournament.

Adriana Leon and Jordyn Huitema found the back of the net multiple times in the Canadians’ first match against the Cubans since 2012.

“It was a great win, good performance. What we talked before this match was that no matter what we keep our standards high in respect to our opponents, fans that were watching, and the game,” Canadian coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller said.

Here are my takeaways from Canada’s 12-0 win in Edinburg, Texas, as the Reds took another step closer towards qualifying for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Canadian coach turns to his bench

Heiner-Moller elected to let his depth lead the way, with backup Kailen Sheridan in net, and keeping only four players who started in Canada’s 2-0 win over Jamaica last Friday. The Canadian starting 11 also featured three teenagers: Julia Grosso, Deanne Rose and Jordyn Huitema.

Veteran Diana Matheson, who earned her 199th cap, supplied a perfect pass to Adriana Leon to open the scoring in the 11th minute. It was a sign of things to come for the Canadians, as Huitema netted the third goal of her young senior career only minutes later. Leon and Huitema both finished the night with four goals apiece.

Captain Christine Sinclair was brought in as a substitute to start the second half and, with Monday’s goal, she now sits at 174 for her career, just 10 behind Abby Wambach, who holds the international record in the women’s game. And unselfishly, Sinclair laid out a fabulous pass to Huitema for Canada’s 11th goal on the night, rather than padding her stats.

Playing time in this major competition is invaluable for youngsters such as Grosso, Lindsay Agnew, Gabrielle Carle and Emma Regan (making her senior debut) because you never know when an injury can happen (see Desiree Scott, Erin McLeod and Shannon Woeller) and you’ll be thrust into action.

Heiner-Moller’s squad rotation on Monday also means Nichelle Prince, Kadeisha Buchanan, Jessie Fleming, Janine Beckie and Stephanie Labbe will be well rested for Thursday’s tilt against Costa Rica.

Cleaning things up

The main criticism of Canada in its opener versus Jamaica was a lack of finish and general sloppiness.

I also felt something the Canadians were missing in that first match was creativity. What a dynamic player such as Huitema provides is a scoring threat not only with her feet but with her head, too. She has the height, and the 17-year-old is making the most of it, with back-to-back goals off her head.

Yes, Canada had much more space and time against Cuba compared to the Jamaica match, but it also made the most of that freedom, directing play and calling for passes. If you can, watch the replay of Leon’s cross to Huitema for Canada’s fifth goal, and you’ll see what I mean.

What I liked most about the youngsters was their confidence to dribble, particularly into traffic. The Cubans provided some physical tackles, but it didn’t deter any of the Canadians from forging ahead with the ball.

Lucky 175 for Schmidt

What a career it’s been for midfielder Sophie Schmidt. On Monday, the 30-year-old celebrated her 175th appearance for Canada. For the current generation of fans, it seems like she’s been around forever. Debuting in 2005, she’s provided a constant presence in the midfield and has two Olympic medals to show for it.

As she’s grown older, so has her game. She’s as dependable and adaptable as they come — playing under a number previous coaches like Even Pellerud, Carolina Morace, John Herdman, and now Kenneth Heiner-Moller.

Given the milestone, I paid particular attention to her versus Cuba, as she and Diana Matheson were the veterans of the starting 11.

Schmidt distributed well, finishing 42 of 46 passes — only second to Shelina Zadorsky. How about her ‘thread the needle’ dish that led to Canada’s fourth goal? She also played deep defensively when required to retrieve the ball from Sheridan. Nothing flashy, because flashy doesn’t make a lengthy, successful career. Being reliable and adaptable does and, Schmidt has that in spades.

Notes: On Monday, captain Christine Sinclair was named one of 15 nominees for the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or. The winner will be unveiled Dec. 3 in Paris … Canada closes out the group stage of the competition on Thursday against Costa Rica. The two nations squared off in the summer of 2017 for a two-game home set. The Canadians won the first match 3-1 in Winnipeg and closed things out with a 6-0 win in Toronto. “We know Costa Rica very well, and we know that they will play differently in a qualification tournament then a friendly, as we saw in Houston in 2016,” Heiner-Moller said. “We’ve been preparing for three very different opponents in this group stage and we’ve prepared for a challenging match against Costa Rica, but we are really looking forward to it as well.”

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