Canada learns tough lesson at Pan Am Games

Sportsnet's James Sharman and Clare Rustad recap Canada’s loss to Colombia in the semifinals of the women's tournament at the Pan Am Games.

Canada’s loss to Colombia in the semifinals of the Pan American Games on Wednesday proved to be a tough learning lesson for the young squad.

The group was resilient and didn’t go down without a fight, trying to level the score after trailing in the opening half. Their overall performance was easily the most entertaining of the tournament.

However, goal-scoring remains a problem for the Reds—they’ve now been blanked in their last three games at this competition. Canada just couldn’t put the ball in the back of the net no matter how much it pushed the Colombians, who were fresh off a Round-of-16 appearance at the recent FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Here are my three takeaways from the match, which ended in a 1-0 loss for Canada.

Missed opportunities in opening half

Canada’s goalless drought looked like it was going to be snapped 27 minutes in on a golden opportunity by Sarah Kinzner. The young midfielder was fed a fantastic pass by Janine Beckie, who had worked magic down the right side. The sequence had goalkeeper Sandra Sepulveda out of position leaving an open net, but Kinzner fired the shot high and wide.

Moments later, Beckie put her playmaking skills on display again with a nifty dish to Emma Fletcher, who couldn’t slide the ball short side past Sepulveda’s leg.

Colombia showed their experience a minute later when Diana Ospina pounced on a defensive gaffe and beat Canada’s Stephanie Labbe between her legs.

Reds push back

You can’t deny Canada worked hard. They upped the tempo 10-fold in the second half, particularly in the last 15 minutes.

The activation of the fullbacks was evident when substitute Kinley McNicoll went in for a deep run on the right in the 69th minute for a chance on goal. On the left side, Shelina Zadorsky countered with a number of crosses and through balls. Central defender Kadeisha Buchanan was even moved up to an attacking role in hopes of finding the equalizer.

The pace was reminiscent of last summer’s U-20 FIFA Women’s World Cup when Canada came from behind in their group stage match versus Finland on a game winner by Nichelle Prince in the 80th minute. While Prince isn’t suiting up in the Pan Ams due to injury, many of the players taking part in this match were the same.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t a total case of déjà vu because they weren’t able to get the win this time around. However, you cannot for a minute doubt how badly they wanted to score versus Colombia. The final stat sheet shows Canada had the edge in possession, shot attempts, and shots on target.

At the end of the day, this group has the chance to win a bronze medal on home soil. It’s not an opportunity that often comes up in a soccer player’s career.

Beckie, Carle, Labbe the standouts

The result, of course, is disappointing for Canada, but the loss can’t mask some of the standout performances in the semifinals.

Labbe kept her side in the match during the early moments. The captain was well-positioned on set pieces and made a number of crucial saves to keep the game scoreless.

Beckie was an absolute workhorse versus the South Americans. She was involved in every offensive opportunity, whether it was driving to the goal by herself, making space for her teammates or deploying the set pieces.

Even at 16, Gabrielle Carle has not looked out of place. Her effort throughout the group stage earned her a start in the semifinal and what she showed us was a poised striker, with good pace, while never forgetting about her defensive responsibilities.

NOTES: This marks the first time Canada has lost to Colombia in women’s soccer… Canada will face Mexico for bronze on Friday. Brazil and Colombia will meet for gold on Saturday… Canada has earned a medal at every Pan American tournament since 2003… Forward Marie Levasseur was subbed off at the 23-minute mark after she took a ball to the side of her head. It’s not known if she’ll be available for the bronze medal game.

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