Fleming sets the tone for Canada in win over Costa Rica

Jessie-Fleming

Canadian midfielder Jessie Fleming. (John Woods/CP)

The Canadian women’s soccer team returned to Winnipeg on Thursday for the first time since 2014 to open a two-game friendly series versus Costa Rica.

Although Canada has never lost to Costa Rica, the Central Americans have steadily improved over the years and gave the home side a formidable test in their first action since April.

Here are my takeaways from Canada’s 3-1 victory at Investors Group Field…

Fleming sets the tone

Over the course of her recent freshman season at UCLA, Jessie Fleming was scoring highlight reel goals game in and out. She was a social media star, with GIFs of her dazzling goals shared over and over again on Twitter.

The 19-year-old netted another beauty on Thursday, her fourth international goal, to give Canada an early 1-0 lead. She weaved through Costa Rica’s defenders, and rather than just ripping off a shot right away, she made a small cutting move, went into space and placed the ball neatly into the back of the net.

That opening goal personified how this Canadian team has changed over the last few years. The punt and chase mentality is in the rear-view mirror, and now it’s about patience, poise, and creativity. Those attributes will allow Canada to keep up with the best teams in the world.

Vive la France

For some time now, Kadeisha Buchanan and Ashley Lawrence have been touted as the next stars and leaders of this Canadian team. But to see how much they have progressed since recently heading over to France to play professionally is impressive.

They may be young – both 21, although Lawrence turns 22 on June 11 – but they are playing with a maturity beyond their years, something abundantly clear on Thursday.

Buchanan’s decision-making has improved by leaps and bounds. While she’s still an aggressive centre-back, she is poised and mature when it comes to picking her tackles. Buchanan plays alongside Wendie Renard at Lyon, whom I believe is currently the best centre-back in the world. She’s clearing benefiting from the experience, as the Canadian is now stepping in the middle and deep third to deliver passes, knowing her partner on that back line is there for support.

While it could be argued that Lawrence is better suited in the midfield, deploying her as a fullback, as coach John Herdman did in this match, made sense, as her pace allowed Canada to build from the back. Case in point: an early play saw her move the ball up the pitch and deliver an outstanding pass to Christine Sinclair for a scoring opportunity, which earned a thumbs up from the captain.

Agnew steps up

Fullback Allysha Chapman was substituted out early in the game due to injury. Lindsay Agnew had to step up quickly in just her fifth international appearance, and she adapted well coming off the bench. It’s not easy to mark dangerous players such as Costa Rica’s Raquel Rodriguez and Shirley Cruz, but Agnew showed she was up to the task, and she made a crucial goal-line clearance on a set piece early in the second half. She also helped the defence calm down after a storm from their opponents in the closing 45 minutes.

With the recent retirements of a number of Josee Belanger, Rhian Wilkinson and Marie-Eve Nault, there are spots to be claimed on Canada’s back line. Agnew, 22, filled in nicely and it’s good to know Herdman has dependable options going forward.

Notes: 14,434 fans were on hand in Winnipeg for Thursday’s match… The second meeting of this two-game series will be played Sunday afternoon in Toronto at BMO Field. Six players will be honoured prior to kickoff: Belanger, Jonelle Filigno, Robyn Gayle, Kaylyn Kyle, and Lauren Sesselmann, along with Amy Walsh, who was recently inducted into the Canada Soccer Hall of Fame… For those keeping track, Christine Sinclair’s goal on Thursday puts her at 168. Abby Wambach’s all-time record sits at 184… Sinclair was subbed off by 16-year-old Jordyn Huitema, a striker to look out for in the future. The youngster has the size and skill to be a major scoring threat for Canada.

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