Canada defeats Costa Rica to remain perfect at Concacaf W Gold Cup

Canada midfielder Jessie Fleming (17) takes a penalty kick but the ball hits the post during stoppage time during the second half of the CONCACAF W Gold Cup match against Paraguay, Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024 at Shell Energy Stadium in Houston. (Yi-Chin Lee/Houston Chronicle via AP)

HOUSTON — Canadian defender Shelina Zadorsky had a night to remember Wednesday, after a year she would probably like to forget.

The 31-year-old from Kitchener, Ont., scored twice from set pieces to help Canada blank Costa Rica 3-0 and remain perfect at the Concacaf W Gold Cup with three wins and the top seeding heading into the weekend quarterfinals.

Last April, Zadorsky detailed a medical ordeal that started when she contracted COVID-19 in mid-December.

“In my own experience over the last three-and-a-half months, I have been dealing with health challenges relating to COVID, illness, fatigue and honestly every sick symptom you can name,” Zadorsky wrote in a social media post. 

In February 2022, Zadorsky contracted COVID again. Further testing showed she had contracted glandular fever and tested positive for celiac disease.

Restored to health, Zadorsky has found a new club home in England, joining West Ham on loan from Tottenham. And she has impressed in her two starts at the W Gold Cup, making a claim to regain a regular spot in the lineup.

“You could see the whole team celebrate the goals,” said Canada coach Bev Priestman. “I think that’s what Shelina means to the team.”

“I felt that this tournament was a chance to let Shelina step up,” she added. “And I think today she absolutely did that. She’s enjoying her football where she’s at now in the WSL (England’s Women’s Super League). Given what she’s been through last year, to see her get the goals, you could see the whole team was incredibly happy.”

It was a milestone 50th game in charge for Priestman, who improved to 31-9-10 since being named coach in October 2020.

Jordyn Huitema also scored for Canada, which outshot Costa Rica 12-1 (4-1 in shots on target) at Shell Energy Stadium.

The three goals all came from headers with 10th-ranked Canada profiting from its height advantage over the 43rd-ranked Central Americans. The Canadians could have added to their total but the finishing wasn’t clinical at times or they tried for one pass too many.

Having won twice already, Olympic champion Canada was assured of making the quarterfinals. But the win over Costa Rica means it finishes with the best record of teams in the final eight.

The three group winners, three runners-up and two best third-place finishers qualify for the knockout stage, with the teams then redrawn according to their record. So it’s No. 1 versus No. 8, No. 2 versus No. 7, No. 3 versus No. 6 and No. 4 versus No. 5.

Concacaf officials may have to dig deep into the tiebreakers to decide the No. 8 team, pending the result of the final Paraguay-El Salvador Group C game later Wednesday. Puerto Rico and Costa Rica have the same record, goal difference and goals for.

Canada plays Saturday.

The only other team at the 12-country tournament with three wins is No. 11 Brazil, which finished atop Group B at 3-0-0 with a plus-seven goal difference after defeating No. 55 Panama 5-0 Tuesday night in San Diego.

Canada, which has yet to concede at the tournament, improved its goal difference to plus-13.

No. 35 Mexico (2-0-1) topped Group A, ahead of the second-ranked Americans (2-1-0) after a 2-0 upset win Monday.

Should Canada advance to the semifinal it would face the winner of the No. 4 versus No. 5 game, which could mean a date with the second-ranked Americans.

Canada hogged the ball from the get-go and went ahead in the 11th minute when Jessie Fleming’s well-flighted ball into the box found the five-foot-11 Huitema, whose downward header beat a diving goalkeeper Daniela Solera for her 20th goal.

Adriana Leon, who has five goals at the tournament, turned provider in the 27th minute by floating a corner to the far post that Zadorsky headed home with the Costa Rica defence preoccupied by the nearby Huitema’s aerial threat.

The five-foot-eight West Ham defender made it six goals in 97 Canada appearances in the 57th minute when she headed home substitute Olivia Smith’s corner.

Priestman made five changes to her starting lineup with Zadorsky, Huitema, Gabby Carle, Simi Awujo and Clarissa Larisey slotting in.

Priestman made changes at halftime, withdrawing Fleming and Leon.

Canada earlier dispatched No. 104 El Salvador 6-0 and No. 50 Paraguay 4-0. Costa Rica lost 1-0 to Paraguay before defeating El Salvador 2-0.

The Canadian women had won all 15 previous meetings with Costa Rica, with a combined 48-6 edge in goals.

After Los Angeles, the tournament shifts to San Diego for semifinals and final at Snapdragon Stadium on March 6 and 10, respectively.

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