HOUSTON – For a few members of the Canadian women’s team, Houston is more than just a brief stop on the road to this summer’s Olympics in Brazil.
It’s also a city where they’ll be back in a few weeks to prepare for a new National Women’s Soccer League season, and the Canadian coaching staff hopes they’ll get plenty of minutes to prepare for the Olympics, should they qualify for Rio later this week.
As was the case last year, three Canadians will be on the Houston Dash roster in 2016 with Allysha Chapman and Lauren Sesselmann being joined by Janine Beckie.
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Beckie was drafted eighth overall in the recent NWSL draft and she’ll maintain the Canadian quotient after goalkeeper Erin McLeod, who was a member of the Dash last season, parted ways with the club.
“I’m excited. I keep saying this is something that I’ve dreamed about since I was a little girl—which is being a professional soccer player,” Beckie told Sportsnet ahead of Tuesday’s match between Canada and Guatemala at the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament
“For it to be my reality is really exciting.”
Canadian coach John Herdman has stressed the importance of players getting quality plying time against solid opposition in this Olympic year. It’s something that Chapman is hoping to do this season after playing in just two games with the Dash in 2015 in her first year in the NWSL.
Prior to the 2015 campaign, Chapman only played professionally in Sweden and missed a lot of action in her first year in Houston due to national team commitments and injury setbacks.
“I’m excited for this season because I’m going in 100 percent healthy and so I’ll actually get to play some games so it’s going to be a lot better season hopefully,” Chapman told Sportsnet. “It’s always good to have some fellow Canadians. It will be fun and I’ll show Janine the ropes a little.”
Sesselmann was omitted from this qualifying roster but still has Olympic aspirations in addition to putting a difficult 2015 year behind her. She’s told Sportsnet that she’s fit, healthy and eager to prove some doubters wrong, and earn her way back into the national setup.
For the players with the national team here in Texas, there would be no better way to head into a new season than by reaching the 2016 Olympics in their club’s home stadium—a win on Friday night in the CONCACAF tournament semifinals would see the Reds clinch an Olympic berth.
Before that, however, Canada has the small measure of playing its group stage finale against a Guatemalan side that’s already been eliminated from contention with a pair of 2-1 losses at the hands of Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana, respectively. Guatemala took the lead in both those games but faded in each of them allowing their opponents to secure come-from behind wins.
The simple matter is that Canada is miles ahead of Guatemala in terms of its technical ability, its fitness and its tactical preparations. Tuesday night allows for a final bit of fine tuning in advance of Friday when the pressure to succeed will be ramped up.
“It’s another opportunity to get on the field and score some goals. They’ll set a deep block against us and it’s just about our attacking side coming alive and there’s a lot of opportunity to put the ball in the back of the net,” Beckie said.
“They are going to want to go out of the tournament with a bang so we expect nothing but their best and we’re excited to get on the pitch with them.”
Expect a Canadian team that will be dominant in the air against a much smaller Guatemalan side. Canada will likely face an opponent that will sit back in numbers and try, if they can, to hit on the counter-attack.
As is always the case in these competitions, Canada’s already done the most important thing and avoided a confrontation with the United States in the decisive game when it comes to an Olympic berth.
And though they’d be favoured in their semifinal game regardless of their opposition, that still won’t calm the nerves that grow evermore prominent as the stakes ebb higher.
“It’s a little nerve-wracking. I’ve never been here before but I’m really excited for it,” Chapman said. “I’ve been working really hard and we’ve had practice through the group stage and I think it’ll go great.”
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