TORONTO — Two of the best players in the history of women’s soccer faced off on Saturday. One of them scored two goals. The other was largely anonymous.
Unfortunately for Canadian fans it was Marta who bested Christine Sinclair, bagging a first-half brace to lead Brazil to a convincing 2-0 win in an international friendly before 28,604 spectators at BMO Field on a gloriously sunny afternoon.
A five-time FIFA world player of the year, Marta out-performed her former teammate in Sinclair (they played together in 2010 for FC Gold Pride of the now defunct Women’s Professional Soccer league), perhaps giving us a taste of what to expect later this summer should their paths cross again.
With the Rio Olympics just two months away, both coaches fielded full-strength sides for this one. John Herdman used a 4-3-3 formation, with an attacking trio of Sinclair, and youngsters Deanne Rose, who was Canada’s best player on the day, and Janine Beckie.
Disturbingly, it wasn’t so much that Brazil outplayed Canada on Saturday, as much as it was the Reds made it easier for the South Americans to walk away with a comfortable win. Let’s hope this was just a blip because if Canada plays like it did on Saturday there’s no chance they’ll reach the medal podium in Rio.
Herdman bemoaned how his team coughed up the ball in all areas of the field.
“I didn’t think Brazil was able to break [us down]—it was in transition when we were coughing up the ball in midfield, turning into players blind, and playing that ball two yards too close to the Brazilians,” Herdman said.
He later added: “You look at Brazil—they didn’t create a massive amount in the first half. It’s not like they had 25 shots. They had two shots on target and scored.”
Canada’s last game was in April, a 2-1 road win over the Netherlands, so it was hardly a surprise the Reds looked rusty. The opening 25 minutes was dreadful from the home side—they looked tentative and sloppy, defensively naive, and their play marred by atrocious first touches and silly giveaways. Goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe, in particular, routinely made questionable decisions, and her distribution was hapless at times.
Labbe has recently become Canada’s starting goalkeeper after veteran Erin McLeod was ruled out for two years with a knee injury. Herdman hinted that he may have to rethink Labbe’s status going into the Olympics.
“We have to scrutinize, and I don’t think you can hide from that level of accountability. For Steph, she’s feeling her way into the number one spot. She’s filling big shoes,” Herdman stated.
“We opened up the ‘keeper battle up, with [Steph] and Sabrina [D’Angelo] fighting through it, and there wasn’t a clear winner in that battle. We have to put our faith in her… but at the end of the day this is the highest level of football.
“As a coach you have to make a big decision—do you keep pushing or keep the fight open and see who will respond well?”
It was a comedy of errors that led to Brazil’s opening goal in the 11th minute when defender Allysha Chapman scuffed what should’ve been a routine clearance inside the box. A scramble ensued with the ball falling kindly to an unmarked Marta who slotted it home.
Herdman was lost for words when talking about Canada’s defending on Marta’s opening strike.
“The first goal—enough said,” Herdman offered with a look of utter disgust etched on his face.
Marta struck again just before half-time, this time Brazil breaking forward after Beckie was dispossessed in midfield. Canadian defender Kadeisha Buchanan didn’t do a nearly good enough job of closing down Marta, and she unleashed a powerful shot from distance that whipped past Labbe and nestled inside the post.
“We should have closed that shot down from Marta. One of the best strikers in the world, and you’re going to back off? Kadeisha will want that one back for sure,” Herdman said.
The home side’s first real effort on goal didn’t come into the 43rd minute when Brazilian goalkeeper Barbara comfortably handled a Sinclair shot.
Canada started the second half brightly, putting the Brazilians under sustained pressure. But it was the visitors who nearly scored when midfielder Beatriz showed marvellous control in skipping past Sophie Schmidt and Buchanan before forcing Labbe to stop her low, driving shot on net.
The Reds pressed forward for the remainder of the game, although they never threatened to score.
NOTES: These two teams will meet again next Tuesday at Ottawa’s TD Place Stadium… Canada sports a 5-7-5 record vs. Brazil since 1996. The Reds won the previous meeting, 2-1 in the Algarve Cup final in Portugal in March… Brazil is eighth in the current FIFA world rankings, two spots above Canada… The Canadian team will play its final pre-Olympic friendly against France in Auxerre on July 23. Herdman told reporters Friday that it isn’t yet announced, but Canada will also play China in a closed-door game in France on July 20…