After an entertaining start to the Women’s World Cup, with upsets, great goals and good crowds, Canada get their chance to join the proceedings, today in Montpellier. They take on Cameroon in what promises to be an intriguing matchup, as Canada looks to set off on a path to bring home their first major international tournament honour. They do so with a solid collection of players, with a good mix of young and veteran talent playing at high levels, giving them a good chance to go on a deep run if the stars align this tournament. As we saw last week, they are coming into this one with an underdog label but they definitely have the pieces to contend, making them a true tournament dark horse. In this piece, we will do a primer, giving an idea of what and who to watch for this month, as well as look at the tournament and a bit of history.
1- GK- Stephanie Labbé | USA / NC Courage
2- FB- Allysha Chapman | USA / Houston Dash
3- CB- Kadeisha Buchanan | FRA / FCF Olympique Lyonnais
4- CB- Shelina Zadorsky | USA / Orlando Pride
5- CB- Rebecca Quinn | FRA / Paris FC
6- W- Deanne Rose | USA / University of Florida
7- M- Julia Grosso | CAN / University of Texas at Austin
8- FB- Jayde Riviere | CAN / Ontario Super REX & Markham SC
9- F- Jordyn Huitema | FRA / Paris Saint-Germain
10- FB- Ashley Lawrence | FRA / Paris Saint-Germain
11- M- Desiree Scott | USA / Utah Royals FC
12- F- Christine Sinclair | USA / Portland Thorns FC
13- M- Sophie Schmidt | USA / Houston Dash
14- M- Gabrielle Carle | USA / Florida State University
15- W- Nichelle Prince | USA / Houston Dash
16- F- Janine Beckie | ENG / Manchester City FC
17- M- Jessie Fleming | USA / UCLA
18- GK- Kailen Sheridan | USA / Sky Blue FC
19- F- Adriana Leon | ENG / West Ham United FC
20- CB- Shannon Woeller | SWE / Eskilstuna United
21- GK- Sabrina D’Angelo | SWE / Vittsjö GIK
22- FB- Lindsay Agnew | USA / Houston Dash
23- F/FB- Jenna Hellstrom | SWE / KIF Örebro
One underrated aspect of this Canadian team is it’s versatility, making a various assortment of lineups possible for any given matchup. The only likely guarantees will be Sinclair up top, Fleming in the middle, Buchanan in the back and Labbe in goal. Besides that, Kenneth Heiner-Moller has shown to be a flexible coach, not afraid to tinker and move his players around into different positions, making him unpredictable. Canada has traditionally gone with a 4-3-3, but appear to have been experimenting with a 4-4-2 of late, allowing for them to have some defensive solidity as well as getting numbers forward into the channels, to eventually funnel the ball towards Sinclair. While a justified criticism of Moller has been that the Canadian attack can be inept at times, despite top attacking talent, but they have become a true defensive juggernaut under his tutelage, conceding once in their last 7 (!) matches, a pretty impressive run. If they are able to pick up some timely goals, as well as continue that defensive dominance, the table is set for them to make a deep run, as the formula for tournament soccer has been shown time and time again that it favours teams employing this strategy (effectively).
Players to Watch:
For this tournament, we have picked 5 players to watch. While some are expected to star, while others may play bit roles, these aren’t the 5 best or most important players, but instead are ones that should impress in their various positions and with their experience levels, marking them as players that will either impact the tournament directly or have the potential to do so.
Christine Sinclair (The Star)
With this team, most conversation usually starts and ends with the talismanic Canadian, who has been the face of Women’s soccer in this country for nearly 15 years now. She has a lot on the line this tournament, with time ticking on her chance to lift a major trophy for this country. Despite turning 36 in a few days, she will still be relied on to provide some magic this tournament, as she chases that coveted trophy as well as a spot in the world record book, as she is 3 goals away from tying Abby Wambach as the top International Women’s goalscorer of all time. While it would not be surprising to see her still sticking around 4 years from now, when she is 40, but with the collection of young talent assembled for this edition, this may end up being the best shot she ever has at that World Cup trophy, giving her plenty of reason to leave it all on the line this tournament, hopefully picking up some silverware as well as a record on the way.
Kadeisha Buchanan (The Marshall)
While Sinclair will get a lot of the attention going forward, do not understate the importance of the 2015 World Cup Best Young Player, who shot onto the scene as a 19-year-old in that tournament, marking her as an important piece for years to come. Since then, she has become a staple for Canada and will be relied on to continue that this tournament, no matter who she ends up paired with at the back. She plays for the hottest team in all of world football right now, as her Lyon is coming off it’s 3rd consecutive Champions League triumph as well as another league victory, so it’s understandable why expectations will be high for Buchanan. While her playing time was all over the place, as Lyon has some top defenders in France’s Griedge Mbock-Bathy and Wendy Renard, she still got a fair amount of minutes and is an important piece for the Lyonnais. A phyiscal presence, she will make sure that anyone attempting to get to Stephanie Labbe will be denied, or will feel the attempt to do so.
Sophie Schmidt (The Veteran)
While this role may have gone to Diana Matheson, had she not picked up a heartbreaking injury in the leadup to the tournament, Schmidt will be expected to be one of the key veterans for Heiner-Moller’s outfit, having played the second most matches for Canada’s current team, behind the super veteran Sinclair. She is a swiss army knife in the midfield, and has that typical Canadian grit and versatility that will prove to be very valuable when it comes time to making adjustments to formation and players, as she as shown to be useful in a variety of positions across the midfield, at the back and even a bit up front. She comes into this tournament relatively fresh, having only had a chance to suit up in 4 games for Houston before being called to international duty, where her and her teammates have competed the last month or so. After having played in Europe so long before the move to Houston this season, she will be expected to lead the crop of young players as they look to settle into this tournament.
Jordyn Huitema (The Future)
The future heir to Sinclair’s position up top, Huitema may prove to be a game breaker this tournament, despite not yet being the legal drinking age in her home province of British Columbia. She has a tantalizing set of tools, with strong height, good touch around goal as well as two good feet, which is why she has already 21 appearances for the senior team, an impressive tally already for the future star. Having just transferred to French giants PSG, she will be confident coming into the tournament, and the only thing likely holding her back would be a lack of trust from Heiner-Moller, who may want to go with more experience in the tournament. Either way, he has shown to trust her as a regular sub, so she will still get more than enough chances to influence matches, even if she doesn’t start. She has killed it at every level she has played at, so don’t be surprised if she ends up starting come the knockout stages, giving Canada a dangerous two-headed monster with both her and Sinclair giving defences a lot to worry about.
Jessie Fleming (The Maestro)
While she is not talked about as much, the UCLA product may end up being Canada’s most important player this tournament, as she is expected to run the midfield for Les Rouges. While she is more known as a player that likes to get forward from the midfield, creating opportunities for others, she is a useful player defensively as well and is expected to give Buchanan and whoever she is paired with an easier time as she provides a bit of a shield for the Canadian defenders. If Heiner-Moller is going to go with a 4-4-2, as he has the last few matches, it will leave a lot of responsibility going both ways for Fleming, but she has proven up to the task on many occasions. After bursting onto the scene as a 17-year-old last World Cup, look for Fleming to have a big global coming out party here in 2019’s edition, as she showcases herself to the footballing world as one to watch out for, especially to top professional team’s as she is expected to make a big move after graduating from UCLA in the next year or so.
Despite being one of the best Women’s teams in the world, Canada has yet to have any final appearances to show for it, with their best performance being a 4th place showing in the 2003 edition, falling to the US in that one. They have done a little better in the other premier Women’s event, the Olympics, as they are current back-to-back Bronze Medal owners, but they have yet to reach the final in that one either. For a team coming into this tournament ranked 5th in the world, they have yet to deliver on the potential of a possible tournament victory, which is why they come into this one as underdogs. However, as seen, Canada has the keys to make a surprise deep run in this tournament, so look for them to try and buck their historical trend with some big victories.
This World Cup consists of 24 teams, with 16 of them advancing. Finishing top 2 will assure you of that, as well as 4 of the top 3rd place teams, giving teams plenty of chances to get through, where the going will get tough as it progresses to a knockout format.
While it is unclear who Canada will end up playing if they are to progress, they have not been dealt an easy hand when it comes to their group. Their first opponents, Cameroon, are a plucky side, and while Canada is expected to win quite easily, the first few days of this World Cup has shown that every result is not as guaranteed as it used to be with parity improving in the Women’s game. After that, they get another stern test in the form of New Zealand, as the Oceania champions will give them no easy time with their physical and energetic nature. The big showdown looms on the last matchday, with the Netherlands, as it is expected to be as even as a game as we may see in any group, with both teams being very similarly matched, and Netherlands playing the cohesive football characteristic of the top Dutch teams the last 30 years. While most experts seem to favour the Netherlands in this one, it should be highly entertaining and it will likely decide the group, so Canada will put a lot of energy into it.
- How Will Canada Handle Internal Pressure? While Canada has been spared the enormous pressure that they faced last World Cup at home, they still have high expectations on themselves to break free of their World Cup demons and make a deep run. How they handle this pressure from the get-go will set the tone on how their tournament will likely go.
- Will Sinclair Achieve History? With Sinclair being so close to history, it will give them a little extra attention their first few matches. 3 goals tie her with Wambach, 4 gives it outright. The quicker she does it, the better, as going into the knockout stages free of that pressure may be best for all involved.
- Will Canada’s Young Guns Step Up? Canada has a lot of young players, with 17 players under the age of 26. While that can often mean a team playing care-free, with pressure not really getting to them, confidence can quickly erode when things go south. While the veterans will be around to ensure that doesn’t happen, the young players will be relied on to push the team to greater heights than ever before.
Canada begins today, with Cameroon as the first opponent. We will have coverage of the tournament, so keep your eyes out on our site as we follow Canada through this huge World Cup!