Canada wrapped up their participation in the She Believes Cup on Wednesday, as they fell 2-0 to Brazil, finishing with 1 win from 3 games. Here’s what stood out from that last game, as Canada’s fatigue caught up to them at the wrong time.
It was a tough way to end things off.
After doing well to turn heads through their first two games at the She Believes Cup, Canada’s thin roster and condensed schedule finally caught up to them on Wednesday, as they fell to Brazil in their 3rd game in 6 days.
With an ever-growing absentee list, facing an in-form Brazilian side who felt like they performed better than the score in their 2-0 loss to the US on Sunday suggested, it was always going to be tough for Canada to find a victory, but no one expected them to lose as they did on Wednesday.
They started out flat, giving up two uncharacteristically soft and sloppy goals, giving Brazil a deserved 2-0 lead heading into half time. After having defended so strongly through their first 180 minutes of game action at She Believes Cup, it was surprising to see them give up such good chances to Brazil early on, and as good teams tend to do, the South American’s punished them for it.
To give credit to Canada, despite having 8 starters who are 26 or under, due to an injury crisis that has continued to worsen over the past few weeks, they fought back in the second half. Despite having every reason to mail it in and start focusing on their next match, a friendly against England in April, they woke up in the second half, doing a better job at stifling Brazil, while also starting to test Barbara in the opposing goal.
While they didn’t finish any of their many chances that they created (a common occurrence this week), they showed some good mental toughness, which for new head coach Bev Priestman, who is looking to round out her Olympic squad for the summer, was good to see.
“I think the character of the group has really stood out to me,” Priestman told reporters after the game. “There’s a togetherness, and if you have that first, it’s a great starting point. The receptiveness of the group to some of the little things that we’ve tweaked, they’re on board, now, it’s just (all about) the execution of it.”
There are some issues to address, such as their underwhelming finishing, fixing their tendency to switch off at the back during some key moments and finding a way to make teams pay on set pieces, but those are the sort of things that will take time for a new manager to work on.
The good news? They showed good fight for 5 out of the 6 halves they played down in Orlando at this tournament, and showed a desire to want to attack and to defend, so now they just need to find a way to tie it all together for 90 minutes in game action.
Hopefully they can work on that in training now, before putting it into action in April against England, giving fans a better taste of what we should expect from them in Tokyo this summer.
But from what we’ve seen so far, they should be a competitive side, at the very least, and they are a few changes away from being a potential medal contender once again, as their hunt for 3 consecutive Olympic medals continues.
Ahead of then, however, they’ll look back at the games they played at this tournament, especially this Brazil one, as these are the sorts of games that you have to grind through if you want to win any sort of silverware at bigger events.
So here’s what stood out from that one, as Canada overcame some early struggles to make a late push at the end.
A slow start:
If you’d watched Canada’s first two games, you would’ve hardly recognized them in this one, as they came out flat to start the game, and Brazil punished them for it.
And what’s surprising about the slow start is how uncharacteristic it was for them, as they’ve consistently made a good habit of starting fast out of the gates in matches, dating back years now.
To give an idea of how well they typically start games, here’s an interesting stat: in 26 games since the start of 2019, Canada has only given up a first-half goal in 5 out of those 26 matches.
They rarely dig themselves big holes early in games, which was why it was so surprising to see Canada go down 2 goals to Brazil within the first half, as a few sloppy moments cost them dearly.
It maybe should’ve been expected, as Canada’s back 4 had an average age of around 22 years of age, giving them a youthful look at a position where players tend to be older. While the likes of 18-year-old centre-back Jade Rose and 22-year-old Gabrielle Carle had been excellent down in Orlando, they made some tough mistakes on both of Brazil’s opening goals, and Debinha and Julia punished them for it.
After putting in excellent shifts against Argentina, it was tough to see them struggle like that, but alas, that happens sometimes, so you can hardly hold it against them.
The good news, however, is that they’re still very young, and these sorts of games happen to everyone. They will learn and grow from those sorts of mistakes, as many players have before them.
And hey, while the inexperience of the young lineup may have led to a slow start, it’s worth noting that Canada has historically struggled against Brazil these past few years, so you could argue that their first half woes versus them in this game can be linked to that.
To expand on those Brazil woes, let’s return to the earlier stat, and more specifically, the 5 games in which Canada has given up a first half goal since 2019.
Of those 5 game, 3 of them have been against Brazil, who have outscored Canada by a combined 7-0 in first halves in those 3 matches. Considering that the two of the other 5 games saw them only give up 1 first-half goal each versus Japan and Nigeria, it shows how much Brazil has had Canada’s number as of late, at least early on in games.
So when looking at the slow start problem with a bigger picture perspective, you’d hardly worry about it, unless it pesters into something larger, which at the moment, shows no signs of happening.
The kids stayed strong:
And to give credit to Canada’s young team, despite the tough start, they battled hard to end off the game.
“Those young players, they’re stepping up,” Priestman said of her young team. “In moments where you have no choice, you put them in there, and there’s bravery on display, and there’s mistakes, which you’ll get from young players, but I think the progression, and the new faces, the system coming through, it’s all so bright.”
There’s no better example to show that than the bounce-back play of Rose and Carle, since we mentioned them earlier, as they recovered nicely to finish the game strong defensively. Brazil hardly got a kick in the second half, as Canada mostly kept them at play, thanks to the strong play of Rose and Carle at the back, who alongside Shelina Zadorsky and Jayde Riviere, did well to slow down a flying Brazilian attack.
At the other end of the pitch, Canada started to get chances, as well, sparked by the insertion of forwards Evelyne Viens and Adriana Leon, who had some great opportunities to score in the second half.
Rounded off by some good shifts put in by Jessie Fleming, as well as subs Jordyn Listro and Lindsey Agnew, Canada did well to make things interesting at the end, which is all you could’ve asked from them at that point of the game.
With so many regulars out of action due to injury and travel concerns, this tournament was always going to be about letting some new players shine in the spotlight, giving Priestman more to ponder as the days slowly tick towards the deadline for her to announce her Olympic roster.
Seeing how some of both the younger and the less experienced players fared in this tournament, mission accomplished there, which is good to see.
Canada’s slowly been changing the guard in recent years, as the likes of Christine Sinclair, Sophie Schmidt, Desiree Scott and Diana Matheson reach the end of their accomplished careers, so this idea of starting youth movement is nothing new for Canada.
But with so many of those aforementioned regulars either absent or seeing their minutes limited this tournament, we finally got to see a lot of these younger players get a shot to impress in live action, and from what we’ve seen so far, there are some names to watch out for in the future.
So when looking at the first two sections, we can see that Canada’s historically done well to start strong in games, and did well at this tournament to integrate some younger players, who in turn responded well to the occasion. That’s positive.
The lingering negative, however, continues to be the struggles of the offence.
“Canada has to score more goals,” Priestman said after the game, summing up the predicament quite succinctly.
It’s all anyone’s really talked about when it comes to Canada recently, so you want to avoid going into too much of what’s already been said, but at the same time, it’s something that this team badly needs to fix.
A team with this sort of attacking firepower should score more than 0 open play goals over the course of a 3-game tournament, especially not one that wants to win a medal this summer in Tokyo.
Having only scored 2 goals in 3 games against top opposition at last year’s Tournoi de France, as well as only scoring 3 goals in 3 games against top opposition the year before in a friendly tournament in Japan, or even going all the way back to the 4 goals in 4 games they scored at the 2019 World Cup, this issue has been a long-term one.
Even more painful for Canada is how strong they’ve been defensively over that same time period, as aside from back-to-back 4-0 losses to Brazil and Japan at the end of 2019, they’ve only given up 3 goals in a game one other time since the start of 2019.
Strong defensive teams win trophies, so Canada has what it takes to win silveerware, but they need to offer run support to their backline. They have the pieces defensively and in goal to keep their team in games, but they need their forward to return the favour, which unfortunately hasn’t happened enough in recent years.
But to finish with some optimism, we saw some things change this tournament. Aside from this first half against Brazil, Canada created plenty of chances in the other 5 halves of football they played down in Orlando, which was nice to see.
Too often in the past, their issue was consistently creating chances, let alone finishing the ones they got, so to see them get to these good areas in the final third way more under Priestman so far has been nice to see.
So now, when everyone is back in the fold, Canada has to work on their finishing. Who knows what it’s going to take to find that final touch, as it seems as much a confidence thing as anything, but they need to find that spark.
As said by one of their brightest stars, Janine Beckie, someone who is certainly ruing a few of her missed chances from this past week, that change will start with the individual players, who are well aware of their struggles in front of goal.
“There were definitely goals that were left on the table,” the Manchester City midfielder said of her performance in this tournament. “I’ve taken ownership of that, and I know my finishing has to be better, and that comes down to getting myself in the right positions, and that’s the difference between a good and great player, is players that are able to finish those opportunities.”
And as she added after, hard work will also go a long way towards helping solve the problem: “I’ll go back to my club and make sure I’m putting a lot of balls into the back of the net in training.”
If she and the rest of her team can find that missing piece, they should be in good shape heading into Tokyo. They might not be the most talented team there, or the most successful, but if they can defend well, battle hard and pot some timely goals, that’s a good formula to rely on in tournament situations.
It’s a big what-if, one that seems early to bank on this early into Priestman’s tenure, but to give credit to her, she’s left a strong impression after this tournament with how organized and tenacious her Canada side looked.
Needing that stiff test:
But while this sort of loss hurts in the short-term, it was a much-needed gut check for Canada, whose struggles against top 10 opposition continue to haunt them.
If reaching the podium at Olympics are going to be brought up as an expectation (given Canada’s talent level, it’s a reasonable one to have), it’s going to need to be something that this team changes ASAP.
It’s worth noting that of the 12 teams present at the Olympics, 7 of them are in FIFA’s top 10, so barring a miraculous draw, Canada will have to solve their woes against that top tier opposition if they want to win a medal.
With a few FIFA windows before then, Canada should absolutely do what it can to set up friendlies against that sort of opposition, allowing them to practice against the best.
As we saw in this tournament, they can be competitive against top 10 teams, but they need to take that next step in order to start beating them, which will only continue if they keep testing themselves.
So in a sense, it should be good to see how Canada fares against England in an away game at a to-be-decided location in April, hopefully with a more complete squad at their hands.
Haven got a taste of what Priestman is looking to bring to this side, it’ll be interesting to see what Canada can do with everyone in the fold, especially against a strong English team who is currently ranked 6th in the world, one filled with quality players.
As long as Canada continues to build off of the fundamentals they’ve continued to put in place down in Orlando, it promises to be a good matchup, one that should give people a good taste of what this team’s true level is ahead of the Olympics later this year.
So now, it’ll be a return to their usual club or college teams for these players, before reuniting again in March.
Hopefully this return to National Team action propels some of these players into good form, knowing that they’ll get to don the Maple Leaf again in less than 2 months.
After a long year apart, it was great to see everyone back in action together once again, so it’ll be good to see them grow as this busy but important 2021 calendar year continues.
Starting with that England game, and continuing onto the rest of their preparatory friendlies ahead of the big dance itself, the Olympics, this promises to be an interesting year no matter what happens.
And we’ll be following along, much as we did this tournament, as Canada looks to continue and make some noise, possibly reaching some new heights along the way.
From what we’ve seen so far, there’s a chance they do just that, but they just need to keep working hard and growing, of which they certainly did a lot of this camp.
Cover Photo via: Jeremy Reper/Canada Soccer