Canada Soccer’s Women’s National Team kicked off their first of two June friendlies on Friday, as they took on the Czech Republic in Cartagena, Spain. Here’s what stood out from that game, a quiet 0-0 between both teams, one which Canada would probably like to have back.
After a strong April camp, it was a rocky start to June.
Facing off against a Czech Republic side ranked 27th in the world, it was always going to be ‘win or bust’ for Canada Soccer’s Women’s National Team, who took on the Czech’s Friday morning in a friendly.
Ranked 8th in the world, and coming off of an April camp where they beat the 32nd-ranked Wales and 6th-ranked England, anything but a victory would’ve felt like a loss against the Czech’s, who despite being a quickly improving team, is still a team Canada should comfortably beat on most days.
So for Canada, it was a huge let-off to draw 0-0 with the Czech Republic on a very sunny afternoon in Cartagena, Spain, Friday, a game in which they failed to really break through a resolute Czech defence.
With this camp being the last opportunity for head coach Bev Priestman to see players before selecting her final squad for the Olympics, it was a disappointing result not only for Canada, who is looking to find form before that tournament in July, but for several of the players on the bubble of that 18-player squad heading into a potential squad announcement.
“We got the clean sheet and in the grand scheme of things this will push us on to the next match,” Priestman told Canada Soccer after the game. “If we want to change the colour of the medal (at the Olympics), we’ve got to look after the ball more and we have to finish the chances. We had some good chances but we’ve got to convert.”
But the good news for Canada is that they have a chance to redeem themselves in just a few days now, as they get set to take on 7th-ranked Brazil on Monday, looking to avenge a 2-0 loss to the Brazilians at She Believes Cup earlier this year.
Before then, however, they’ll have plenty to think about after this tight Czech game, one where they just couldn’t find a way to impose themselves as most would expect a team of their quality to be able to.
Here’s some of what stood out from that one.
A slow start:
To start, it’s worth pointing out Canada’s surprisingly slow start, as they found it tough to get out of the gates against this Czech side.
Through the first 45 minutes, their passes were often failing to connect, their movement off of the ball would often be quite static, and it just overall looked like Canada was just not in the sort of mood to play the sort of soccer that Priestman would’ve wanted them to play.
There are a few factors that likely caused that, such as the heat of playing in 25+ degree weather, as well as the heaviness of a few heavy legs after a long European season for a few players, but despite that, Canada should’ve found a way to control the game much earlier than they did.
Ultimately, it’s not the end of the world to enter the half 0-0, so it’s not as if it was a horrible start that put them behind the 8 ball, but for a team like Canada, whose offensive game can vary from match-to-match, the earlier they score goals, the better.
So far under Priestman, Canada is undefeated when they score a first-half goal (2W-0L-0D), but have only won once when they failed to do so (1W-2L-1D), and even that win only came via a 92nd minute-winner against 35th-ranked Argentina at She Believes Cup.
Heading into this clash against Brazil, it’s certainly something to keep an eye on now, especially considering that this Brazil side has a history of starting games fast against Canada, making it even more important that this Canadian side avoids a similarly slow start on Monday.
Heading into the Olympics, where the margin for error is so small, they’ll know that one bad start at the right time can derail an entire tournament, so they’ll look to avoid making it a habit before then, starting with this game against Brazil.
Old offensive woes crop up:
Elsewhere, another big worry for Canada has to be on the offensive side of things, as some familiar attacking woes cropped up again in this game.
To give Canada credit, they did well to hold 62% of possession in this game, and they did manage to send 20 shots towards the Czech goal, but that doesn’t tell the full story, as aside from a few chances late on, they made life far too easy for the Czech defence on Friday.
For the most part, their shots came from outside of the box, often sailing well over or well wide of the goal, as Canada just failed to get to the sort of dangerous areas that they managed to get to in their April camp.
As a result, they were shut out for the 3rd time in 6 games under Priestman, which for some of the offensive talent that they have at their disposal, is quite a surprising stat.
To be fair, 2 of those shutouts came back at She Believes Cup, which was the 1st Canada camp under Priestman, and this lineup was a bit of an experimental one, but at the same time, one would’ve expected more from this Canadian team in this department.
It’s one thing to not score any goals, but it’s another to barely get any shots on target, especially in a game where they held most of the possession.
And shots on target aside, they didn’t have enough of the extended sequences of possession that they showed in those wins over Wales and England, either, which shows what they’ve got to figure out before this Brazil game.
But to end on a positive note, it’s worth pointing out that despite their offensive woes, Canada did create some chances that could’ve won them this game, which is encouraging.
Jordyn Huitema had a pair of late headers that could’ve found a way in, and Deanne Rose had a chance that she most definitely would want back, as she sent a tap-in from close range just wide right before the final whistle, which would’ve rescued a bit of pride for Canada.
Alas, it wasn’t meant to be, however, but that late push was positive to see, even if it didn’t amount to anything.
Against Brazil, however, that push has to come much earlier, and must be maintained throughout the 90 minutes, because if not, they’re far less likely to come out with even a draw as they did against the Czech’s.
Defence remains a key piece, though:
For all of the talk of things that didn’t go Canada’s way on Friday, however, it’s important to note that not all was doom and gloom for Priestman’s team, especially on the defensive side of things.
By limiting the Czech’s to only 39% of possession, along with 0 shots on target, Canada had a pretty imposing performance defensively, as aside from one early mix-up after a weird bounce on a set-piece, their opponents barely crested their final third for most of the game.
Obviously, the level of opposition certainly played a role in Canada’s defensive performance, but this isn’t something new for this team under Priestman, as her side has quickly become a bit of a defensive force under her guidance.
With the clean sheet, they now haven’t conceded in 3 consecutive games, and now have 4 clean sheets in 6 games under Priestman, having only let in 3 goals along the way.
That’s pretty good.
Considering that this was only the 1st game in which Canada’s star centre back, Kadeisha Buchanan, even played in, as she missed out on She Believes Cup and an April camp through a mixture of quarantine laws and a medical absence, it shows that it’s not just down to individual performances, either.
For whatever reason, even though the Canadian attack has struggled to make things happen at times, their defence has remained rock-solid, building a really good foundation heading into the Olympics.
If Canada is going to consistently keep opponents to 1 or fewer goals a game, they don’t need their offence to be world breakers, just to be adequate, slightly reducing the pressure on them.
Seeing some of the talent that they have up front, such as Christine Sinclair, Evelyne Viens, Nichelle Prince, Deanne Rose, Jordyn Huitema, Adriana Leon and Cloe Lacasse, among others, that’s a reasonable ask to have of them, one you’d expect them to be able to meet.
As the old saying goes, offence wins games, but defence wins championships, and while Canada will have to figure out how to do the former before starting to do the latter, that they’ve even got the foundation to do the latter is a good start.
With the Olympics coming up so soon, though, they do have to figure out the former really soon, because if not, a repeat of the 2019 World Cup could be in the cards, but as they showed last camp, they can score goals, so they’ll hope that this Czech game was just a one-off thing, and not a sign of what’s to come.
Injury woe causes worry:
Lastly, it’s important to note that Canada was without one of their best players in this game due to an injury concern, as Janine Beckie missed out on this game due to an injury picked up in training this past week.
The good news is that according to Meaghen Johnson of TSN, the injury shouldn’t put Beckie ‘in doubt’ for the Olympics, but as that shows, that Beckie was even in doubt is a stark reminder of how close to the tournament that we are, making it important that all of the players make it through these games while remaining healthy.
Canada made it through this game without any further injury problems, which was good to see, but there were a few flashes of concern when players stayed on the ground for a few seconds longer after knocks, which certainly had a few people worried for a second.
With so much at stake, the last thing you want is for a player to pick up something right before a tournament of a lifetime, so here’s to hoping that Beckie’s knock is the lone scare that Canada will face in that department before the tournament.
So now, Canada will turn its attention to Monday, where a date with Brazil awaits them.
Much like Canada, Brazil comes into this game having also played on Friday, as they beat Russia 3-0 a few hours after this game, meaning that both teams now head into this one on short rest, looking to emulate a tight Olympic schedule.
For the players, it’s certainly not ideal from a physical standpoint, but from a mental one, this short turnaround will be perfect for Canada, as they’ll look to get the taste of this 0-0 draw out of their mouths as quickly as possible.
With there being so little time before the Olympics, Canada needs a big performance in this Brazil game, showing that A) what they showed in April is no fluke and B) that they can make some noise at the Olympics.
Along with the last auditions that this game will provide for players, it gives Canada every reason to want to come out flying against the Brazilians, especially when you factor in how they’ve had Canada’s number as of late.
Because of all of that, this game has every reason to be fiery, so hopefully it lives up to that, providing a much different performance than what this Czech Republic game eventually offered up in the end.
Up Next: Canada vs Brazil, Monday, June, 14th, 12:00 PDT, 15:00 EDT (Cartaganova, Cartagena)
Cover Photo via: Canada Soccer/Geraint Wyn Nicholas