Canada Soccer’s Women’s National Team kicked off their Tokyo Summer Olympics gold medal celebration tour against New Zealand in Ottawa on Saturday. Here’s what stood out from that one for us in that one, a big 5-1 victory, one that those in attendance won’t soon forget for a multitude of reasons.
It was a party befitting of a homecoming.
As they got set to play their first game back in Canada since 2019 in Ottawa against New Zealand on Saturday afternoon, you just had a feeling that Canada Soccer’s Women’s National Team would find a way to mark the occasion in a special way in that one, kicking off their Olympic gold medal celebration tour on a high note.
And to give them credit, that they most certainly went on and did on Saturday, as they scored early and often en route to a 5-1 victory over New Zealand, making sure that the 16 000+ who showed up to TD Place would leave home happy after getting to see their gold medal heroes in action.
On a day where there was a lot going on outside of the field, Canada made sure to remind people that they’re still a force to be reckoned on it, and that they’re looking to make some noise at the 2023 World Cup.
Faced off against a New Zealand side that gave some teams fits at the Tokyo Olympics this summer, Canada managed to find a way to keep their guests quiet for most of the game, while taking care of business at the other end, scoring 5 goals in a game for the first time since Olympic qualifiers at the beginning of 2020.
But that’s this Canadian team for you. They perform at a high level on the pitch, as indicated by the scoreline, but they also remain active off of it, and that was on full display in this game, as they also made sure to demand accountability from Canada Soccer on how they handle abuse in the sport before kick-off, using their platform to garner change.
Because of all that, it made for a monumental occasion on so many fronts, from the important activism that was on display before the game, to the high level of performance that was shown on the field during it, along with the festive atmosphere that their home fans brought before, during and after the match.
Having inspired a nation this summer, they finally got a chance to reunite with their people in this game, all while picking up an important result on their road towards 2023, and that’s what this celebration tour is all about.
Now, they’ll look to continue that into Montreal this Tuesday, when they’ll take on New Zealand in the 2nd game of their 2-match series this October window, wrapping up the first leg of the celebration tour on a high note.
But before we look too far ahead to that game, however, here’s some of what stood out from this opening game in Ottawa, one that those who watched won’t soon forget about going forward.
Team effort paves way for victory:
And to start, it’s important to point out how solid of a game Canada truly played on Saturday, as they managed to put up a pretty complete performance, one that was reflected in the scoreline.
From their work defensively, where they hardly slipped up other than the goal, which came via a penalty conceded by Allysha Chapman, to the offensive side of things, where we saw 4 different goalscorers step up to the plate, Canada hardly set a foot wrong in this one.
Just a look at the goals indicates as much.
First, Canada got the ball rolling in the 12th-minute, when Christine Sinclair did well to win a penalty in the box, and from there, as was the case all Olympics, Jessie Fleming stepped up and converted to give her team the lead.
Then, in the 41st minute, Sinclair would be involved once again, as Janine Beckie found Deanne Rose with a lovely ball towards the back post, and Rose did well to flick it down to Sinclair, who found herself in space after a lucky bounce, and she made no mistake with a lovely left-footed chipped finish.
Continuing that, Beckie then turned provider, first setting up Nichelle Prince in the 57th minute with a carving left-footed through ball that Prince did well to control before rounding the goalkeeper and slotting home, before Beckie found Adriana Leon in the 71st minute with a cutback that Leon did well to slam home on her first touch.
And to end things off, Beckie and Leon then combined once again in 82nd minute, as Beckie fired a hard low shot, and the rebound bounced to Leon, who then calmly slotted home her second.
As seen above, it was a complete offensive performance, which along with a pretty darn good defensive showing, goal aside, allowed Canada to take care of business without too much worry.
But that’s what’s so special about this Canadian team. As they showed in Tokyo, where they rode a stingy defensive formula to a gold medal, when they’re locked in as a team, there aren’t many in the world that can unsettle them and their gameplan.
It starts at the top, with head coach Bev Priestman, and trickles down to the players, led by their captain, Sinclair, who despite her lengthy list of accolades, is about as selfless as a leader as you’ll find in this sport, something that her teammates certainly feed off of.
That was on full display Saturday, as everyone seemed to know their role, and it allowed them to seemingly be in control for most of the game, creating chance-after-chance at one end, while keeping their opponents quiet at the other.
Yet for those who’ve been following this Canadian team for a while, you wouldn’t have been surprised, because that’s just been Canada’s MO ever since Priestman was hired at the end of last year, as they’ve truly garnered the reputation of a team that is all pulling in the same direction right now.
Plus, they’re a team that is both very talented and quite deep, which when you combine with that selfless mentality, creates a team that is very hard to take down, which is what many opponents quickly learned this summer.
And that’s what makes this Canadian team so intriguing. In a sport where change always seems to be afoot, especially at the international level, you don’t often see teams that are on the same page as Canada is right now, so as long as they can maintain that, you like where they’re headed going forward.
As New Zealand quickly learned on Saturday, when Canada gets going, watch out, and that helped create a game that Canadian fans won’t soon forget.
Beckie’s big day:
But while Canada certainly played quite the complete team game on Saturday, that doesn’t mean that weren’t any strong individual performances that stood out, and there might not have been any player that shone brighter than Janine Beckie, who had herself a game in this one.
The Beckie talk started well before the game, when it was determined that Canada’s usual right backs, Ashley Lawrence and Jayde Riviere, would be both missing this game, as Lawrence was ruled out of these 2 games with a knock, while Riviere had school commitments that saw her arrive too late for this first game.
Because of that, it left Canada without a natural right back, leaving some to wonder who Priestman would throw into the position on Saturday. Would it be Gabrielle Carle, who has played there in the past? Or could Deanne Rose do a job, seeing that she’s gotten some time there for her new club, Reading?
But instead, Beckie, who has played a fair bit of right back for her club, Manchester City, was called into action, and boy, did she ever deliver.
Obviously, the goal contributions stand out, as she had 2 assists, and was directly involved in all 5 goals, but that was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of her overall performance.
Offensively, she was everywhere for Canada, making sure to push forward at every instance, doing her best to get involved in every attack in some form. Be it with a short pass, a clever run or a nice cross, Beckie made sure to supplement her attack with her presence from deeper positions whenever possible, and it helped Canada overpower New Zealand in the final third.
But at the same time, that’s not that surprising. Beckie has quietly been one of Canada’s top performers offensively for a while now, so while it might’ve been a surprise to see how involved she was in Canada’s attack, she has that in her locker.
If anything, the big surprise was to see her play at the defensive end, as she had some key interventions, including a last-ditch one late in the first half that arguably saved a goal.
Thanks to that, Canada was able to forget the absence of someone like Lawrence, who is arguably one of this team’s best players, but that’s full credit to the play of Beckie, who stepped up big in the absence of her teammate.
So while her position long-term might not be at right back for Canada (although the idea of her playing wing back does sound intriguing), Beckie remains a key part of Canada’s plans, and if she keeps playing as she did on Saturday, she’ll start to be talked about in the same tones as Lawrence, showing that the sky is the limit for the 27-year-old right now.
The offence sees interesting improvements:
Otherwise, another intriguing storyline to emerge from this game was with the Canadian offence, who as mentioned earlier, found quite the well of goals on Saturday.
But while the goals were certainly all memorable, for different reasons, the bigger storyline has to be how Canada found them, as they showed some good growth in their offensive game in this one.
After the Olympics, where they only scored 6 goals in 6 games, only scoring more than 1 goal in a game once, there were question marks surrounding their offence heading into thes games, as many wondered if Canada’s ceiling as a team would be as a defensive force that wins games by grinding out results, barely scraping by on offence.
And those questions were certainly valid, as that’d had been a problem for a while now, dating back to the Kenneth Heiner-Moller days, and while Priestman certainly had helped improve Canada’s offence from her predecessor’s days, she still had yet to find the magic breakthrough.
That changed in this game, though, as not only did Canada find the goals, but they also found some impressive spells of possession, of the likes we haven’t seen much of from them in the past.
Here are a few examples of that.
First, there’s this sequence from the first half that didn’t lead to a goal, but still helped generate an excellent chance for Christine Sinclair, who was only denied by a late block.
Starting at the back, Canada was able to carve through the field with 2 progressive passes, before combining with some quick passing in the middle, leading to a good crossing opportunity.
Had they found themselves in a similar situation before, Canada would’ve maybe gone for the long switch, or a safe backpass, so to see them play quick incisive one and two-touch soccer is massive, as it shows the sort of philosophies that Priestman is employing with this side.
Now, though, Canada encourages a lot of movement, quick passing and progressive intention in their attack, and that’s made a huge difference.
Just take a look at this next sequence, which came on their 3rd goal, as an example of that.
Once again starting with the ball at the back, Canada patiently played the ball around a few times before attempting a few progressive passes, and each time, those passes proved to be too much for New Zealand to handle, before Beckie played the final ball that Prince did so well to finish.
And that’d be the sort of theme we’d see a lot of on the day.
Here’s one final example of that, this time coming from their 4th goal.
Once again, starting from the back, Canada hits a few risky progressive passes, and while some actually don’t work out in this case, they keep at it, and eventually they create a nice overload down the right side, one that allows them to get into the box, where Beckie managed to set up Leon with the cutback.
Before, Canada would’ve gone for the long ball, or the safe pass, but now, they are constantly in motion, and know where their teammates are most of the time, allowing them to play the ball around quickly and with a purpose.
Yes, Canada won’t have the freedom to play like this in every game, because while this 23-ranked New Zealand side is good, they’re not a “tier one” side, of which Canada will have to beat if they’re to win a World Cup, but at the same time, you have to be encouraged by these first steps.
Obviously, now, they have to find a way to keep up these attacking philosophies going forward, but if they do, watch out, because there’s a lot to like with what they tried to do on Saturday, and these were just but a few examples of that.
In the Mixer:
Elsewhere, here are some other bits and bobs that stood out from this game.
Defence keeps things tidy:
Otherwise, while it wasn’t as big of a storyline as the offence, it’s important to give a quick nod to the Canadian defence for their play in this game.
Penalty aside, they played a very complete game, and were unlucky not to keep the clean sheet, as they did a good job of picking things up where they left off after the Olympics.
Sticking in their 4-3-1-2, they were ruthless in how they applied pressure all over the field, making it hard for New Zealand to spend any sort of time on the ball, forcing them into plenty of turnovers.
Thanks to that, they were hardly threatened in their final third, other than a few moments here and there, which is everything that you’d want out of this Canadian backline, overall making it a typical performance for them.
It won’t get talked about as much as the 5-goal outburst, and understandably so, but that Canada had such a strong defensive performance and had goals to go along with it is encouraging, so hopefully they can keep this up going forward, because if they do, watch out.
Old Habits Die Hard:
And speaking of the penalty, it has to be said, the irony of Canada’s lone goal against being a penalty has to be mentioned, especially considering that they gave up 2 penalties in Tokyo, and went to penalties twice in three knockout stage games.
Plus, at the other end, it’s also fitting that their opening goal came via Fleming at the spot, as 2 of their 6 goals in Tokyo came from her via the penalty spot, too.
In Tokyo, they lived and died by the penalty, so that the spot-kick was so prevalent in the first game of their celebration tour is so fitting, in so many ways.
Leon’s late impact:
Otherwise, it’s important to highlight a big performance off the bench from Adriana Leon, who much as she did in Tokyo, continued her quiet climb up the attacking pecking order with her brace in this game.
In the midst of another solid campaign for West Ham, the 29-year-old is an underrated attacking piece in the Canadian system, and she reminded people of that on Saturday, putting up a good shift in the short time she was on the field.
Along with her massive goal against Great Britain at the Olympics this summer, she’s had herself quite the year for her country, and if she keeps that up, you can only wonder if she’ll get more minutes going forward, because right now, she’s certainly deserving of some.
An important call to action:
Lastly, though, on more of a serious note, shout out to the Canadian players for the work that they put in off the field in order to protest abuse in Canadian soccer before the game.
From their letter to Canada Soccer with a list of demands, to their protest at kick-off with New Zealand, they did a great job at highlighting an important issue, one that needs to be addressed.
Thanks to that, they were able to get the ball rolling on something that had remained idle in the hands of decision-makers for far too long, which should hopefully lead to a long-standing change that ensures everyone can enjoy the sport safely for decades to come.
This Canadian team hasn’t been shy in using their voices for action in the past, leading the way earlier this year with their work on some anti-racism and anti-homophobic initiatives, so that they were able to use their voice at a time where it would’ve been easier to do nothing has to be commended, showing why these players have become key role models for many around the nation.
So now, Canada has packed their bags and set up shop on the next stop of their tour, and that’s over in Montreal, where they’re getting set to take on New Zealand in a rematch of Saturday.
In what’s expected to be a strong Montreal crowd, Canada will hope that they can pick up where they left off in Ottawa, because as seen here, there was a lot to like about their performance.
After a golden summer, one that won’t soon be forgotten, they’ve kept the good times rolling into the fall, and will look to wrap up this first leg of the victory tour on a high note with another victory on Tuesday.
As their push towards the 2023 World Cup continues, the preparation has now begun, and so far, there’s a lot to like with this team, who as defending Olympic gold medallists, feel that they can do some noise there, and showed an example of why that is with their play on Saturday.
Up Next: Canada vs New Zealand, Tuesday, October 26th, 2021, 16:30 PDT, 19:30 EDT (Stade Saputo, Montreal)
Cover Photo via: Canada Soccer/Martin Bayzl