“We have to keep the context in our minds”: The CanWNT/CanXNT end 2021 on mixed note in tight 0-0 draw vs Mexico

Canada Soccer’s Women’s National Team ended off their 2021 on a mixed note on Tuesday, as they drew Mexico 0-0 in a friendly. Here’s what stood out to us from that game.

It was a step forward, but not to where they hoped to be.

For Canada Soccer’s Women’s National Team, they were looking for any sort of response after a tough 2-1 loss to Mexico this past Saturday, one that snapped a 14-game unbeaten run against their fellow CONCACAF foes in the process, as they got set to take on that same Mexico side in a rematch this Tuesday. 

As part of a pair of friendlies down in Mexico, these games were seen as a chance for Canada to end a strong 2021 year on a high note, so that they lost the first one only ramped up the pressure for them as they got set for the second clash.

But despite that, the defending Olympic gold medallists just couldn’t find a way through a stingy Mexican side on Tuesday, as they huffed, puffed and fought, but ultimately had to settle for a 0-0 draw. 

It was a much better overall performance from them in this game, at least compared to the one from the weekend, but for a Canadian team currently at the top of the world’s summit, it was not the sort of result they wanted to see in this sort of match, as they ended off 2021 on a bit of a low note. 

“With the year that we had, I’m frustrated,” Canadian head coach, Bev Priestman, said after the game. “(Frustrated) that you leave the end of the year feeling like this, but it’s what I’ve asked the players, we have to keep this hunger and desire in our stomach now and get ready to enter 2022 and really take that next step forward”

At the same time, though, not all is negative after these games. Missing several regulars heading into it, this was a great chance to see what some new faces could do with bigger opportunities, and when you look at it from that perspective, we certainly learned a lot. 

Also, it was a good chance for the team to get a taste of some of the tougher environments that this region can have to offer, especially in terms of the altitude that Mexico is known for, which is never a bad thing. 

Especially against an up-and-coming team in Mexico, these games were always going to be far from an easy 6 points, and Canada knew that coming in, so in a sense, this was a good learning moment for the team as a whole. 

So while it’s disappointing that Canada didn’t do better this camp, these friendlies were always going to be held with an eye on the future, and despite the results, there’s a lot to be interested in from that perspective. 

With all of that in mind, however, here’s a look back at some of what stood out from this game, one that Canada probably would like to forget, as they ended off a rollercoaster of a 2021 calendar year on Tuesday. 

Missed chances rule the day: 

And to start, it’s worth noting that while the score of this game was 0-0, that doesn’t mean that there weren’t chances for both teams to win this game, especially from a Canadian perspective. 

Just a look at the stats from this game says as much. 

Holding 53% of possession, Canada did well to generate 10 shots, 5 of them on target, yet, they had nothing to show for it. 

And especially considering that they held Mexico to just 47% of possession, and only 5 shots (just 1 on target) across this game, that’s disappointing, as it felt like there were certainly chances for Canada to win this match.

Yet, as has been the case for large stretches of this year, Canada just failed to convert their opportunities when they came up, leaving them frustrated on the evening. 

“Yeah, I’m frustrated,” Priestman said. “I think we’ve now got to have the arrogance to put the ball in the back of the net.”

It started early, as Nichelle Prince did well to sting the gloves of Emily Alvarado with a long shot in the 18th minute, before Deanne Rose somehow sent a shot wide of a gaping cage in the 19th minute, and those 2 missed chances just set the tone for the rest of the game. 

Canada continued to pepper the Mexican goal, as Quinn had a nice look at the goal go well over in the 28th minute, but much like the attempts before that, their shot went well over. 

Then, Canada had one of their best chances of the game in the 34th minute, as Christine Sinclair found herself in a bit of space in the box, and she unleashed a dangerous left-footed strike, one that was just get blocked inside the box. 

And from there, Canada reached half time, giving them a bit of a chance to regroup. 

But then, it was much in the same in the second half. 

Julia Grosso came close in the 64th minute, as she had a nice looping volley attempt, but she sent that right over, before Jordyn Huitema came close in the 75th minute, and then Cloe Lacasse was robbed on a breakaway by Alvarado not long after.

Other than that, though, that’d be all this game would have to offer for Canada, as they certainly weren’t devoid of good chances to win this game, but just didn’t bury any of them. 

And because of that, it leaves Canada with plenty to chew on as they reflect on this camp. 

On one hand, you can be intrigued by the fact that they generated 21 shots (12 on target) across 2 games, but on the other, you can also be disappointed by the fact that they just scored on 1 of those 21 shots.

Yet, that’s probably the main theme to take away heading into 2022. While Canada’s defence is very stingy, and is a big reason why they won Olympic gold, the reality is that their offence hasn’t often been able to match that this year, as Canada has scored 2 or more goals in a game just 4 times in 17 games in 2021. 

They don’t need to be world-beaters offensively, because they defend that well, but at the same time, they should be winning games where they don’t concede a goal, making this draw a tough pill to swallow. 

Canada’s Nichelle Prince in action for her country on Tuesday (Canada Soccer)

Canada returns to form defensively: 

But at the same time, while a lot of focus will be on the offence, and rightfully so, don’t take away from the defensive effort that Canada showed in this game, either. 

It might not have been their most complete defensive performance, but there was certainly a lot to like about it, as Canada certainly were full value for their clean sheet. 

Other than a hairy turnover from Canada’s goalkeeper, Kailen Sheridan, that led to Mexico’s lone shot on target late in the second half (which Sheridan did well to save), it was a pretty no-nonsense performance from the Canadian defensive group, which looked a lot more like themselves after giving up 2 goals on the weekend. 

Thanks to that, they were able to close the year with their 9th clean sheet in 17 games, which is pretty impressive, especially considering that in the 8 games where they didn’t keep a clean sheet, they never conceded more than 2 goals. 

So as mentioned earlier, while they’ve got some work to do on offence, Canada can be confident in where things stand defensively, with these numbers certainly giving you a good idea of how solid they’ve been in that area of their game this year. 

It might not satisfy the neutral viewer, but Canada most certainly won’t care, because as the saying goes, goals win games, but defence wins championships, and Canada has their Olympic gold medal as an example of that being true. 

As long as they can find a way to strike a balance between how solid they’ve been defensively with some goals, they’ll be alright, because as shown in this game, when they’re feeling it, it’s hard for opponents to get much going against them.

 A chance to audition: 

Otherwise, one key part of this camp was always going to be the chances that it gave to some new players, especially considering that Canada was missing over a half-dozen regulars from their gold medal-winning team heading into it. 

And that was on full display in both games, but especially so in this one, as Priestman really gave the opportunity to some new faces to see the pitch on Tuesday. 

We first saw one of those names in the starting 11, as Suri Yekka got a chance to make her first start in almost a half-decade, and that just continued into the rest of the game with each passing substitution. 

From Canadian regulars who are trying to stake a claim for more playing time, such as Jordyn Huitema and Julia Grosso, to Canadians looking to break into the fold altogether, such as Yekka, Marie Levasseur, Cloe Lacasse, Victoria Pickett and Jenna Hellstrom, it made for an interesting list of players auditioning their talent in front of Priestman as the game went on.

And that’s exciting, because that’s what these sorts of friendly games are so huge for. 

Of course, winning games is always the goal, but the nice thing about friendlies is that you can balance that with a desire to try things out, be it new formations, or some new faces, or a bit of both. 

“We had some big things from some new players who were still learning our system, our style of play,” Priestman explained. “And they had to step up, and credit to them, they put everything that they had into the game.”

So while each player might not have impressed in the same way on the pitch, we certainly got a chance to see what some of the new faces could do if called upon, and now, it’s going to be interesting to see if that leads to bigger roles in the team going forward. 

Take the 28-year-old Lacasse, for example. 

After earning call-ups all throughout the year for her strong play with Benfica, she finally got a chance to make her long-awaited Canadian debut this camp, and she impressed across both games, looking like a potential offensive difference-maker for this team. 

“I got to assess some players, Cloe Lacasse has been in quite a few camps, but hadn’t yet featured,” Priestman said. “I think she showed what she can do in terms of an impact.”

Without friendly games, we might not have been able to see what see her get a chance to do that, but instead, we can now expect more of her going forward, just showing what having opportunities like this can do for some players who find themselves on the fringe of either the roster or the starting XI. 

A return to the 4-3-1-2 brings solidity: 

Lastly, it was interesting to see Canada switch things up tactically in this game, as they returned to their usual 4-3-1-2 formation on Tuesday after experimenting with a 3-4-1-2 on Saturday. 

And it made a huge difference for them here.

Goals aside, they controlled a lot more of the game, especially in midfield, which really gave them a lot more comfort than in the last game, where Mexico overwhelmed them in the middle of the park. 

That’s key, because while you would’ve liked that to turn into more goals, that midfield control can make such a huge difference for them, as this game showed. 

When they’re in control defensively, it’s hard to stop Canada, which we saw in this game, where it felt unlikely that Canada would lose.

Where there need to be adjustments, however, is in the attack, because while the 4-3-1-2 offers a lot of midfield control, it can take away some punch in the final third, something that Canada felt like they were lacking in this game.

So while they figure that out, though, what this game showed is that it makes more sense for them to do that in this formation, versus the one they used on Saturday, because while the back 3 is an intriguing possibility for them going forward, this just seems to make more sense for their current configuration of players, as it stands. 

There’s a lot of work to be done, such as figuring out how to get more width out of what is a pretty narrow formation, and initiating more fluid build-up in the final third, but that’ll take time, and will certainly be helped along when Canada has more of their full roster at their disposal. 

Looking Forward: 

So overall, while this game wasn’t one that Canada will look all that fondly on, there’s still a lot for them to take away as they get set to close out a memorable year. 

With a big 2022 lying ahead for them, one in which they’ll play some crucial World Cup qualifiers ahead of the 2023 edition of that tournament, they’ll want to go on a similar run to the one they had in 2021, one that will be forever etched in the minds of many Canadian fans. 

And what’s nice for Canada is that their next games will offer a great test to see where they’re at ahead of those qualifiers, as well as the tournament proper, as they’ll play England, Spain and Germany in a friendly tournament in February of 2022, kicking off the year on a thunderous note. 

Those games won’t be easy, no doubt, but they’ll be a great chance to see what this Canadian side is capable of against top opposition, something that you always like to see them get the chance to do. 

Knowing that the likes of Mexico are rapidly improving, only adding to their competition in this region, Canada will need to find ways to stay ahead of the curve ahead of qualifiers, and that tournament looks to be a good chance to do that, allowing them to put this camp behind them. 

As we saw this year, when Canada is on their game, they can be deadly, though, and while they didn’t have that same instinct in this game, it’s still there, and it’s up to them to find it and carry it over into the big games that await them in 2022. 

“This will set us up really nicely with some learnings going into when we have our full strength squad,” Priestman said. “We’ll be ready to tackle when it really matters, and that’s key.”

“We have to keep the context in our minds, that as frustrated as we are not to come away with the win, we have to have the context and see that we’ve got some great learnings to now apply when it really matters.”

Cover Photo via: Canada Soccer

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