Heading into its final game of the SheBelieves Cup, the Canadian women’s soccer team is focusing on being both patient and relentless.
It’s two characteristics may seem in contradiction of one another, but Canada will need equal parts of both to contend against Brazil Wednesday night (4 p.m. ET).
At this point of the four-team tournament in Orlando, Fla, it’s been a mixed bag for coach Bev Preistman’s side. First, a hard-fought 1-0 loss to arch rivals from the United States in which the Canadians didn’t allow a goal until the 79th minute. Then a 1-0 stoppage-time victory over Argentina, though the match was frustrating with a staggered tempo.
“We need to improve on our patience, building up out of the back … making sure we find our players, but then once we get forward in the attacking third, being more dangerous,” said midfielder Sophie Schmidt, who recently picked up her 201st cap for Canada.
“I think that we’re a bit sloppy with our passes, we need to find people’s feet and then put shots on goal and score some more goals.
“It’s an easy recipe but harder to execute.”
Now on Wednesday, it’s a familiar opponent in Brazil, the team Canada beat 2-1 for the bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The last time these two squads met was 11 months ago, and this time the Canadian team will look a whole lot different.
There is no Christine Sinclair or Diana Matheson (both missing the SheBelieves with injuries), nor Kadeisha Buchanan, Ashley Lawrence and Jordyn Huitema (who weren’t released from their clubs).
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The roster challenges haven’t stopped there. Goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan picked up an injury in the early minutes of the U.S. game. Quinn, who was very strong in midfield against the Americans, sustained an injury in training and will be re-evaluated ahead of the Brazil match. And one of the standout players for Canada in the opening game, centre back Vanessa Gilles, was sent back to her FC Girondins de Bordeaux, as part of a pre-tournament agreement.
Those aforementioned roster challenges, as well as the back-to-back-to-back match format of the tournament, has forced Priestman’s hand to play newer and younger players, which is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, one of them, second-half substitute Sarah Stratigakis, scored the winning goal on Sunday against Argentina.
Another positive saw four players — Evelyn Viens, Jordyn Listro, Jade Rose and Samantha Chang — all earning their first caps in the tournament. Only goalkeeper Rylee Foster has yet to earn her first appearance at the senior level.
But for all the affirmations, creating quality chances and scoring goals is still a sore spot.
In Canada’s last five games dating back to last March’s Tournoi de France, Canada has scored just three times. Two of them came in a 2-2 draw against Brazil on March 10, 2020. The other was the one against Argentina over the weekend.
Priestman said while she would obviously like to see more balls in the back of the net, it’s more about trusting the process. The team is only back together after nearly a year, there are a plethora of new faces and partnerships are just starting to mesh.
“It’s going to come and it does take time,” she said after the Argentina game. “[As a] group we’ve been doing extra work at the end of training for forwards to get more reps in and things like that. We’re doing everything we can. The group is aware of it.”
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Killer instinct lacking without Sinclair
Without Sinclair and her 186 international goals, the question has been who will find that killer instinct in front of goal.
What few quality chances Canada has created at the SheBelieves Cup, the final pass or final finish hasn’t been there. Janine Beckie, who has 31 goals for Canada, had two golden opportunities in the six-yard box against the U.S., Jessie Fleming had two quality scoring chances against Argentina and Nichelle Prince has been lively in both games but hasn’t scored.
However, like Priestman said, it feels like only a matter of time before everything clicks and they’ve been putting the emphasis on moving the ball quicker, taking less touches and finding that forward pass.
“The group needs to keep believing and keep pushing, whatever it takes to win,” she said. “I think going into this Brazil game I’d like for them to see a mindset where we really take it to Brazil. I felt we did that early against the U.S.”
Brazil more defensive
Like Canada, Brazil has a new coach on board, though a very experienced one at that. Pia Sundhage took the reins of the team in July 2019 after a disappointing exit in the Round of 16 at the World Cup. The former U.S. and Sweden coach has brought more defensive organization to the club, who’ve been known to have blistering offensive attacks with the likes of Marta and Debinha but are lacking in the defensive third.
“Their shape is harder to break down,” said Priestman. “They’re dangerous on the counter attack so again we have to put an emphasis on competing and being hard to beat. I think they have some threats for sure. They’re a tough team to play against.”
Added Schmidt: “We’ve faced them so many times, we know each other very well and I think it’s going to be a good match and a test of where we stand as a team in this year.
“They’re a great side, very tactically smart, amazing with their feet and I think it’s going to be a battle once again.
“Looking forward to it.”