Canada’s Women’s Soccer Team at the Tokyo Olympics
After winning back-to-back bronze medals at the Olympics, the goal for the Canadian women’s soccer team in Tokyo is straightforward. Step onto the podium.
Changing the color of the medal has been Bev Priestman’s mantra since she was appointed head coach last October. And his team of 22 players is on board.
“They really are a team that can and will do great things,” said center-back Shelina Zadorsky, captain of England’s Tottenham team.
Once again, Christine Sinclair is leading the way. The talismanic captain’s first outing in Japan will mark her 300th senior appearance, with the Burnaby, BC forward in her fourth Olympics looking to add to her career world record of 186 goals.
At 38, Sinclair is three years older than Priestman, a former Canada Soccer staff coach who took over the top women’s role after a stint with the English Football Association. John Herdman led the women in Rio, choosing to take over from the Canadian men in January 2018.
Kenneth Heiner-Moller led the Canadians at the 2019 World Cup, but stepped down last summer to take up a coaching position in his native Denmark.
Priestman, who has helped many young players advance through the youth ranks, had to get back on his feet thanks to the pandemic, which kept his team on the sidelines until the SheBelieves Cup in February. Injuries and player unavailability due to pandemic-related travel restrictions shortened his preparation time.
“It’s been a bit of a sprint… But a lot of other coaches have had it too,” she said.
Despite their little time together, his players praise Priestman.
“She’s done an incredible job since taking over,” forward Janine Beckie said.
“She’s very straightforward, she’s very prepared. But she also brings a very relaxed personality to the group. (And) fun,” she added. “We want to have fun while we do the job we need to do.”
But Priestman also holds the player accountable
“I think she has high expectations,” Beckie said. “And she pushes all the players on this team to play at their highest level… She has a knack for getting the best out of people.”
Priestman was not afraid to rock the boat, citing a “comfort level” in the team she inherited.
“And I think that level of comfort has changed,” she said. “When people are uncomfortable, you see things about them that you might not have seen if there was a comfort level.”
Midfielder Sophie Schmidt, a 205 international veteran, found herself among the squad’s four substitutes until FIFA opted to include reserves by increasing the roster to 22.
The eighth-seeded Canadians play their first two games at the Sapporo Dome, opening game July 21 against No. 10 Japan, before facing No. 37 Chile on July 24. They finish the Group E match on July 27 against Great Britain in Kashima.
Canada has a history in Kashima. In June 2001, the Canadian men tied Brazil 0-0 at the Confederations Cup with Craig Forrest standing in the Canadian goal.
Great Britain will offer Beckie a few surprises. The roster includes 11 of his Manchester City teammates.
Great Britain are not ranked by FIFA as they call on players from England No.6, Scotland No.23, Wales No.34 and Northern Ireland No.1 ° 48. The British coaching staff includes former Canadian international Rhian Wilkinson, an assistant to head coach Hegge Riise.
Fourteen of the 22 Canadian players were part of the Rio squad, including full-back Gabrielle Carle, who was a backup at the time.
Fifteen of the 22 players on the full team have 50 or more caps with the full roster totaling 1,755 caps, for an average of 80. Nine play their club football in the NWSL, nine in Europe and four in the NCAA.
Canada has experience in goals with starting 34-year-old Stephanie Labbe (78 caps) and Erin McLeod, 38 (118 caps). Kailen Sheridan has just 11 caps but was a 2019 NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year finalist and, at 25, is likely the future No.1.
“She’s really making her mark on this team,” Beckie said of Sheridan. “And she will definitely be the future forward for Canada Soccer, there’s no doubt about it.
Kadeisha Buchanan and Zadorsky form a formidable duo of central defender with Vanessa Gilles, a power in the air, a talented third option.
Ashley Lawrence is a stylish player at ease both at the back and in the midfield. Desiree Scott, whose nickname is Destroyer, is tasked with breaking down opposition attacks. Jessie Fleming is a creative and technically gifted midfielder who, at 23, already has 84 caps.
Quinn, who bears a name, impressed with his compound play on the court, able to break up attacks and throw his own.
Goals have been a problem in preparing for the Olympics. Canada have scored six goals in seven games (3-2-2) this year and were held in check last month by Brazil (7th) and the Czech Republic, 27th.
The roster totals 324 international goals, with Sinclair accounting for 57% of them.
Beckie thinks the team have goals, citing “an element of flair and risk on the attacking side”.
“I think it comes down to the opportunities we create for ourselves… the more risk we take in attacking, the more opportunities we give ourselves on goal,” said Beckie, who has 31 goals in 75 international matches.
“I have absolutely no fear that we will have a problem scoring once the tournament starts.”
Priestman didn’t skimp on advanced options with Sinclair, Beckie, Jordyn Huitema, Adriana Leon, Nichelle Prince, Deanne Rose and Evelyne Viens.
Come on could be a wild card on the bench. The 25-year-old has just seven caps, including just one start, but has already scored twice.
“Evelyne scores goals… That’s why she’s on the team,” Priestman said.
Sinclair remains a shrewd presence on the pitch, able to dive deep to tie the game together. And she knows what to do around goal.
Beckie can be a force, both with her set pieces and wing deliveries. And she proved her mental toughness after seeing her penalty kick saved when Canada exited the round of 16 at the 2019 World Cup at the hands of Sweden.
She scored twice in a 3-3 draw with fourth-place Netherlands in a recent practice match in Japan.
Canada is 4-7-3 against the Japanese, losing 4-0 last time in October 2019. The Canadians have only faced Great Britain once, winning 2-0 in the quarter-finals. of the London 2012 Games.
Canada lost 1-0 in its only previous encounter with Chile, in 2013. The Chilean women are making their Olympic debut, having qualified by beating Cameroon in a South America-Africa qualifying earlier this year. this month.
Chile went 1-2-0 in a tough group on their 2019 World Cup debut in France, losing 2-0 to Sweden and 3-0 to the United States before beating Thailand 2 -0. The Chileans failed to make the top four teams in third place on goal difference.
Canada beat Great Britain 2-0 at the 2012 Olympics.
The winner of Canada’s opening group will meet one of two third-place teams that advance to the quarter-finals. The Group E finalist will face Team No. 2 in Group F. If Canada wins its pool and quarter-final, the mighty Americans could wait in the semifinals.
The Canadians prepared for the heat of the Japanese summer at pre-Olympic camps in Spain and Los Angeles.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published on July 18, 2021.