Canadian women’s soccer team sees bigger than bronze in Tokyo

When Bev Priestman was appointed coach of the Canadian women’s soccer program, she shot for the moon, rather than tempering expectations, when asked what goals she set for herself and for the team.

Priestman took over a team that won back-to-back bronze medals at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics under former coach John Herdman, and another third place finish this summer in Tokyo would mark an unprecedented feat for Canada.

But Priestman, a 35-year-old from Consett, England who served as an assistant under Herdman, held nothing back during her introductory press conference last October.

“A team like Canada should be on this podium. I think we need to change the color of the medal. Two bronzes [are] incredible and it’s a fantastic achievement, and I thank John, the staff and the players who made it happen. [But] to keep moving forward, we have to aim higher than that, ”Priestman said at the time.

If Canada will “change the color of the medal” at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, it will probably be thanks to the strength of its defense, and despite an attack including the iconic captain Christine Sinclair, top scorer of all time in international soccer , for both men and women. It may sound like blasphemy, but a close examination of Canada’s recent record scoring is concerning.

So far in 2021, Canada have a record of three wins, two losses and two draws, but have been shut out four times and have only scored six goals in those seven games. More worryingly, Sinclair, who has 186 goals in 299 appearances for the national team, has not scored in his previous eight appearances dating back to February 2020.

For years, criticism of Canada has been that it relies too much on Sinclair as the primary source of its offense. No one stepped in to take the weight off Sinclair’s shoulders – and that includes Janine Beckie. The Manchester City forward is fifth in scoring history for Canada (and second among active players) with 31 goals in 75 games. But she’s far from a clinical finisher and she’s the kind of player who needs three or four chances per game to score once. She also suffers from a scoring shortage, having only scored one goal in her previous 11 games for Canada.

Jordyn Huitema has been called the “new Sinclair” after making his debut for Canada at the age of 15. But Huitema, now 20, has just 13 goals in 37 games, and the vast majority of those goals have been against minnow nations. She’s also mired in a marked slump, with one goal in her last 10 appearances.

According to recent history, if Sinclair can’t find a way to score in Japan, then Canada will fight for the goals, and their hopes of winning an Olympic medal could be jeopardized.

While the attack is a cause for concern, Canada has no such concerns behind the field. Priestman’s side have kept five clean sheets with just three goals against in seven games this year, thanks to a defense anchored by center-backs Kadeisha Buchanan (voted Canadian player of the year in 2020) and Shelina Zadorsky, who comes from have a solid club season. in England with Tottenham.

“Both have a very balanced approach to defense and offense, and that’s critical to the way we want to play. We ask our team to be courageous, and to do this you need center-backs who [have courage]”Priestman said of the Buchanan-Zadorsky duo.

The emergence of Vanessa Gilles, who has six caps to date, over the past year has also bolstered the team’s defensive depth, and she could be a perfect replacement for the center-back should Buchanan or Zadorsky get injured in Japan. Midfielder Quinn was Canada’s most consistent player leading up to the Tokyo Olympics, serving as a defensive bulwark in front of all four defenders.

Ashley Lawrence and Allysha Chapman are skilled players with a wealth of international experience – especially Lawrence, who is considered one of the best full-backs in women’s football, and who can also be deployed as a midfielder.

So while Canada might struggle to score goals in Japan, they probably won’t concede much either. That alone could be enough to guide them to the medal podium for a third consecutive time.

Ranked 8th in the current FIFA World Rankings, Canada will start the match at the Tokyo Games against 10th Japan and Chile on Wednesday July 21 and Saturday July 24 (both matches in Sapporo). then meets Great Britain on Tuesday July 27 in Kashima. FIFA does not rank Great Britain, but their squad will be made up of players from No.6 England, No.23 Scotland, No.34 Wales and No.48 Northern Ireland. .

It’s a tough group, and there would be potential tougher challenges that Canada would face in the round of 16 if it advanced. But Priestman firmly believes in this Canadian team, and nothing less than winning another Olympic medal will satisfy her.

“Nowadays, this team can go all the way. I really feel it. We have to show up at every game to do it. I keep telling the players, ‘No one is going to give us a medal.’ We have to work hard for this, ”Priestman said.

“We have to get on the podium. For me, this is what constitutes success.

John Molinaro is one of Canada’s premier soccer journalists, having covered the game for over 20 years for multiple media including Sportsnet, CBC Sports and Sun Media. He is currently the editor of TFC Republic, a website devoted to in-depth coverage of Toronto FC and Canadian soccer. To discover TFC République, CLICK HERE.

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